About two dozen people made an appearance at the Cartersville Civic Center Tuesday evening for a Bartow Diversity: Open Forum discussion on contemporary racial relations within the …
About two dozen people made an appearance at the Cartersville Civic Center Tuesday evening for a Bartow Diversity: Open Forum discussion on contemporary racial relations within the community.
“We’d like to have some conversation out of our own experiences, with an emphasis on listening,” said coordinator Louis Tonsmeire. “That’s awfully scarce nowadays. We seem to be debating rather than listening.”
Attendees paired off into two- and three-person groups to answer prompts from Tonsmeire, such as when they first became aware of racial division and in what ways they see — or even experience — segregation today.
Each individual within the groups had about three minutes to speak their minds on several topics.
“It’s not to win a debate, it’s not to convince people of any ideas, it’s not to suggest that somebody’s experience is not good,” Tonsmeire said. “It’s being able to hear from one another and learn how those experiences shape us and how it adds to the richness of our lives together.”
Attendee Alan Morgan, who grew up in Flint, Michigan, in the 1940s, recalled hearing stories from his mother about his father’s childhood experiences in the Jim Crow South.
“My father, when he was a boy — they had lived in Evansville, Indiana, at the time — they sent him down to Traskwood, Arkansas, to live with his uncle,” he recounted. “They would take him out hunting, but what he was hunting was black people. And they would shoot to kill. I heard that from my mother, and that kind of made me ashamed for the rest of my days.”
As attendee Mina Harper observed, the exercise demonstrated not just a difference in perspectives based on race, but along generational lines as well.
“When I went through school, it was segregated and we were not taught anything — we lived under segregation,” she said. “But I looked at the study sheet of my 10-year-old grandchildren for their social studies, and it said the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws, segregation … my granddaughter said ‘I don’t know what we’re studying next.’ I said ‘Probably integration,’ so now, they’re being taught.”
Tonsmeire said communities have long been in denial about the state of race relations — going back not just years, but decades.
“I was in the seventh grade and social studies was that America is a great melting pot, like a pot of soup, with all the ingredients mixed together,” he said. “I raised my hand and said ‘There must be two pots.’”
Attendee Carolina Bradley says she still feels a palpable air of uneasiness when it comes to racial relations in the community today.
“Sometimes, I personally am a little bit reserved when I’m out in public, and with certain people I’m expecting the negative from them,” she said. “So we spoke about not going in with a positive mindset … don’t just go in there with the negative mindset, just thinking that somebody’s going to say something to you or talk down to you or look at other people that way.”
Many attendees, however, suggested that the big dividing line in contemporary society has more to do with socioeconomic status than ethnic or racial identity.
But as attendee Ahmad Hall stated, class was certainly a factor when it came to the deeply segregated Deep South, as well. “The Ku Klux Klan wasn’t just for anybody, it was the elite,” he said. “It was the businesspeople, it was the mayor.”
The notion was seconded by attendee Todd Dean.
“Yes, black people fought for equality, but it’s not just about black people anymore,” he said. “It’s a status thing.”
Dean said he’d like to see a greater emphasis placed on “leveling the playing field” for young people in the community when it comes to resources.
“If you’re poverty-stricken, there’s certain resources you can’t have, if you’re black, there’s certain things you can’t have access, if you’re Hispanic there’s certain things you can’t have access,” he said.
When asked where they witnessed the most racial separation in modern society, several attendees echoed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote about 11 a.m. on Sunday morning being “the most segregated hour in America.”
“Me and Mrs. Tonsmeire were talking about church, and how the only time white people and black people really get together for church is for a holiday or MLK Day,” Dean said. “To build those relationships, I think it’s important for us to worship together … it’s the place where you learn your principles, your morals and that’s where your belief system starts.”