Will Racism End When Old Bigots Die? – LEAH DONNELLA January 14, 2017 7:07 AM ET


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Esther Lui for NPR

Shelly Fields is a 46-year-old white woman living in Richton Park, a racially diverse Chicago suburb. She says she’s raised her four daughters, who are biracial, to see people of all races as equal, just as her parents raised her. Fields doesn’t think that racism will ever disappear completely, but she’s hopeful that it lessens with each passing generation.

“The more biracial children there are, the more equality we see,” Fields said. “The more people of color we see in positions of power – it will help to change the way people see race.”

Her oldest daughter, Summer, is a 22-year-old graduate of the University of Chicago. When she was in high school, Summer probably would have agreed that race relations were looking up. The ’90s and early 2000s were “a post-racial fantasy time” in Richton Park, Summer said. “Being firmly in the middle of the Obama era – it [was] a moment of progress. It was validating.”

Now, as the Obama era ends, she is of the mind that racism isn’t going anywhere.

“Racism always evolves, and will find a way,” Summer said.

The question that Shelly and Summer are tackling has been posed in many forms for many generations. Will racism just die off with old bigots? Does the fate of race relations lie with the children?

That idea has been milling about the public psyche for generations. It lives in that famous (if oft-decontextualized) line: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. said it eloquently in his “I Have a Dream” speech, but we’ve heard that sentiment through the ages, from Thomas Jefferson to Oprah Winfrey. The belief that our children’s generation will be less racist gets repeated by teachers, parents, politicians and activists. And understandably so. Much of American culture is predicated on the idea that we can create a better future for our progeny, instilling in them values that we as a nation have often failed to uphold.

Shelly and Summer Fields.

Courtesy of Summer Fields

 

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