Editor’s note: This week, Weelunk will pause our normally scheduled programming to highlight stories that feature Black narratives. We have chosen to take this time to amplify those voices that are so often silenced and celebrate all that the African American community has contributed to the city of Wheeling. Today’s story originally posted on Jan. 21, 2019.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou
“Every black person knows one another and they hold monthly meetings to discuss other races.” If you even remotely believe this is true, you could have learned a thing or two (or SIX!) at Ron Scott Jr.’s recent presentation, “Six Things Every White Person Should Know.”
Ron’s hour-long seminar was hosted by MOVE-Marchers Ohio Valley Empowered earlier this month at the YWCA Wheeling to foster inclusiveness within the MOVE group and the greater community. About 35 people heard Ron speak about his experiences and lessons learned throughout his “40-plus years as a black man.” Ron calls this presentation a quick, “phone, keys, wallet” check of understanding and tolerance for the majority when dealing with others who are in the minority.
Ron, who is the director of cultural diversity and community outreach for the YWCA Wheeling, opened his presentation with an audience assessment exercise. His predominantly white audience was asked a series of thought-provoking questions, including the following:
Were you able to purchase toys for your children that had features that resembled your child’s?
When you ask to speak to the “person in charge,’” are you fairly certain you’ll be talking to someone of your own race?
Are you able to easily find a local hair salon that is adequately equipped to care for your hair?
These and other scenarios Ron highlighted are often taken for granted by many of us who live our lives from a place of “majority,” and quickly made the listener understand some of the hardships that minorities can face, particularly in non-metropolitan areas such as Wheeling.
A Message of Tolerance
Ron’s delivery was lighthearted, but his message was serious — we can all improve the ways we relate to those who differ from us in appearance, religious beliefs, sexual orientation or culture. Ron offered six key thoughts on how to be a better person when it comes to racism and prejudice. The “Six Things” presentation covered a wide variety of topics including the use of ebonics, ignorance, stereotyping and celebrating diversity.
One of Ron’s key points was that absence and ignorance could be a person’s worst enemies when dealing with people of other races and cultures. We often don’t make the effort to be around people who are different from us on a regular basis, nor do we actively seek to educate ourselves about cultures other than our own. Ignorance can cause us to cling to unfounded beliefs and stereotypes, neither of which is conducive to better relationships with others.
According to Ron, everyone has a backstory and history that make him or her unique and affect his or her outlook on life. You should never immediately put someone in a mental “box’” that you believe describes all persons of that race or culture. Taking the time to try to understand someone else’s perspective can make for smoother interactions with those of other races. Not doing so can have harmful effects on everyone concerned. As an example, Ron shared that because of an incident where a police officer used a racial slur to address his father when Ron was just a child, he drew the unfair conclusion that all officers were racist. It took him years to overcome that assumption and unlearn that unfortunate early lesson.
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Celebration Without Alienation
Ron stated that it’s important to remember that being pro-black does not mean a person is anti-white. It only means that the person believes that the black race is vitally important and should be acknowledged as such. “It is possible to celebrate one culture without alienating another,” Ron emphasized. He said that many times, black students see primarily white role models as they are growing up; teachers, principals, coaches. It almost becomes ingrained in their minds that success equals being white. “The blueprint for future success isn’t always seen by black students,” Ron told the group. He said that growing up, he was sometimes the only black person in any given room, and that became normal to him.
Doing Better Going Forward
How can we improve on the history of race relations, particularly in a country that seems to be regressing in that area? Ron’s short answer is simple — be present. “Go somewhere where there will be people who are different from you,” he encouraged the audience. “Attend a festival or other event.” There are many such opportunities here in Wheeling, Ron noted. “We have the YWCA Martin Luther King Day events, the Ohio Valley Pride Festival. On Feb. 1, the YWCA and Wheeling Heritage will be sponsoring an event called Hip-Hop: A Black Tie Affair that celebrates the art of hip-hop. Get out of your comfort zone and go to one of these events.”
Other suggestions Ron offered were to subscribe to a publication about a culture different from your own. Always mirror the behavior you want others to display. Make it a point to get to know someone better who is outside your usual circle of acquaintances. Ron said that while it can be difficult in our area to have an office or classroom full of diverse people, it’s not hard to foster diversity in other ways. For instance, diversity and inclusion can be demonstrated in an alternative way by having diverse reading materials available and by displaying diverse photographs and art in your home, office or classroom.
What would Ron hope that his audience learned from his presentation? That we’re all more than the skin we’re in and that any demographic can be led to bias and misconceptions if given enough ignorance or absence.
“Underneath, we’re all the same,” he said. “We’re all just people trying to live, work and kiss our kids.”
Ron is happy to share his “Six Things” discussion with any local organization. To schedule a presentation for your group, email Ron at email@example.com.
• A lifelong Wheeling resident, Ellen Brafford McCroskey is a proud graduate of Wheeling Park High School and the former Wheeling Jesuit College. By day, she works for an international law firm; by night, (and often on her lunch breaks and weekends) she enjoys moonlighting as a part-time writer. Please note that the views expressed in her writing are solely her own and do not necessarily reflect those of anyone else, including her full-time employer. Through her writing, Ellen aims to enlighten others on causes close to her heart, particularly addiction, recovery and equal rights. She and her husband Doug reside in Warwood with their clowder of rescued cats, each of whom is a direct consequence of his job as the Ohio County Dog Warden. Their family includes four adult children, their spouses and several grandkids.