I was listening to NPR when I heard Nina Simone relate her first experience with racism:
“It touched me first time (sic) when I gave a concert, a recital at age 12. And they wanted to put my mom and daddy on the back row. And I remember standing up quite brave and said, oh, no, my mom and dad will sit on the front row.”
This account struck me as a prime example of what racism is all about: the denial of a person’s common humanity based on the color of his or her skin.
What is more human than a child’s desire to show a parent up close and personally what she can do with the training and education she has been given?
Although Simone didn’t say so, I can imagine that her parents too were disappointed and frustrated when they were expected to sit on the back row. What parent would not want to sit closer to their child in a position more fitting for someone whose child was performing?
And how dehumanizing is it to deny a child or her parents such opportunities solely on the basis of skin color and racial privilege?
Granted, one might consider what Simone describes as being only a minor slight. Certainly being expected to take a subpar seat at a child’s recital is a transgression that pales in comparison to more invidious or brutal forms of racial discrimination such as:
- Police brutality
- Medical testing (e.g., Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment)
- Denial of justice in courts
- Denial of service in the public and private sectors
- Suppression of voting rights
However, Simone’s account illustrates the foundation which leads not only to minor slights but also to the more visceral forms of racial discrimination and injustice: the fundamental denial of the basic humanity of another person or persons who are different from us.
If we could only see that we are all humans with the same types of concerns, dreams, and desires, we would not let a superficial difference like skin color lead us to deny others what we are so protective of in ourselves.