Gary Kremer, a professor and scholar of African-American history, was once asked by a white student why black people can’t just get over racism.
The student noted that slavery ended well before the student’s parents or grandparents were alive.
“My short response to that question was they can’t get over (racism) because it isn’t over,” Kremer said.
It was a logical answer to a simplistic and offensive question.
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Kremer, who is white, grew up in Osage County, Mo., a place he called the whitest county in the state. Indeed, 98.85 percent of residents in Osage County were Caucasian, according to the 2010 census.
Notably, Kremer enrolled at historically-black Lincoln University in the mid-
1960s to study sociology.
“It was close to home and affordable,” he said.
His focus changed when he took a history course taught by Lorenzo Greene, an esteemed African-American historian at the school.
Now the executive director of the State Historical Society of Missouri, Kremer has authored several books on race, including “Race and Meaning: The African American Experience in Missouri.” He was in town recently to discuss that book, which includes articles Kremer penned over four decades on topics such as the transition from slavery to freedom for African Americans in Missouri and the journey of African Americans seeking new opportunities in Missouri’s cities.
Kremer’s visit came one day before three Applebee’s employees falsely accused two black women of leaving the Independence Center restaurant without paying their bill. The women vehemently denied the allegations and accused the restaurant of racial profiling.
In a video that surfaced after the incident, an Independence police officer is seen ridiculing one of the women for crying. An internal review determined the women were wrongly accused, and the Applebee’s employees were terminated as a result. Police released a tepid statement about the officer’s actions five days later.
The incident, as people of color can attest, highlights the fact that racism and discrimination, both subtle and overt, are alive and well in present-day America.
“You see it in housing, health care, education, income and (other areas),” Kremer said. “Until we accept that and own it and grapple with it, we’re not going to fix the problem.”
To effectively address racial and cultural differences, incremental steps are needed to broker a better understanding of others. Miranda Johnson gets that.
The 24-year-old white woman from Kansas City was in the audience for Kremer’s presentation.
Johnson acknowledges she has lived a privileged life but says she wants to better understand race relations.
“I’ve been trying to do a lot more listening and hearing what people (of color) have to say about their lives and trying not to contend with what they have to say,” Johnson said. “I can’t tell them that they are wrong. It’s the only thing that feels fair.”
Luis Ramos, a native of Brazil, was also in attendance. He’d been in Kansas City less than a month, but he already had seen the effects of racism here.
“In Brazil, racism is more geographical,” Ramos said. “In America, it is a lot more institutionalized.”
So what can a professor raised in lily-white Osage County teach us about race? Or a millennial white woman with a private school education? Or a foreigner new to the country?
That just getting over it remains an awfully tough challenge when racism and discrimination are still prevalent right here, right now.