So Who Am I?

I think it’s only fair you know who is writing to you about racism, an important stumbling block of American society. My name is Keith L. Anderson. I was born in Cleveland, Ohio but my family only stayed there until I was five months old. I did the formative years of my growing up in Vallejo, California. When I was around ten years old my father, who was into music, thought he needed to live in Los Angeles in order to “make it big” in the music business. So, he left his wife and family. I have only seen him 3 times in fifty years. This means I was raised by my Mama and her three sisters. Two of Mama’s sisters lived with us for a while. That meant Mama and I, my two aunties, my brother and my three sisters, lived in a rented, small 3-bedroom house. Eventually my aunties married and moved out. Because the landlord liked how hard Mama worked to keep her family together, she made it easy for Mama to buy the house we lived in. Before I go any further, I want to share with you from where my mentality comes.

Somewhere deep inside my mind, what I really thought and felt had always been smothered. I have always kept my true thoughts in check. I think I did so because I’ve always been afraid of how I might react to knowing the massive amount of bullshit America had been spreading on the lives of Black people and young Black men. So, I subconsciously or maybe even consciously subdued who I really was and what I really thought. Staying within myself caused me to continually ask myself, am I angry, or, am I an intellectual starving for answers? And, will those answers ever be fed to me? Am I kind, or do I pretend? Do I long for God to be real?  Constantly asking myself these questions, made me feel like someone with multiple personalities. I thought maybe one day I’d find out which of the personalities was really me. The only thing I can be sure of is, I’m not who everyone thinks I am. But there is one person I know I am. I know I’m a Black man living in America. In fact, I’m reminded of this fact by living in perhaps the whitest state in America, Idaho.

Football gave me the proper outlet to vent my anger. First it was Pop Warner football, then high school, junior college and eventually I came to Idaho as a twenty-year-old junior college transfer, on a full-ride football scholarship.  Whoever I was, was quickly smothered by more than the whiteness of Idaho’s snowfall. Idaho’s whiteness forced me to face my blackness day to day, month to month and year in and year out. The battle between being black and being me, ended when I realized both live permanently within me. I had to make myself understand that I was more than black. I was my Mama’s oldest child, a big brother, a nephew of four black women, and I was a football player. And still deeper down inside of me, Mama had also planted the seed for me to someday realize that I was a child of God.

In my blackness I have learned to understand whiteness, which is unavoidable in America. I have also learned, being angry at the whiteness I was experiencing, took away from me appreciating the totality of my blackness. I came to realize, once I knew and understood my blackness, I could be confident; that I could deal with the whiteness that surrounded me. This led to an untapped strength. Understanding the untapped strength inside of me, helped me to understand what I had to do with my life. I soon realized that blackness wasn’t about talking a certain way. This meant not allowing black stereotypes to define me. I wasn’t going to allow stereotypes to cause me to act the way White people said or imagined I should act. Blackness was and is about a shared understanding of perseverance, history and style. My understanding of my blackness helped me to realize that I wasn’t a stepchild of civilization. I have been here since the beginning and have been a vital force within the family of man. This knowledge gives me the courage to walk into a room of White people and teach them about racism, from a Black man’s perspective. This boldness allows me to not shoot sniper shots from across town or across the country at the very people who needed to hear and listen to my message up-close and personal. My blackness caused me to understand, I can only help White people by being in the same room with them; not hurling insults, coded messages or misunderstandings from behind my computer keyboard.

My first realization came when I learned, White people varied in attitude and knowledge of what racism really was and is. Within my personal experience and relationships, I can count on one hand, white people who I know, who truly care and who truly understand how racism works. I have learned that most White people I dealt with wanted to base their understanding of racism on how they felt. I can’t tell you how many times what came out of their mouths was justified by how they felt, and truth be damned! As bold as my realization of blackness made me, I came to understand white feelings versus white facts, which caused me to be extra cautious with my trust. This made me sad until I rationalized that the only trust I owed anyone was to teach the truth as best as I could. The only thing I wanted from White people was a willingness to open their minds and give in to the possibility that maybe they didn’t understand what they thought they understood.

