Ferguson, Missouri: Ignorance - The Great Divider
Like millions of Americans, I am stunned by the hatred that has engulfed Ferguson and literally set that town on fire. It is sad, sickening, and horrifying that racism still has a foothold in our country and world.
But who are we trying to fool? Racism has never really gone away, it just lurks beneath the surface. Ignorance is the root of all racism, not necessarily hatred, but pure, unadulterated ignorance. Ignorance is the great divider.
I follow the situation in Ferguson very closely. Not because I am intrigued by racism but because I have relatives in nearby Florissant, Missouri and my family hails from East St. Louis, Illinois.
I can look to two great examples on each side of my family to understand opposing views and the ignorance lurking in the middle.
First, I look at my Uncle Joe, who is my mom’s brother. Joe Hubbard is a legend in Southern Illinois. He created The Catholic Urban Project (CUP) in the early 70’s. With the assistance of Gerry Hassenstab and countless others, my uncle devoted his life to those in need in East St. Louis and other areas. My uncle is now retired and physically limited but he still does what he can to heal the wounds created by racism.
One of the wounds created by racism is extreme poverty. East St. Louis was a thriving All-American city in the 1950’s. But as the racial problems begin to flare in the 60’s, businesses began to move away. “White flight” began to occur. At first, the whites would just pack up and move anytime blacks moved into their neighborhoods. This was a move made out of pure ignorance. It was not initially motivated by fear but by sheer ignorance.
In the 40’s, the area was highly segregated by ignorance. Blacks could not even buy at certain stores. They had to sit at the back of the bus if they could ride on it at all.
In the 60’s, severe racial fights began to inflict Missouri and Illinois. The white flight which started out of ignorance began to be a move motivated by fear. Houses began to be burned out by mobs of angry blacks. My oldest brother told me stories of white people’s houses being set on fire and people shooting at fire trucks as they came to put them out.
I remember as a young child visiting my relatives that East St. Louis had dozens of burned-out houses. All of my relatives that lived in East St. Louis moved up into Belleville, Illinois. This move was not done by ignorance but out of fear for their safety. Many whites followed.
Extreme poverty then engulfed East St. Louis. Once, a proud railroad town East St. Louis was now filled with fear, hatred and ignorance. People began to starve in East St. Louis.
Uncle Joe Hubbard
Uncle Joe began working tirelessly to feed and clothe the poor. He’d work late into the night and then begin again in the mornings. He began to be a familiar sight in emergency rooms and he would get calls to come and sit with those dying and try to find ways to bury them.
Joe Hubbard became a man of the people – ALL PEOPLE. Not just those of color or those of white. Joe Hubbard dealt worked through the ignorance that engulfed the area and worked at fixing the results of the ignorance – the starving and the truly needy.
Joe Hubbard did not even drive back in the days of late 60’s and 70’s. He would literally roam the mean streets of East St. Louis the battle ground where ignorance caused much violence. My grandmother was terrified because Joe did not know an enemy.
Uncle Joe survived without being attacked. The people of East St. Louis loved him. They called him “Reverend Joe” and he had many friends and he was pretty much untouchable. Even the gangs accepted him and no one had better touch Reverend Joe.
Uncle Joe went on to win dozens of awards including The Martin Luther King Award and The Mother Teresa Award. He worked 50 years for St. Vincent De Paul. He still helps out with CUP when needed although CUP is now in the capable hands of Gerry Hassenstab. Hassenstab has been fighting poverty and yes, ignorance, with Joe for decades.
My Grandpa Fred
Unfortunately, I can use the other side of my family to illustrate ignorance that ignites hatred. Mt grandfather died almost 30 years ago. He was uneducated and grew up in the segregated streets of East St. Louis.
I loved my grandfather much like all boys loved their grandfather. I saw the good in him. He loved baseball and I loved baseball. When I visited him we would listen to games on the radio. I never known Grandpa Fred to be hateful or vindictive. But he spoke sheer ignorance without any knowledge of what he was doing. Hateful words came out of his mouth and it did so matter-of-factly that he had no idea of what he said.
He came to live with my family in Proctorville, Ohio in 1980. I saw a gentle side to an elderly man, I saw no hatred. But, I heard hatred, well, what sounded like hatred. It was not hatred but sheer ignorance. The things he said at times were not meant to be hurtful but they obviously would be taken if people had heard them.
I remember going upstairs and talking to Grandpa after he had been watching a Cincinnati Reds game. I asked him if anyone had hit a home run and see the yellow n------ did. I learned that Dan Driessen was the yellow n-----, George Foster was the black n-----, and Ken Griffey was the brown n------. He did not mean to disrespect the players. He admired them and liked them. His days were compiled of following their actions. But the words were tremendously hateful and hurtful.
He expressed his views in this manner frequently. They were not meant to hurt but they were hateful. He was a man ruled by ignorance. He did not wish harm to anyone but his words could entice riots and he totally did not mean them too.
The Ugly Head of Racism
So now, here we are dealing with racism in the year 2014. I have many African-American friends and always have. I really find it hard to believe that racism exists but it is still alive and well. It exists in ignorance. To understand why racism is still raging through Ferguson, one just look at the ignorance in my grandfather. That kind of ignorance was bred into many whites that grew up in that area.
Many blacks are still upset about how their relatives were disrespected. It’s hard for even time to kill so much ignorance that there is no doubt some of that ignorance in the air. And ignorance, either intentionally or unintentionally breeds hatred and hurt.
Much of racism is caused by whites still not getting past that ignorance and still unconsciously seeing blacks as ‘lower beings’. My grandfather never referred to blacks in that way but obviously by his words and actions, he must have surely felt that way.
But, racism and ignorance is in the hearts of many of the blacks as well. Looting and hurting innocent people is not a proper way for anyone to express anger. I remember a joke told by a comedian about the Rodney King riots. The comic said “I’m gonna get me a tv set for what they did to Rodney King.” In the context that the comic said this, it was quite funny. It was said by a black man and it mocks some of the ignorance of racism. If all this is about a white officer shooting a black teenager, then explain to me why property is being stolen.
It comes back down to the point that our country is divided. Heartbreakingly, we still have blacks and whites and ignorance in the middle as the great divider.
I, myself, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati had racial unrest under similar circumstances a decade ago.
I wonder what would happen to my community of Huntington, West Virginia under the same circumstances. We all seem to get along but what would happen if a white cop would shoot a black teenager this weekend? Would I be at war with people I worked beside and call friends. Would people who for years would give me the shirt off of their back and me do the same… would we suddenly be separated. I hope not but can we really truthfully answer that because as much as we want to deny that we are different, deep down something still separates us. I do not want to think that it is hatred but I believe it is some kind of ignorance.
I live in a black dominated neighborhood in Huntington. When I had car problems I’d walk through the heart of Fairfield and Hal Greer without any instances. I walked for months around midnight to go to work and passed many people and they never bothered me. How would that change if what happened in Ferguson happened here. It would not change me but would it change others in my community? Would I move out of my neighborhood in fear?
I pray that the friendships between the black and white communities of our cities and towns is never tested. I pray that racism is dead and gone. I pray that piece prevails in Huntington. But Ferguson scares me.
Ferguson scares the hell out of me. I do not understand it. I guess it is the ignorance in me.
- lack of knowledge or information.
"he acted in ignorance of basic procedures"
incomprehension of, unawareness of, unconsciousness of, unfamiliarity with, inexperience with, lack of knowledge about, lack of information about; More
"a statement that shows a complete ignorance of the regulations"
lack of knowledge, lack of education, unenlightenment, illiteracy;
"both ignorance and poverty contribute to the growing problem of forced child labor