Racial tension sparked civil unrest in Ferguson after the death of Michael Brown last August, bringing the issue of racial profiling of African American males by police officers to the forefront. Members of Faith Voices for Jefferson City believe the larger conversation of racial profiling in Missouri is long overdue. In January, members of Faith Voices for Jefferson City and local faith leaders embarked on a yearlong conversation on race at Quinn Chapel AME Church. One of the goals was to create an open discussion on race between African American residents and Caucasian residents rather than segregating it in the comfort of their homes.
Quinn Chapel pastor Dr. Cassandra Gould, who led the evening’s discussion on race, began with a charismatic story from her youth.
“Dad was chocolate, mom and I were caramel, she was banana and the lady next door and our friends across the street were vanilla,” Gould said. “And so kids until they know anything different they think of race and differences as simple as we think of ice cream flavors.”
Gould said often times racism begins with a hegemonic narrative, or a dominant story in society generally accepted as true. As a child she began to understand the consequences of this way of thinking in the sixth grade. A close friend was having a birthday party, but told her crying that Gould not come.
“Debbie said, ‘I’m really embarrassed, but my dad doesn’t like black people,’” Gould said. “It took me a while to process that. ‘What did you say? My dad—I don’t want to say what my dad called you guys. My mom wants you to know that she doesn’t think like that, but my dad won’t have black people’—and I’m sure that’s not the word that he used ‘in his home.’”
But now, she doesn’t blame Debbie’s father. She believes a society shaped his mindset. But the goal of the evening’s discussion was to work toward breaking that narrative.
And Gould wasn’t the only one with a story. One by one members of the community took to the stage to tell their first encounters with racism and discrimination.
Wayne Lee, a Caucasian disability advocate in Jefferson City said it took his bouts with epilepsy to truly understand the negative side effects on racism.
“My seizures you can’t see them,” Lee said. “Many times you’re not even aware that I have them. And my disability is not visible like a person who uses a wheel chair. And my skin color is not something that causes people to point fingers or stare at a person, or give them strange looks or treat them in a negative way. But when I first started having seizures I used to wake up on the floor at school and be kicked sometimes or spit upon.”
Lee’s story continued, showing new marginalized groups can work together.
“So at one time I was afraid of African Americans yes, but as I got older African Americans became my friends because they became my protectors in school,” Lee said. “So it became something that I actually learned from. And this is something that we can all learn from.”
Jefferson City resident Kim Woodruff said she first became aware that she was different in her middle school classroom when her classmate pointed it out to her.
“He was like well I’ve never seen anyone like you before,” Woodruff said. “And I was like what do you mean? Well you’re black. And I was in the sixth grade. And I was like well yes I am.”
Woodruff said frank conversations on race are needed if we expect to see change in our society.
“In order for there to be change there has to be people that are committed to help with that change. If your voice isn’t heard there’s lots of things that are—that won’t occur.”
Gould said discussions like this are the first steps to “dismantling” racism in America.
“Our country is literally built on racism and racist ideals,” Gould said. “And until we can be open and honest about all of the ill effects of that, we're never going to change.”
In the end Gould said her hope is that faith leaders will continue to offer spaces for people to share their stories, no matter their color.