I grew up a rural town, 98.9 % white, but I wasn't exposed to much racism as a child. I grew up thinking that racism, sexism, etc. was a thing of the past. I thought it was history, something that I saw on T.V.
Did I mention that I was naïve?
I loved listening to the stories that my grandmother shared about her life. My grandmother was born in 1897. Knowing someone who was born in the 1800s was almost too much to fathom. So the stories she told me felt like they were an era long passed.
Her gender stories were always interesting. She told me that men had the luxury of eating dinner first at large gatherings. She’d joke that the women would eat “whatever was left” but I sensed there was more truth to that than a joke. Women would also eat in the kitchen and not at the dining table if the men were still sitting around talking.
What? I was appalled! How could that be? My grandmother, about 4’11” and 95 pounds, was a spirited woman and by all accounts independent. It was hard to imagine that she bought into these archaic notions at any point in her life but I guess she did.
And then there was college. When I went away to college, my secluded, cloistered world was being chipped away a bit at time. I had more than a few eye-openers when it came to societal issues.
My Social Work classes were amazing and afforded me the greatest level of diversity that I had ever known at this time. My professors were White, Black, Asian, Gay, male, female, older, younger, and of varying religions. One professor, who was Jewish, recalled some of the situations she had encountered in her life, all because she was Jewish.
Again, I was flabbergasted. Discriminated against because you were Jewish? It made no sense to me. I simply didn’t know there was a world where people cared about someone being Jewish.
Did I mention I was naïve?
And then there was the time I took a Black History class. There were two white kids in the class and I was one of them. Odd, I thought, as I walked into the classroom the first time. Then again, the class was held from 7–10 on Thursday evening. I don’t know what happens now but Thursdays were prime drinkin’ time back then.
“Why Are You Taking This Class?”
On that first night of class, the Professor asked us to introduce ourselves. He also asked a simple question. The question was, “Why are you taking this class?”
“I need a history credit.” I said.
Silence. Awkward silence. The look on his face when I said that. The displeasure.
What had I done? What had I said? I wasn’t sure but I knew what I said was wrong.
So as I sat through class I realized how I must have come across. I was the white girl who needed a history credit. I wasn’t there to learn but rather to benefit from the credits I needed to graduate.
I didn’t articulate my thoughts well.
The truth was this that I did need one last history credit and this was the history class I wanted to take – even at the risk of missing out on my Thursday night bar hopping and all of those great drink specials.
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Johnston Osburn is a Career and Life Coach who helps people turn dreams into realities. After years as a Global Talent Acquisition Professional, she realized how frequently people limit themselves because they lack belief in their abilities. They are afraid to dream, let alone dream big. [...]