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Small Town Wisconsin And Racism

August 1, 2020

This week I was truly disappointed about something which occurred on Facebook.  In this time of so much bombast and chaos it might seem that feeling would be a daily occurrence, and while there are many headlines and moments during each day that makes for concern, what happened this week that left me feeling disappointed was much different from the usual daily fare.

I grew up in a typical rural area of Wisconsin with a small-town located only a few miles away.  The bakery and hardware store, along with the barber and grocery store of my youth are warm memories.  While I knew the pull of a larger city would win out when I became an adult, I loved the country roads for biking and knowing many of the faces while walking Main Street on a Friday night.

While the lifeblood of Main Street disappeared with large malls and super-sized stores in nearby cities taking the dollars from the town, I have always felt the real strength of the place remained with the kindness of the people.  I had thought and hoped the values of something more durable remained.  No matter where the paths of graduates took them the better parts of our past would follow.  I even wrote a book about that very theme.

I certainly had tough years where I grew up and where I went to school but always autograph my book with “There is always a place called home”.   No one needs to cast off the better parts of the past just to move beyond the tough times.  In other words, I have given lots of thought to this topic–nearly 300 pages worth.

I admit to being nostalgic and wanting to think the best about the area of my growing-up years.  I wanted to believe that the faces that still come to mind from the days in high school and the moments from weddings and funerals and a quick hello at the gas station were grounded in something that would echo on over the years with warm recollections.

So I was very disappointed a person who grew up in my town posted a long racist screed on Facebook which decried black colleges, and black business associations, and grinding on about how white people have “LOST most of OUR RIGHTS in this country”.  I read it and left it alone for most of the day until finding a number of people I had known approving of the racism, and in some cases doing so with relish.  That is when I took a few of the many insane and conspiracy-tipped lines and offered a historical fact-based response.   Summing up the racism I wrote, “This is an indictment of our education system”.

It did not surprise me that some asked what I meant!

It has been 40 years since most of the people who commented on that post became adults.  But it is clear that some never ventured past their narrow thinking of the white populated streets of their youth.  It is clear that books and ideas and facts and history and just common decency did not follow them as they moved to larger locales in some cases, or stayed in small rural areas close-by.   While the news each day presents ample reasons to be dismayed and troubled we like to think that the places we know so well from our youth are islands of better folks.  And then like a lightning strike we become aware of how wrong that thinking is, and yes, it is disappointing.

Friday night with all this stewing about in my mind I came across a sports story that lifted my spirits.  Not being a sports type of guy I found the news gratifying. 

The NBA is back, but the Milwaukee Bucks are among the teams making sure that the momentum of social-justice awareness doesn’t stall.

Every Bucks player donned a jersey with a social-justice message where last names would typically be found when the Bucks tipped off against the Boston Celtics on Friday. Both teams also took a knee during the pregame national anthem.

I appreciate how sports–which so many people watch–can play such a forceful role in helping with the needed education about racism. What I read this week makes me aware–again–of how much work remains to be done. I trust those who posted their racism this week are also watchers of sports.

And so it goes.

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