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Sarah Stultz: Start within ourselves to make changes

Nose for News by Sarah Stultz


This past weekend I was overwhelmed by viewpoints as I processed more of what was taking place to our neighbors to the north in Minneapolis and St. Paul, as well as in other cities around the nation.

I am sad — sad for many different groups. I’m sad for the family of George Floyd, who watched their loved die on recorded video; for the business owners whose livelihoods have been unfairly destroyed in riots; for all of the minority groups who have been victims of prejudice in the past; for the many kind police officers out there who have shown compassion and built bridges in communities; and for our state’s leaders, who are dealing with navigating an extremely difficult situation.

As I sit here typing this, I have an unsettled feeling. On one end, I wish there was something I could do to help mend the situation, to help those people who have been unfairly targeted know that there are many people who support them.

On the other end, I am scared — grateful we are an hour and a half away from the violence that plagued those cities this week. Can I just wake up tomorrow and find out this was all just a horrible nightmare?

How did things reach this point?

I grew up in the state of Virginia in a much different place than Albert Lea. I lived in a much larger city, and there was much more diversity. But even with that diversity, there were more Caucasians than people of other races.

The state had a more complicated part in the Civil War, and I always felt that even after more than 100 years, there were lingering effects of the war there, especially in how some viewed people of other races.

It was not always said, but the implicit bias was still there. I even remember hearing some older people use unfavorable references for people of different races. They didn’t voice outward hatred or negativity toward these people, but those terms were sadly still a part of their vocabulary.

Many of that generation have come and gone, and I was hopeful that little by little that bias would disappear — but it hasn’t. In some ways, I think it has even gotten worse.

I’ve sadly even seen it in our own community in how I have witnessed some white people talk about people of other races online.

I know this is a learned behavior because of how much differently people act when they are children versus how they act when they are adults.

One example that comes to mind for me is when my daughter, Sophie, was in kindergarten.

I loved watching her make friends in her classroom. Her class was filled with children of all backgrounds and races, and I quickly noticed that she and the other children in the classroom did not care if their friends were white, black or another race. They didn’t care if the children came from rich or poor families or what part of Albert Lea they lived.

They didn’t know the difference between brand-name clothes and clothes you’d buy from a second-hand store, and they didn’t see differences in houses in different parts of the city. They were just happy to find someone who would play with them or who would sit next to them at lunch.

If only we could return to a point where we are like these little children again — where no one judges others by the color of their skin, by the neighborhood they live, by the car they drive or by the amount of money in their bank account.

As we think about how to move forward to bring change in the coming weeks, I hope we first begin by looking inward about the biases we might have in our own lives. When we find them — and we all will, whether they are biases about race, wealth or appearances — we must start within ourselves to make a change.

Sarah Stultz is the managing editor of the Tribune. Her column appears every Wednesday.