When I was in third grade, I sat next to Laura Johnson. She was smart, sort of shy, silly, did her math homework and could run really fast. She was a typical eight-year-old. But in Hawaii, of course, Laura was different because she was African American.
It didn’t even occur to me that races were supposed to be so different until one day, some boys were teasing Laura and calling her the N-word. I don’t know why it affected me so much … the way they did it? Their redneck attitudes? But it grated on me more than it did on her. Later that day, I asked her in private, “Doesn’t that bother you?” And she shrugged and said, “I’m used to it.”
It’s been decades, but I often think back to that day and ask myself the same thing: Why should anyone “get used to” racism? I never got to ask Laura that follow up question because she moved away after a year, since her dad was in the military. It bothers me even more to know that for her, that single incident was probably a mere ripple (if that) in a lifetime of tolerating racism.
And remember, this is Hawaii. We have mild, “ocean breeze” style racism, nothing at all like what they have on the mainland. We’re sheltered. I am fully aware of the fact that we don’t have that kind of racial tension by a long shot. I wouldn’t be able to function with the kind of racism they have elsewhere.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be less concerned about the issue, nor does it mean we don’t need to be as supportive as possible. We’re all minorities here in Hawaii, but we should try to step outside of our comfort zones and be a part of the revolution in action.
You can contribute to organizations like the NAACP, the ACLU Foundation, Equal Justice Initiative, National Urban League, Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and UNCF (United Negro College Fund), to name a few. These help black people across the country get a bit more of a leg up.
But here at home, you can support a business owned by a black entrepreneur and directly benefit someone in your own community. This list is incomplete, but someone is compiling a list of black-owned businesses in Hawaii to make it easier for you to find more of them. (I just want to point out that Etched Aloha, owned by my friend Shawn “Doc Rock” Boyd, isn’t on the list at this writing — be sure to see him to get almost any item custom etched for your company or event.)
And just as importantly, have the conversation with your kids about race relations and help them understand what’s going on in the world. Don’t shelter them from the ugliness of the protests or even the looting — take the issue head on and raise their awareness of the situation so they can be better informed, better equipped to have intelligent discussions about this with their own peers.
If there’s one thing we know now, we know the world is small. So hopefully one day I’ll run into Laura, and can ask her all the questions about tolerance that I’ve been wondering all these years.