An essay detailing thoughts on racism during a trip to Idaho.
I am poorly-traveled.I guess that’s the opposite of well-traveled.Although I’ve been to numerous states in our glorious country from top to bottom and on both coasts, they were usually just business trips or reunions.I was escorted by colleagues or family to well-planned locations.
I recently received a prestigious promotion, being especially honored as I am the only African-American in my company.This further confirmed my long-held belief one’s color is no excuse for failure.I’ve turned my nose up at many who proclaimed race or creed kept success from their grasps.
In the same vein, I avoid racists of any color.I will proudly proclaim, “I can be proud of my people without hating other ethnic groups.”Oh, I have my prejudices like any other, but I heartily try to accept people as individuals and not judge them before getting to know them.
I was excited about my first scheduled business trip for this firm.I was to go to Idaho for a licensing conference in June.It would take place on a beautiful resort on Coeur d’AleneLake.The brochure spouted the luxuries available at the hotel.Excitement spurted through me in the weeks prior.Then in a meeting a few days before the trip Chris, my blonde traveling companion, mentioned Idaho had a large population of Skinheads.Time froze.I stared at her open-mouthed, unsure how to react.It took a few seconds to acknowledge the fear.The joy was gone.My boss quickly changed the subject, but the statement had obviously affected me.For the first time in my life I felt limited by my color.
I discussed my pending excursion with my family.My mom admonished me to keep my mouth shut.My brother-in-law chuckled and told me to be extra polite.We made small jokes, but the underlying concern seeped into our clothes and hair like cigarette smoke in a crowded party.
Idaho was the Whitest state I had ever set foot in.I saw no Black people in the airport, nor on the streets during the shuttle ride to the hotel.The strange thing is I probably would not have given it a thought, if it had not been for Chris’ declaration.Is it really better to be forewarned?
We reached the hotel at , ate and went to our respective rooms.My room was on a different floor from Chris’.I was nervous going alone to my room that night.No one in the hotel had singled me out in any way.In fact, everyone from the desk clerk to the waitress had been very pleasant.But my mind kept searching for signs of prejudice.
We had a free day before the conference started.I arose early and went down for coffee.Every time someone looked my way I read his thoughts, “She’s Black.What’s she doing here?”
Over the course of the weekend I saw only two African-Americans.The first was an old man with a shoeshine stand in the hotel.I smiled at him, but cringed inside.The stereotype was not lost on me.The other was a man in his thirties with his White wife and child.I was never so aware of my race as that weekend.
The interesting side to this trip was I experienced no outward displays of prejudice.All the racist scenarios played only in my mind.While the Idaho people were being sweet as pie to me, I was watching vigilantly for any signs of bias.I created my own walls.
The evening’s entertainment included a three-piece country band, who played on the docks behind the hotel.I lounged around with the other guests, listening to mellow tones of softly sung ditties.Then the group leader declared they would play Dueling Banjos.The song conjured up images of the good old boys from Deliverance.This was a bit too country for me.I adjourned to my room.Again, the isolation was of my own doing.
The conference went well.Chris and I gave clear, comprehensive presentations.As we returned to New Jersey, I pondered how much time I wasted worrying about what others thought of me.I let my fears keep me close to the resort, not venturing more than a block away and never alone.I kicked myself for allowing fear to limit me.
One week after our return to New Jersey the morning newscaster announced the Aryan Brotherhood headquarters were located in Idaho.The organization was under suit for shooting at a woman and her child as they looked for a lost wallet.The two had ventured too close to the Aryan property.I was fascinated by the report.At the same time I was finally able to rationalize maybe my fears kept me out of harms way.I could forgive myself.
When I travel again, I will remember this journey and try to be more unreserved.I will open myself to enjoy the people and surroundings with less fear.I will not say without fear.I have not come that far, and I’m not sure I should.