Does Racism Still Exist?

By Fred Mason
Updated: October 24, 2006

NORTH CAROLINA–I write this document on this date, October 22nd, based on an event that happened on October 13th, just over a week ago. This is based on what happened at a local high school football game. There are a few angles that this may be viewed under, but there are counters for that as well. But the one thing I want to try to get across to anyone reading this is to answer this question; does racism still exist, in small towns like Wilson, North Carolina? Your answer cannot be “maybe”, it must be either “yes” or “no”.

I am the Marketing Director and Executive Producer of sports here in the town of Wilson, North Carolina. I am solely responsible for all the groundwork that made it possible to bring our community local high school sports via broadcast radio. When I say “solely” that is what I mean. From the beginning to end, I put a lot of time in making sure we could be able to bring those games to our listeners by a local radio station, WLLY 1350 AM.

Oh, by the way, I am black, which unfortunately factors heavily in my argument”.

I am responsible for contacting the schools, producing commercials, doing post production, keeping in touch with the announcers and the radio station, mailing bills, as well as some announcing during the games. I do multiple tasks to ensure that we can continue to bring these games to the listeners, many of whom cannot get to the games. It is a pure honor for me do be able to do this, but it is also a business as well, so we have to make money. Every hat that could be worn I have put on, but it is worth it when I am at a game, and enjoying the moment.

But on that day, Friday, October 13th, something happened that disappoints me to no end. To understand, let me share with you what happened while at one of our local high schools (I can divulge the name later, right now I am trying to give grace).

As a broadcaster I am one of several people in the press box at this high school. On our broadcasts I start the program with another announcer doing pre game talk. I am also a spotter for the main announcer. During commercial breaks I have to monitor the “spots” to make sure the commercials were played when they should. I don’t just sit at these football games and watch, I am very involved from start to finish.

Near halftime of this game, a cheerleader comes into the press box and begins the “courtesy” of taking orders for the members of the press box. Apparently at this high school, they will treat all members in the press box to a free drink and even a hot dog if they like. Starting from the left side, she began taking “orders” from each and every person in the room. She started with the assistant coach of the home team, then moved to a writer for a local newspaper, then moved to our two announcers”.

By stepping BETWEEN myself and my assistant.

Let me now preface this situation by clearly stating that my assistant and myself are obviously black. The cheerleader was white. This, on the grandest scope of things, should not have made any difference, but unfortunately it does.

The young girl said not one word to us, in fact I don’t really know if she ever looked at us, but obviously knew we were there because she had to step in between us, and in front of us, to take the orders of the announcers. At that time the writer of the local newspaper got my attention because he had originally declined a drink, but asked me if I could get her attention so he could take her up on that courtesy. I gently tapped the shoulder of the young cheerleader and made mention of it, to which the girl told me that he didn’t want anything, to which I told her that he changed his mind. So she stepped back to him, got his request, and stepped BETWEEN myself and my assistant again”

Mind you, we are black.

The cheerleader waited patiently for the announcers to pause and then got their order. At this time, my assistant and I looked at each other “that kinda look where you KNOW something isn’t right. We didn’t say one word, but waited to see if the young girl would ask us if WE wanted something, or even if we were with the announcers.”

After she finished with the two announcers, she kept moving to the right, getting the orders of the public address announcer and timekeeper, then to the far right to get the orders of the visiting coaches.

When she left, my assistant looked at me; we KNEW what had happened. That cheerleader had intentionally forgotten us, and had not even so much as acknowledged us at the very least. Had I not tapped her on the shoulder for the local writer, she would not have said one letter, one word to us at all.

She went down, got the drinks and food and came back up and served it to those she got the orders for “and we got nothing. I was highly upset but had to stay focused on the project at hand” doing the game. That was priority one, anything else had to wait.

But I could not help feel absolutely rejected and disrespected, as if I had no value to that girl because I was black. She apparently assumed that I had no value because she never ever even asked who I was, or who I was with. She naturally assumed that I could not be of any value, and for such a reason never said one word to me, not even a “hello” or even an “excuse me” for stepping between myself and my assistant.

While everyone was enjoying hotdogs and soda, we stood against the wall, totally ignored. My announcers even commented on how wonderful the service was for the school, while I stood in content, feeling alike a second class citizen in this “All American City”.

About that time one of the announcers turned to me and said, “hey, did you guys get anything”? To which I responded, “no, she walked right past us without even acknowledging us”. The announcer immediately offered his hotdog to us, but I was not hungry; I try not to eat while I work at a game, and more importantly, I lost my appetite due to this insult of humanity.

My assistant and I were very disappointed in this, but we were able to keep this in check until the game was over. Like I said before, the priority was to get the game done; everything else could wait. I could easily push those feelings back because there was indeed a job to do, and I wanted to be professional in that. But after the game was over, we were very, very upset on the ride home, as the insult of that event sunk in.

We were ignored because we were black.

In my great disappointment, I promised my assistant that I would write to the principal and assistant principal of that school to let him know what happened, and how I felt about it. So that night I wrote the letter, and the next day, I put it in the mail box.

A few days later I was able to call one of my announcers on some other business, some changes in our plans. It was then that he brought to my attention some complaints he heard from some people he know. He told me that the head of the cheerleaders was very upset that I would insinuate that their cheerleaders are “racist”. He said he got some phone calls from some friends that had a copy of that letter, and didn’t like the letter, and said that there was no way that cheerleader was discriminatory in her actions.

I talked with my announcer for about 10 minutes, as he tried to play “devil’s advocate” about the situation. He says he feels caught in the middle of this situation, and in our talks he seems to feel that maybe this was taken out of context. My announcers are white, and I respect them to the fullest; in no way will I say at this time that these guys are not top of the line, and I think the world of them”

But I think in this case, my announcer is wrong.

