I am usually the optimistic one. The glass not just half full but almost always, full. If you have a negative, I am the person who can find the positive. I always believed that no matter how bad it gets, it can and will get better. You just have to believe! Do the “right” things! Have faith that for the most part people are good, and if you are good and do all the things that you are told to do to make your life and the world better, you will be accepted. Study hard in school, make good choices, don’t use drugs, follow the laws, go to college and get involved, get a master’s degree, get a doctorate degree, be nice, make people feel good, build relationships. If you do all these things you can make a difference in the world.
I did all those things. I believed that growing up in legal segregation — having to sit in the balcony in movie theaters; having used books in my elementary schools while the White schools had new books; having to go shopping at stores early in the morning before they opened because Black people weren’t allowed to shop there during regular hours; being spit at and called “nigger” by kids at the White private school next to my junior high as they drove by us on their school bus; not being allowed in the public parks and never allowed to swim in their swimming pools; being told that a revolution was going to come soon and it was best not to have White friends because when the race war came, they would choose their white family and friends over being friends with me — was just a small time in history. I still believed what my parents told me, which was in time, the world would be better. Inside, everyone is the same and eventually society would see that. Everyone would see that race really won’t matter one day.
That was over 50 years ago. And reflecting on not only the murder of George Floyd, but the multitude of deaths and racial and bias incidents over my lifetime and specifically in the last few years, I finally had enough! I was angry! I lost my optimism. I lost my hope. I felt like everything that I believed and worked for actually doesn’t really matter. The glass was empty! My parents were wrong! No matter what I achieved professionally or personally, I was just another Black person whose accomplishments really never mattered. All the hard work, sacrifices, and accomplishments that Black people have contributed to our society for centuries don’t really matter. Being a Black person is just not enough. I am exhausted, trying to be “enough.”
But, lots of reflection, words of support and understanding from my friends and colleagues of color who can relate has helped me to know that I have to be re-energized. I don’t have the luxury of giving up. When I think of my grandparents and now my granddaughters, I know that I can’t lose hope. Too many people sacrificed before me and it is now my turn. There is still work to do! My White friends and colleagues have reached out, not always knowing what to say, but knowing that the world is not okay right now and maybe realizing for the first time that the world was never okay if you are a person of color. And hopefully they also understand that we all still have a lot of work to do if we truly want to embrace diversity and inclusion in our personal and professional lives and stop this violence and insanity!
So I am still angry but starting to once again see some positives. The glass is starting to fill back up. I am beginning to see the good in people again and I appreciate their words and concern. What I would appreciate even more is their action. I am tired! We are tired! We need everyone who believes in the beauty of embracing our differences and who is excited about learning and sharing and caring to step up and actively work to change their attitudes and the attitudes of others. Let’s work together to actually change our society. Don’t you think it is time?!
Our society is still separated and Black people and other people of color continue to be targets of racism, bias, and disrespect in a system that was designed for White people and is reluctant to change to allow everyone the opportunity to learn, grow, live, contribute, and die having led a life of meaning and joy. I am not willing to give up on us yet. I have met and worked with too many people that are indeed good people of all races, ethnicities, religions, sexual identities, and disabilities that have enriched my life and the lives of others. And it is now time for all of us to move this society in a new and better direction. I am ready! What about you?
Dr. Blanche Hughes (’84) is Vice President for Student Affairs at CSU in Fort Collins