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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (Feb. 3, 1994)
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Exposure eases racial tension
When I first arrived at the
coln, I was shocked. It
wasn’t by the campus’ size or its beau
tiful sculptures. It wasn’t the union or
the fountain or the friendliness of the
Over and over, I asked one ques
tion: “Where are all the black peo
I grew up in what I assume to be
Nebraska’s blackest area, North Oma
ha. Walking through the aisles of my
junior high and high school, I saw a
black face for every white one.
At church, in grocery stores and in
restaurants, on the streets and on the
sidewalks, I was used to seeing differ
Suddenly, my whole world was
white. Even though I was only 50
miles from home, I felt like I was in a
different country. 1 could count on my
hands the number of minorities I saw
in a day. After a few months this
didn’t seem so strange to me anymore.
I got used to it.
Since then, I’ve changed.
For the first time in my life, I am
acutely aware of other races. When I
talk to someone new who is black, I
find myself thinking ever so quickly,
“I’m talking to a black person. Am I
being appropriate? Do they think I’m
When I noticed this in myself, I felt
kind of sick.
Race relations at my high school
weren’ t perfect. There was racism and
hatred and anger, but it never com
pared to the tension I feel between
races at UNL. Here there is a tension
so heavy and tangible, you can see it in
people’s faces and hanging over their
My high school was integrated.
Some white students were bused in
from other parts of Omaha to achieve
racial balance. I wasn’t one of those
students, but most of my friends were.
When your only exposure to
black culture is Bill Cosby and
a chapter in your fifth-grade
social studies book about the
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,
you just don’t know how to act
or what to say.
When I went to school, I didn’t see
black people. I saw Robyn and
Lawrence and Clif. I saw people with
names and personalities. I saw friends
I understand why the university is
a mostly white institution. Nebraska
is a mostly white state.
I don’t know how tension could be
avoided between races at UNL. Most
white students don’t mean to be insen
sitive. Most have had few relation
ships with black people in their lives.
There aren’t many minorities in towns
like Elkhom or Beaver City. Heck,
there aren’t many minorities in Millard
or West Omaha.
When your only exposure to black
culture is Bill Cosby and a chapter in
your fifth-grade social studies book
about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King
Jr., you just don’t know how to act or
what to say.
And what about black students at
UNL? If I was surprised by the gleam
ing white campus, how does it feel for
black students who come here? How
would it feel to have everyone assume
you were an athlete?
How would it feel to be the only
black person in the classroom, the one
everyone looked at with discomfort or
curiosity when the professordiscussed
Unlike most UNL students, I came
from a poor family in a poor neighbor
hood. But I can pretend I’m just like
everyone else. I can blend in. When
my political science professor discusses
the struggles of the lower class, no one
turns to me. My differences aren’t
evident from the color of my skin.
To some students, the push in re
cent years to bring multiculturalism to
UNL classrooms may seem excessive
Sometimes I wonder how effective
these programs will be. Will white
students from small Nebraska towns
understand black issues just by read
ing “The Color Purple” or the poetry
of Maya Angelou?
If nothing else , perhaps discussing
black issues, Hispanic issues and
American Indian issues will make
talking about these things easier. And
maybe after we’ve talked about them,
they won’t seem as scary or intimidat
ing, and maybe they’ll seem irrele
vant. And maybe the campus will be
And, then again, maybe not.
I don’t have any solution to racial
problems here on campus or anywhere
else. I just know I am grateful I grew
up with different kinds of people, and
I hope I never have to be in a place
where everyone is just like me.
Rowell it a Jualor news-editorial, adver
tising aad Kngiisli major and the Daily Ne
braskaa opinion page editor.
K. Ill (,III S Sll WkS
All historiesliaVe culture ruin
Although 1 am a 35-year-old
graduate student, I don’t
know much about American
history. This puzzles people. They ask
me why I haven’t spent more time
studying it. For me, it’s simple. Amer
ican history is full of painful realities
I’ve tried to avoid.