He says that if the situation was reversed, and I was on the microphone with my assistant, and that same white cheerleader walked in there, we WOULD get served, and they would have been ignored completely.” I strongly disagree.

He said that that press box sometimes has more people than they should, and what was she supposed to do if there 8 or 10 “gang bangers” in the press box. I countered by saying to him, “but there WASN’T 8 or 10 gang bangers; it was just us two.

He said what I should have done was to tell her that I am the Executive Producer of the radio station and that me and my assistant was hungry and wanted some service too. I strongly disagree with that because I was not going to “pull rank” or ask for pity for a soda and hot dog. I should not have to do that to be treated as equal as anyone else in that press box.

He also said that from what he understood, that girl ASSUMED that I wasn’t with anyone, so it was an honest mistake. But why did she ASSUME that without even asking? She could have asked, but decided that we were not even worth talking to, maybe because we were black. If we had been white, would she have at least said hello or asked if we were with anyone.

We debated those issues, and I stood firm believing that what she should have done was at least asked us who we were. To that he said, “but she’s a child”.

There are a lot of things I can argue about on that note, but let me counter that by saying that it does NOT matter how old she is, anyone can be responsible for being discriminatory. Teenagers don’t get a “lpass”l for treating another human being like a 2nd class citizen, in fact, this is the time to teach our children in high school, before they take those ideals into society. No, there is no excuse for her, if that is his excuse. I am not saying make a public example of her, but what I am saying is to do not ignore it or give her the pass because she is a white child. Would black teenagers get the same pass, or have they already been stereotyped?

My impression after talking with my announcer was that he was more willing to side with other people, and believe that I was wrong, that there was no racism involved in that incident; just an innocent error, with no fault to that young girl. If anything, it was our fault for not telling her that who were are, and what we wanted.

So after talking with my announcer, I made a phone call to another radio station that also does some high school games. I knew there was another black sports announcer, and wanted to seek advice from him. Maybe I was taking this too far, maybe I was wrong; maybe I was crying “lwolf”l. But what I was NOT going to do was let someone who was not black tell me what I saw. If you are not black, then it is very likely that you don’t know what discrimination is, because you never lived it. You don’t have to be 56 years old, or 36, or even 26. A black teenager can see discrimination because we as blacks know what it is. The unfortunate thing is that most of society don’t want to acknowledge that racism has gone nowhere. It is here, just as much today as it was 40 years ago, or even 4 years ago.

I talked to the guy at the other station, and explained my situation. I also asked him if they ever got served while at this particular high school. He told me that he was NEVER served there, and they carried several games for the school last year. He said he understood what I was saying 100%. In short, it takes one to know one. I hung up with him knowing that I was right.

There is a line from a song that goes, “lit’s easy to ignore it, hide your head and don’t look for it”. This is a perfect example of what racism is about, even here in Wilson. In my situation, I witnessed discrimination directly, as with my assistant. We know that cheerleader should have at LEAST said something to us, but she said not one word. It is very clear to us that we were not treated equally, for whatever assumption she made. But how can you not argue that this decision was NOT based on color?

The problem with this is that those who weren’t there, and even those who were, and are white, cannot accept that for what it is. To them, it is just a slight error, an innocent mishap, and not worth talking about. My argument in that letter to the principal and vice principal was that I was clearly ignored because I was black. I am most sure that had I not been black, she would have at least asked if I was with the radio station. It’s like my assistant said to me, “lyou’re the executive producer; they work for YOU; how’s she going to skip over you like you’re not anybody”l?

To this date, Sunday October 22nd , I have not heard from either the principal or vice principal. However, the announcer told me that his friends have copies of that letter. That means several things; one, the letters got there, two, the principals allowed someone to copy that letter OR possibly the letter got copied before got it. What this also means is that the people who are “lwhining”l to my announcers either don’t have the courage to discuss this situation with me, or, just like that cheerleader, don’t respect me as a black person to contact me.

Those letters were not written to anyone else, so how they got their hands on it, and are talking about it is beyond me. But what this also shows me is that in NONE of the comments made in defense of that girl and her actions, not once was there even a hint of the possibility that maybe I could be right. Not once did anyone say, “llet’s talk about this”l or “lwhat can we do to prevent this from happening”l or “let’s cooperate on this so we all have some understanding”l. None of that was made. Their immediate judgment was that it was not possible that there was racism at this high school.

So without even being at the scene of the discrimination, without knowing me (except that I was black), without contacting me or wanting to talk to me about this, and by going to someone else who might be more sympathetic to their ideas, they concluded that there was no way that I or my assistant was discriminated against at all. In other words, I was wrong; racism does not exist.

My announcer is concerned that some of our sponsors may pull out because several support this high school in particular; that is the last thing we needed to happen, unless they too support this discretionary racism. But just as my priority to the broadcasts are important, I am not under any circumstances going to let someone tell me what is racist and what is not. I cannot let someone who had no idea what racism is do that. It is an absolute disrespect of humanity to belittle someone when it comes to these situations, because most of society does not want to deal with the clear and present reality of racism in our towns.

So now I wrestle with myself, knowing what happened was wrong to me and my assistant, knowing that we were treated unfairly based ONLY on skin color. I know this is true, and no person who isn’t white can convince me of that, because they have no idea what it is like to be discriminated against. To most people, it isn’t important, which is unfortunate because it IS important.

Equality supercedes ANY football game. But as long as we act like racism isn’t there, we will continue to live like it. After all, it is easy to ignore it. All you have to do is hide your head, act like a coward, and don’t look for it. And if you do find it, deny it. That’s the way it’s done, isn’t it?