Why I’m Thankful for the Racists I’ve Met
In my over thirty years of being a radio personality, I have never spoken of how racism has affected me since I was a small child.
I know I'm not alone. People who've been hurt by racism often keep it locked up inside. Encountering racism can, and usually does, happen every day. The hurt from these encounters can pile up for a very long time.
The first time I felt the crushing blow of racism was on the kindergarten playground. Those hate-filled moments are still with me today, but I'm ok with that.
I actually want to thank the racists that I've encountered in my life.
Many don't know, but I'm of mixed race. I have a Black father and a White mother.
I once thought that growing up of mixed race was one of the best things possible because I had two parents who came from completely different cultures. But the proof that wasn't true began in kindergarten. Kids on the playground called me "zebra," "Oreo," and "half-breed."
Racism is like the Coronavirus. Many who don't experience it, don't believe that it exists.
But I've experienced it my entire life.
I've been on the radio since the late-1980s and I've moved all around the country and it's happened in every city and state I've lived in. I feel it everywhere I go. Sometimes I'll even encounter somebody who says to me, "Oh my gosh, I had no idea you were Black. You don't sound Black on the radio."
Are you kidding me?
Britney Payton, daughter of our legendary Walter Payton, recently talked publically about worrying about her kids because they're of mixed race, and the stigma that comes with that. I know exactly how she feels.
I've even had encounters with other Black people who made remarks to me because I listened to the wrong kind of music, and so I was not Black enough.
I was once asked to be a part of a minority committee and the committee leader said to me, "I'm not sure if this committee is gonna be right for you because I don't think you're Black enough."
I encounter racism from all types of people -- and it hurts every time.
But it feels like there is a wonderful thing that is happening in this country - an awakening.
There is a long way to go, but the United States and many parts of the world are reacting to the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery in some remarkable ways. It hasn't all been good, but most of the reactions have been. And as a result of those reactions, really good conversations about racism, hatred, and social injustice are happening all over the world.
Last week, I was watching a live video feed of the protests on State Street when I saw all those people lay on their stomach for just shy of nine minutes. We all know why it was that length of time, and it was one of the most beautiful things I've seen in Rockford since I moved here 25 years ago. It was a remarkable sight.
Just a few days ago, a friend whom I grew up across the street from, and whom I haven't heard since we were in high school, just sent me a message through the Steve Shannon Show Facebook page. She said, "Thank you for being my friend when I grew up and helping me become the person that I am today." My dad and I were the only Blacks in the neighborhood, and to her, there was no difference. We haven't talked in thirty years, but I was so happy to hear from her in this intensely difficult time. It actually made me realize something incredible.
While racism has been a painful reality my entire life, I now realize it's also opened my eyes wider to truly see and appreciate the good people whom I've counted on, and who count on me.
So I just want to say thank you to the racists that I've encountered in my life, because they have taught me how to love.
Please forgive me but I get very emotional when talking about this. If you'd like to hear the entire story, please push play on the video below.