Some of us are more likely to focus
on events in our own country first. A
black man, for example, is expected to
be preoccupied with the plight of
American blacks. But as a black, I’m
not obligated to perform that ritual.
As a child I found it so frustrating,
I decided to forget about it.
I realize now you can’t forget about
it. But I tried.
As early as fifth or sixth grade I
remember purposely ignoring “Amer
ican** history, l claimed it was too one
sided for me. What I did know of
history made me very angry — so
angry, in fact, I thought it was best to
not even think about it.
I knew most textbooks contained a
pretty good account of history. But
true history has several sides. I didn’t
want just the one side explained in my
textbooks. I wanted other sides too.
Perhaps I did this just to be con
trary—not unusual fora 10-year-old.
I used to tell my friends, “I’m not
studying that. It probably isn’t true.”
Thank God they didn’t listen to me.
By high school, I could brag that I
had only completed one book. Oh, I
had good reasons, some real doozies.
My favorites were, “The blacks and
the Indians aren’t treated fairly.” and
“The books aren’t written by blacks
This was probably true. But what
was I going to study instead? Unfortu
nately, refusing to read my textbooks
meant I got no side at all. Boy, was that
My negative attitude continued
through college. I took “American”
history only when I had to. Another
Sure, I may not be as well-versed in
American history as some of my peers.
But by avoiding American history, I
have remained objective. And I have
been able to study human nature, hu
But true history has several
sides. I didn’t want just the one
side explained in my textbooks.
I wanted other sides too.
man suffering and human history in
other contexts. American history is
personal, and if I immersed myself in
it, I would be constantly angry.
What began as the knee-jerk re
sponse of a 10-year-old became a love
for Eastern Europe, Iberia and Latin
America, the places I turned to study
after rejecting my own country’s his
tory. In the process I learned to appre
ciate life in the United States.
Two of my siblings worked and
studied extensively outside of the
United States. Both had incredible
experiences that fascinated me and
encouraged me to learn more about
My sister studied twice in Brazil
during high school and college. By
age 20, she’d mastered Spanish and
Portuguese and survived a military
coup, which cut short her last visit.
My older brother was a Russian
linguist. He spied on the Soviets and
was in the former Czechoslovakia in
1968 when the Russians took over.
Stories about their experiences
drew me farther and farther from the
United States. Following in their foot
steps, I studied the languages an^
cultures they did. To help me undjM
stand these new languages, I deMl
oped a strong understanding of En^
I’ve since read scores of texts.jour
nals, biographies, novels and articles.
I’ve learned that things are tough all
over. America isn’t so bad.
I’m not forgetting the American
Indians or slavery. I’m not forgetting
the exploitations of the Chinese or the
We didn’t invent genocide or ex
ploitation based on race in the United
States. We have practiced them though.
We are not the first country to
nearly obliterate its indigenous peo
ple, but we didn’t invent the hypocrisy
that attempts to justify it.
But hashing over past and continu
ing injustices inflicted on our own
people gets old.
There is no doubt there is far less
oppression and more opportunity here.
There is more contentment, more free
Early on I thought I knew what I
was doing. But I completed only four
books by age 23. “Alive,” “Blackfoot
Indian Lodge Tales,” “The Divine
Comedy” and “The Invisible Man.”
I met compulsory American histo
ry requirements in college with a huge
chip on my shoulder. Needless to say,
I struggled like hell.
By my college graduation I had
become well-versed in 18th-century
English literature, Latin American
and Eastern European history and
I didn’t need to study American
history to learn about the pain and
endured by my fellow coun
’t have to go to an Amer
reservation to see the ef
fects of the destruction of a culture.
Examples of human anguish and the
strife brought about by oppression can
be found anywhere in the world.
Pain is colorless. It doesn’t matter
whose pain you study. What matters is
how it happens and what it does to
Shaalu it a graduate itndeat aad i Daily
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