Thursday, August 27, 2009

Let's Keep it That Way

I've often mentioned that I didn't really know or understand about racism until I moved away from Newfoundland. Prejudices? Yes, because I believe we all have natural tendencies to prejudge people to a certain degree.

But to be racist was as foreign to me as the skin colour many of those "comments" refer to.

I kinda owe it to the fact that I grew up very isolated. We just never saw anyone who wasn't white. Very rarely. In the city, there were a few Asian people and the occasional black person, but otherwise, we were as white a town as any could be. As a matter of fact, the first black person I ever spoke to or saw "up close" was my sister's boyfriend who knocked on our front door to surprise us when I was 16 years old.

That's hard for a lot of people to believe. And, trust me, I'm not saying that's a good thing. I love seeing Newfoundland becoming more culturally diverse. I love seeing people from all around the world on my island.

And certainly that isolation brings about an entire conversation on its own regarding the level of ignorance brought with such separation from the "real" world. But that's a blog for another day.

I'm saying that, for me personally, perhaps a non-issue lent itself to a non-issue. Having no ethnicity surrounding me growing up meant no one could make negative or deragatory statements of such a nature. I saw people as just people. That's it. I never questioned otherwise. Seeing someone "different" - well, of course, I could physically see the difference - but to truly see a person as different, in my mind, didn't occur to me because it was never pointed out.

For that reason, I'm not surprised by this article:

Bill Cosby struck by N.L. rescue story
Last Updated: Thursday, August 27,
2009 12:04 PM NT CBC News
Comedian Bill Cosby is bringing attention to the story of a small group of Newfoundlanders whose actions taught a black American decades ago that racism didn't exist everywhere.
Cosby recently brought Lanier Phillips onstage to tell his story, after he heard about the experience Phillips had in Newfoundland nearly 70 years ago.
It was during the Second World War, in 1942; Phillips was a 19-year-old
African-American deckhand on the USS Truxtun when it and another ship, the USS
Pollux, ran aground near St. Lawrence, on the province's south coast. Phillips, who had known only racism to that point in his life, was one of only 46 people to survive the wreck. He feared he would be lynched when rescuers brought him ashore, but instead, he was taken in to local homes, and the women of the community cared for him until he was well enough to leave.
He said the kindness he was shown when he was hauled ashore taught him that racism could be overcome.
Cosby told CBC News that he was intrigued when he heard the story.
"I wanted to know more because I thought it was the story of this black man and these women who had never seen this colour skin before," he said.
The story of how Phillips was treated in Newfoundland has been told
in documentaries and television programs. One of those programs was seen by
Cosby, who this summer sent a limousine to the retirement home where Phillips
lives near Washington, D.C., to bring him to a show Cosby was performing in nearby Virginia.Cosby then brought Lanier onstage to introduce him to the
audience and tell his story.
Cosby — who was stationed at a U.S. military base in Newfoundland for a brief time in the '50s — said he was especially struck when he heard Phillips say that the women of St. Lawrence tried to scrub him down after he was rescued, because they thought the colour of his skin was dirt from the shipwreck.
"But trying to scrub it off and clean it," Cosby said, "which it turns out to be not a novelty story as much as a story about a change that comes to a human being because of a difference in the way the human being is treated, and how it opens up very positive feelings in a human being."
Phillips is 86 years old now, and he has often said that the people of Newfoundland didn't just save his life, they changed it. "To experience instantly love and humanity that I didn't think existed between the races — it just changed everything for me."
After Phillips was rescued, he had a 20-year career in the navy and became an active member of the U.S. civil rights movement.
He credits the people of St. Lawrence for his success.
Cosby calls it a wonderful story.
"There's no way when you listen to his story there's a superiority of anything except human beings helping human beings,"
Cosby said. "Just about human beings and the power that human beings have when
they work to save each other."
A U.S. film producer is now hoping to turn the story of what happened to Phillips into a full-length film.

I'm so proud of us Newfoundlanders for understanding the true meaning of hospitality. That these women cared for this man with skin colour they had never seen before just speaks of hearts that are pure and kind.

Let this be a lesson to us. And for us to be a lesson for people everywhere. We are not as isolated to the world as we once were. But I hope our minds and hearts can continue to warmly welcome people with open arms, the way that true Newfoundlanders were meant to be. I like to think that we can still make make racism in our province a "non-issue", comparatively speaking. I'm not naive, just hopeful.

Did you grow up in an isolated place like I did? Do you think that isolation made your views of people from other cultures, creeds, religions, etc. positive or negative?


*kayla said...

This is a great article!

Quirky Christa said...

I think the isolation makes us "thirst" for knowledge of the unknown when we're presented with new cultures, races, etc.
I love meeting people from other cultures and asking probably too many questions because I find it so interesting.
Rather than the negative of discriminating just because we don't know, out of ignorance.
Not to mention, Newfies ROCK!
Have you read the 9/11 book called The Day the World Came to town? Highly recommend it. Just goes to show Nfld hospitality all over again.

Myrna Hynes said...

Christa, yes I have read that book. I agree, a great read about Nfld's hospitality to the stranded 9/11 victims.

vicki said...

I read the book too and thought it was great. There is no place or people like us Newfies! I agree with Christa WE ROCK!