A broadened idea of racism

A student explains how a book on Native American history changed their understanding of racism.


In grade school, I couldn’t hold back my emotional reaction when learning about Ruby Bridges, the first African-American child to attend William Frantz Elementary School, an all-white school during a desegregation conflict in 1960. 

As an African-American woman, I was frightened watching her have to deal with the taunting and physical threats from angry white parents. I felt shocked just watching it all happen, but ultimately sad because, as much as I wanted to relate to it, I couldn’t — I wasn’t there.

Whenever I’d watch Ruby being treated unfairly, I cried — I couldn’t help it. 

I put myself in Ruby’s shoes and became that young girl getting verbally harassed, having to hear those vicious words and threats said to me. 

From that moment on, I realized what kind of a student ­— and overall what kind of a person ­— I was, by trying to put myself in other people’s experiences in order to understand them. I took a pride in what African Americans went through like I was right there in that moment.  

But recently, my understanding of racism in America changed when I started reading “Lakota Woman” in my gender, sexuality and women’s studies class. 

The book, written by Mary Crow Dog, is an autobiography of the history of Native Americans and their struggles with racism. It was a topic that I’d heard about, but wasn’t taught until now, and I was shocked at what I read in the first five chapters. 

I realized I never put enough thought into how other ethnic groups of people suffered or struggled due to racism. I always focused on African-American struggles and their history.

I read a part in the book where Crow Dog talks about the history of the forced relocation of her people by the United States government. 

I started to understand a little bit about how indigenous people felt. It was really hard for the author to keep her ancestry because her parents insisted that assimilating to white society was the only solution.

I realized how ignorant I was before by not really thinking other people struggled to, that it was just African Americans. While reading this book I felt self-centered, and I didn’t like that. 

In that moment, I started to open my eyes to other people’s experiences more. I gained  empathy toward the struggles of indigenous people.

Maybe I was so blind to the struggles of other groups because I wasn’t educated on their history — only knowing my own made me very close-minded, and reading this book made me want to work on being open to more cultures and people with various backgrounds.

Since reading this book, I’ve started researching different cultures and learning about their own cultural celebrations. For instance, I wasn’t aware that Indigenous Peoples’ Day was the same day as Columbus Day, but now I’m excited to learn more about this celebration.

I’ll be sure to celebrate it myself.

I’ve developed a new sense of understanding, being more open-minded and sharing my empathy toward others. 

I like the broader me I’m becoming.

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