|R. Grant Seals|
of Agricultural Biochemistry
at the University of Nevada, Reno
Racism destroys our hopes - Professor Seals
“Racism destroys confidence! It dares you to dare!”
Ruby Dee, a black actress who died on June 12, said those words in an interview with Tavis Smiley that was replayed on KNPB-TV Channel 5 on June 13.
I had never looked up the definition of the word racism, but I did so for this article. My 1981 edition of Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines racism as the belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits … and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.
Many people, especially youth, absorb and buy into this belief by osmosis without being conscious of it. This is why so many black parents tell their children that they are as good as anybody and don’t let anything hold you back.
I grew up in the country, four miles from the city limits and five miles from the county courthouse, which was located in the city center. The city had a population of about 50,000 in my youth. I don’t remember my parents telling us that we were as good as anybody, but somehow it permeated the family. Our growing up in the country allowed us to avoid the constant affronts that city children apparently saw and felt every day.
Alternatively, our parents told us stories of the achievements of our grandparents, and we also saw their achievements. Our maternal grandparents were graduates of Berea College in Kentucky before the state passed its segregation law. Our paternal grandfather was a carpenter and built numerous houses in our community. Our paternal grandmother was a true humanitarian and helped take care of people in the community who were sick or shut in.
Our mother was a musician and my father an educator. We had numerous books in the house, which were read. Therefore, in my opinion, we grew up with few biases relative to race.
Sure, we knew about freeing the slaves, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Dubois and the like. We knew about segregation throughout the K-12 and higher education system. But our country rearing seemed to serve as a partial cocoon. So all four of us dared to dare. Two of us became college professors, one a middle manager at IBM in Lexington, Ky., and our sister a reading teacher.
Another occurrence which must have affected us positively was that our parents and living grandparents voted. All of us went to college in the Confederate South, in the late-‘40s and early-‘50s and were stunned to discover that various voting laws, such as the poll tax, who we had heard of, were so effective. Fully 98 percent of blacks in the Deep South, regardless of educational level, could not vote.
If a minority has been constantly exposed in his or her early life to repeated acts of racism, conscious or unconscious to the perpetrator, he or she may have been drained of a significant portion of confidence and therefore may not “dare to dare.”
R. Grant Seals is a professor emeritus of agricultural biochemistry at the University of Nevada, Reno.