I grew up poor financially but accumulated a wealth of spirit. I may not have had a father, but I had my Mama and her sisters. I had Mr. P. Graham, a black man, of the Omega Continental Boys Club. Coach B. Coley, a white man, my first football coach. I had my Uncle Cecil, a black man, who took me to Washington Playground to ball with the brothas. I had my junior varsity Coach N. Tanner, a white Mormon, and his assistant, Coach E. Williams, a black man. I had Coach F. Faucett, a black man and my track coach. I had Mr. D. Williams, a black man, who was not only a teacher who told me that I was a leader, not a follower; he also balled, with the brothas, down at Washington Playground. I had Coach J. Renfro, a white man, and my high school varsity football coach. I had my junior college football coach S. Wilkerson, a black man, who pulled me aside and yelled at me about a cheap-shot I took in a game. I had, at the university level Coach J. Criner and Coach D. Campo, both white men, who helped me see the link that connected football and life. At my first job after graduating college and before going to graduate school, I had A. Gaines, a black man who taught me about being a black man in the corporate world. I had Dr. M. Oliver, a black woman, a professor and eventually my pastor. I had Dr. Y. Takeda, an Asian man, who looked at one writing assignment and told me I would perhaps be a writer someday. I had Dr. M. Gardiner, a white woman who guided me to my doctorate. Last, but certainly not least, every fighter of racism needs someone in their life, who knows the lay of the land. Every fighter of racism needs someone with whom he or she can bounce around ideas, theories and thoughts. For me, that was my former college classmate, friend, fellow fighter and excellent debater, Shannon D. Work, Esq., a Native Indian. Rest in peace my brother.

All the people I mentioned are the reason I can’t stomach racism. God sent all these people into my life. My job was to listen to them and take away something useful; something that I could use to do battle. I now take the tools these people put into my life and I try to share them with all the people who cross my path. These people helped me to get an associate degree in Journalism; a bachelor’s degree in Human Communication; study at the Masters’ level Human Communication. Their words haunted me until I earned a doctorate in Educational Leadership, at 50 years of age. My dissertation, “Teacher Communication with Students from Diverse Backgrounds” won presentations two years at the AERA Conferences in both 2006 and 2007. I’ve written over 150 newspaper and magazine articles on racism in religion, society and education. For 18 years, I’ve written, designed and taught college courses entitled Disassembling Racism, Sociology of African Americans, Speech and Multicultural Communication. I have conducted countless seminars, workshops and lectures on racism and anti-racism.

But, through all of the ugliness of racism, I have seen, and experienced tiny pieces of what America could be if we only cared more about each other. I don’t know if we’ll ever get all the way to the ‘Promised Land’, especially on a long-term basis, but if racial equality isn’t worth the long fight, I don’t know what is. All the previously mentioned people helped prepare me to live in a state that is only 1% Black. They helped prepare me to fight, in my own way, for racial equality. These are just a few of the things that make me qualified to teach people how to go from racist to non-racist to anti-racist. Every day I’m either learning from others or teaching others, how to fight against racism. I learn a lot from what others write, and by living in Idaho, I experience or observe racism up-close and personal almost every day. Living in Idaho has taught me to fight against racism in a way that gives people insight. I try to give them an understanding of racism that will allow them to become anti-racist warriors.

 

Below is Idaho’s population’s racial breakdown:

Race Population   % of Total
Total Population 1,567,582   100
White 1,396,487   89
Hispanic or Latino 175,901   11
Some Other Race 79,523   5
Two or More Races 38,935   2
American Indian 21,441   1
Asian 19,069   1
Black or African American 9,810   Below 1%
Three or more races 2,362   Below 1%
Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander 2,317   Below 1%
Native Hawaiian 637   Below 1%
Alaska Native tribes 403   Below 1%

(Source: suburbanstats.org 2015-2016)