Editorial: ‘We are all brothers and sisters under the same sun’
By Richard Gaw
In every edition of the Chester County Press, we devote this space to reflect on the ebb and flow news cycle of our community. Occasionally, we take on the largest issues of the world and run them through the prism of their impact on the residents of southern Chester County.
In this editorial, however, we proudly and without hesitation surrender this space to the words of a young woman who spoke at the Black Lives Matter protest in West Grove on June 7 before a stilled and silent audience of 300 peaceful protestors of all colors, all demographics, all persuasions and all beliefs.
Holding a microphone in one hand and the words you are about to read in the other, Satoria Johnson delivered a speech so eloquent, so filled with breathtaking honesty and so powerful in its vision of hope that we feel it needs to be shared with others, so that others may learn. (We have gently edited Ms. Johnson’s address.)
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I remember being a child and being told by my bi-racial mother, “Tori, throughout your whole life, you will have to work twice as hard as your friends to get to the same point because of the color of your skin.”
I also remember not understanding and thinking that it was just one of those lectures that all parents give their kids, but as I grew up in a predominantly white community and attended schools in Chester County, I soon realized that what my mother said was true.
The first time that I was called the “N” word with a hard R, I was only 9 years old, and I was in school. At the time, I didn’t really understand the magnitude of that experience. I didn’t realize how it would bring on a whole childhood of shame about the color of my skin, about the texture of my hair, about the shape of my lips and nose.
Fast forward four years, it was 2008 and this kid on the bus tells me that he bets that I want Obama to win so that my dad can get food stamps and abuse the system, “if I even know him,” he said. My father is a black man that owns multiple successful businesses, has a substantial real estate portfolio, and has been a prominent and successful lawyer for 42 years. He owns his own law firm and has never received welfare, never collected unemployment benefits, and has never lived on the public dime.
I only hope today that the child who made that statement about my father can boast the same about his dad and himself. At that time, I felt that anger in my heart that makes me understand the pain and frustration that people of color all over the country are currently and consistently feeling.
That was the first time that I was aware of how ignorance thrives in our society. It is now obvious to me from that child’s remarks that those remarks and his feelings about people of color was a learned behavior. This type of ignorance is generational and is usually picked up on from the adults in their lives.
It took me growing up into adulthood in a family full of people of color to consider that what I learned in school for those 10 minutes during Black History Month and the way people of color are presented in the media couldn’t be the full story.
It was not until I was 17 years old that I decided to truly embrace and love my hair and my skin, not for myself but for my beautiful brown daughter -- to love my blackness in front of her, and teach her that she is worthy and perfect the way that she is.
When my daughter was 5, my sister asked her what she wanted for her birthday and she said she wanted “to take off my skin and replace it with white skin.”
Hearing this comment from my daughter at this young and tender age was devastating to me, as it would be to any parent. I hope no other child or parent ever has to deal with a situation as heart shattering as that one. Despite all of my attempts to teach my daughter to love herself, the society that we live in teaches her that she wasn’t enough because of the color of her skin through the Eurocentric idea of beauty that is presented on TV and even in books.
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My daughter is now 7 years old. The other day, we were having a discussion about racism at dinner in light of the circumstances in the United States and in her sweet, innocent mind, her idea of racism was when people run in races. I had to explain to my 7 year old baby that despite the fact that she is such a kind and wonderful human being there are people in the world that may treat her differently because of the color of her skin and just like that my whole life came full circle.
I want to live in a world where little babies of color don’t have to deal with the spirit- crushing realization that they are viewed differently and will have to work harder to overcome oppression. There have been plenty of instances where I have been seen as a threat by strangers for the color of my skin despite the fact that I always choose mercy and value each life on this planet whether human, animal, or bug.
My skin is not a weapon; it is not scary; and it should never be a death sentence
People of color are not thugs. We are not dangerous, and we are not second class citizens. We are humans that are full of love and dreams like every other race, culture, or group of beings. I challenge everyone here today to reevaluate what you know about American History. I know that when it comes to the injustices that people of color have faced throughout history, we are often told to “forget about it” because it was “so long ago,” but both of my parents who are alive and here today were alive during the Civil Rights Movement. It was not that long ago. We should not turn a blind eye to the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us.
I think the single stories that we have in our education system are leaving out the portions that teach us about systemic racism that has happened in this country and has created the humanitarian issue that we have today. If we do not know the full history of the past, not just the parts we like or that make us feel comfortable, we are doomed to repeat it and as we can see, history is repeating itself.
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I challenge all of you to learn as much as you can about the oppression of people of color that has taken place in this country since its inception and that continues to take place and then demand that our schools teach our children the full story and if they won't, we need to at home, then and only then, I believe we will see a new world where we won’t have to mourn over all the George Floyds, Trayvon Martins, Tamir Rices, Breonna Taylors, and Sandra Blands of the world.
We are all brothers and sisters under the same sun, under the same God, and sharing the same home on this beautiful earth. I know that a lot of people say that they’re colorblind but through colorblindness also comes blindness to the systemic and institutional injustices that take place against people of color.
I challenge you today to see color, to value color, and to celebrate the diversity among us. Color is what makes the world such a beautiful and vibrant place.