Flesh & Bone #5: A Reflection from Greg Ward (Part 2)

Here is part two of Greg Ward’s essay.  Click here to re-read part one.
So, what is the attraction to these intolerant groups? Like I mentioned earlier, in Prerov, it was shocking that there were so many young men and women involved in the demonstration. I can’t imagine that each one of them has embraced every evil aspect of the far‐right cause. To better understand the mentality of these young people, I researched a major problem in the United States, which is gang activity. According to an article written by Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, in the United States, there are approximately 24,500 youth gangs with 772,500 youth members (7% of U.S. teen population). The National Gang Center and the Office of Juvenile Justice state that boys are more likely to join gangs but, lately, female involvement is increasing. Gangs are recruiting youth as young as 10 years old, vulnerable teens who are trying to fit in and to be accepted, and others that are excited by violence and criminal activity. Gang members use many deceptive methods to gain new recruits. For example, they have promised to fill the voids in the children’s’ lives such as family, money, and protection from rival gangs. These tactics are the very similar to the methods used by the far‐right groups to recruit the youth of Europe. One would think that the government or some other organization would step in to provide an alternative to joining these groups but that’s not the case. Actually, instability in the economy has caused many state-subsidized clubs to close, which used to keep the youth off of the streets. To make matters worse, a shortage of jobs and housing has increased the membership of youth in neo‐Nazi groups. Where are the parents and community leaders that should be pointing their children in the right direction? I know for a fact that not everyone in Europe is in support of the far‐right. Now, more than ever, we need the few strong voices in each community to broaden the horizons of these misguided children.
Once again, I’d say that we experienced racism in Prerov but we were mostly discriminated against because our physical features were different from the majority. We don’t look American. America is a country full of immigrants from everywhere. Especially since people are blending more and more, the face of America is changing faster than ever. I come from a multi‐racial background or  what we used to call “mixed”. To be more specific, my father is African‐American  and my mother comes from people with German, Scottish, Irish, and Native‐ American roots. Due to this multi‐ethnic background, I feel that my concept of race was established more broadly than most. For example, both sides of my family have different customs that they adhere to, different ways of expressing their emotions with each other, and even different religious beliefs. So, growing up around these different traditions gave me a more open point of view concerning how I interact with the many different cultures in today’s society. I couldn’t have asked for a better upbringing but this valuable experience didn’t come without its challenges. For example, even in my own family, there was a presence of racism. My mother’s family strongly opposed her marrying my father and even told her not to come around after their wedding. This was 1980 and interracial relationships were still receiving some criticism in Peoria, Illinois. The story that I hear from my uncle is that I had something to do with the resolution of this issue in our family. He told me that when I was born, my grandfather called my uncle and said, “He’s cinnamon!” and that was the end of their racist actions toward my father. Interestingly enough, another uncle’s two daughters both married African‐American men and each had multi‐ethnic children as well. I think it’s funny how racism was stopped in my family and consider it a blessing. My father’s side of the family always embraced my sister and I. I suppose that because they are African‐American and have been the target of racism throughout their lives that they weren’t about to perpetuate any sort of discrimination in our family.
Outside of family, discrimination has been present throughout my life in many situations. One experience occurred when I had my first girlfriend. She was Caucasian. When her mother found out that I was African‐American, she forbid me to date her daughter because, long ago, her sister dated an African‐American man that treated her poorly. Since I was only 15 years old, I didn’t put up much of a fight but was reminded that life would always be different for me because of my skin pigmentation. Another experience occurred when I was 16 years old. I remember riding my bike around my hometown of Peoria, Illinois, with all of my friends. When we stopped at a corner, a 7‐year‐old little boy approached me. He began to taunt me with one of those “nah nah na boo boo” melodies but I couldn’t quite understand  him because of his speech impediment. As I listened more closely, I heard him singing, “Black boy, black boy,” and throwing around the “N” word from time to time. The sad thing about this is that the young boy obviously learned this directly from his parents and or immediate community. From my African‐American community, I only remember certain situations where I was accused of “not being black enough”. So, again, I notice that all of my personal experiences with racism were actually intolerance of my skin pigmentation and not of my moral character, religious background, or ethnicity.
How do these experiences make me feel? I suppose, since intolerance and discrimination have been present throughout my entire life that other peoples’ thoughts don’t really matter to me anymore. Their actions are more of a concern to me, especially with in a group. In Prerov, the far‐right groups were demonstrating under the protection of the freedom of speech laws in the Czech Republic. I support freedom of speech for everyone but believe that the motive of the Autonomous Nationalists was to intimidate and to physically harm the Roma people, which has been previously documented at numerous demonstrations. This is mob action, which can be defined as the knowing or use of reckless force or violence or disturbing the peace by 2 or more persons acting together and without authority of law. In some perfect world we would all love each other and appreciate each other’s differences but I think that we are a long way from this. Also, I believe that this sort of change requires a turning of one’s heart and will not happen because of any law enforcement.

Stay tuned next week for the third and final part.