MCPHERSON – Compared to other communities, racism may not be as big a factor as one may think or see, but it is prevalent and in many cases is more subtle than it is obvious within the community of McPherson itself. Several participants from the Black Lives Matter walk last week in McPherson shared their experiences during a question and answer session at the event, and found support for their journey of acceptance.
Ray Gibbs, who has lived in McPherson since the early 1970’s when he came from Chester, Pennsylvania to play football and attend school at McPherson College said culture shock was real and differences more apparent in Kansas than where he came from.
"While I grew up in Chester near Philadelphia, it was near the large rural tri-state area of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York," Gibbs said. "It was there that I attended grade school and junior high with a melting pot group of kids. We had Jewish kids, Italian kids, Asians, Greeks, white kids and Puerto Ricans. But by the time I got to high school, it was predominately black."
In McPherson, Gibbs said he realized that the stories his mother told him as a kid about how people of color were being treated in the past were actually mini-history lessons to help prepare him on what to expect in the world ahead of him. He was different in McPherson, especially when he stayed in the community and joined the workforce in a major industry.
"What I noticed was the consistent stereotyping by a few ignorant co-workers as well as the leadership/management team nearly every day," Gibbs said. "Over time I noticed the bias in how different individuals were being treated and eventually I had a couple of supervisors who did apologize to me for their treatment and/or behavior toward me while also finally acknowledging that I did have a solid work ethic."
Doug and Tandy Wine, two Caucasian individuals raised in the rural countryside’s of Nebraska and Kansas met while attending McPherson College, got married and adopted Spenser, a child of color. They said they worried about how their son would be treated and tried to prepare him for those occasions as he was growing in a rural white community.
Spenser Wine, a recent graduate of Washburn University, spoke at the McPherson event about the times he realized he wasn’t exactly like his playmates.
"Pretty early on in my life I realized that I may be treated differently because of the color of my skin. I was not older than first grade when a group of kids at McDonald’s said I could not play with them because I was black," he said. "Growing up, my parents did a good job of explaining to me that no matter what my personality is like, some people will treat me differently because of the color of my skin. Having two, well-known white parents, I believe provided with me a type of shield from the racism that other African-Americans may have experienced in this community."
Doug Wine, an elementary school teacher said he was sure racism was something taught in homes and not in schools.
"I remember my African-American friends in college would be pulled over by the police for nothing more than an out-of-state license plate," he said. "I know they were followed around in stores by the employees, something that has continued through the years from what I have heard. Being a teacher, I do not think racism is a problem in the elementary schools as much as it is in middle school and high school. I am confident that racism is taught at home and not at school."
As for the future, Doug and Tandy Wine both agreed that as Spenser wanders out into the world they worry about him having an encounter with law enforcement officers that could end up with him being hurt or worse, such as not coming home.
"I worry about Spenser crossing paths with a violent racist or that he will ‘match the description’ of a suspect because he is black," Tandy said. "These are the kind of thoughts that keep me up at night."
After he participated in the walk, Spenser Wine shared his hopes and fears for the future.
"My greatest hope is that by the time I am raising my children, I can look back at this point in time and say, ‘I was part of the reason why things are different now’. I hope that my children can walk into places and not be stared at just because they are African Americans," he said. "My biggest fear is that nothing changes in response to the recent events and that in another 10-20 years down the road, we will still be having the same conversations."