HUDSON -- Erikka Ryan was in elementary school when she first remembered experiencing racism. She moved from St. Paul to Houlton, where she was the only Black person in the school. At times it seemed special, she said, but kids also teased her and put stuff in her hair.
“Now I look back at it, that was kind of the beginning of my journey as a token Black person,” she said.
Stephen Tauer and Jordan Sprecher had similar experiences in elementary school. Tauer, along with his sister, were the only Black people in his school after moving to a small Minnesota town, and hairstyles are some of his earliest memories of race. Sprecher was in first grade when he was insulted by a classmate about his race, and they both got detention.
Abe Hassan grew up in a diverse area, but said he has experienced racism throughout his life.
The four shared their experiences at “Black Voices in the Valley.”
The event was hosted by the Hudson Area Public Library Tuesday, July 14, at Hop and Barrel.
When asked about the phrase “I don’t see color,” the four said the phrase is used as an excuse.
“Of course everyone sees color,” Hassan said. “That’s an excuse, that’s an excuse not to face what we’re going through.”
Sprecher agreed, saying it turns a blind eye to the problem.
“Just because you don’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there,” he said.
Saying you don’t see color is also a privilege, Ryan said.
“If you’re one of those people, that’s a privilege to you that you don't have to think every day about how race impacts your life. For me, I don’t have a choice because I feel it,” she said.
It also discredits a big piece of who she is.
“I’m proud to be Black,” she said.
Black people in this country often don’t know where their ancestors came from, she said, and take pride in their Black culture and community.
“We want you to see us. We want you to celebrate the culture,” Ryan said.
Similarly, Ryan said the phrase “all lives matter” in response to the Black Lives Matter movement is a way to deny the issue and avoid taking responsibility to help.
Black Lives Matter started as a hashtag, Ryan said, a grassroots movement. All lives matter wasn’t a movement before, but was created as a response to Black Lives Matter, she said.
“That’s the problem right, that they used it against Black Lives Matter,” she said.
All lives, of course, matter, Hassan said, but the movement is addressing 450 years of oppression.
“You say to me all lives matter, my answer to you is all lives matter when Black people are included,” he said.
“Until the institution recognizes that our lives matter, we’re not going to rest,” he said.
Ryan said people who want to help can invest in Black-owned businesses, educate themselves and think about who they can inform in their circle.
Saying you don’t know what to do is another excuse, Ryan said.
“Google is your friend, you just have to do some digging,”she said. “Do what works for you, but also you should get out of your comfort zone.”
Ryan said she is open to having conversations with people, but it should come from a place of “Let’s work together,” not “You tell me.”
It’s important to realize that Blacks are exhausted, she said.
“We can’t do everything, we can’t educate a whole town,” she said. “That’s not our job.”
Tauer agreed that education is one of the biggest things a person can do, and then educating others.
Once people have that education, Sprecher said, they shouldn’t be afraid to use it. Act, correct people you care about, he said.
“The fact that it’s hard means that it’s necessary,” he said.
Tauer and Ryan both said they’re trying to be optimistic, but it’s hard to believe there will be real change.
“I really hope that there’s not appeasing legislation that kind of controls the masses and then lets it fade into the background like it did in the past,” Tauer said.
Ryan said investment in education and curriculum is needed to teach the next generation.
Sprecher said change is possible, if people don’t let the actions fade away over time.
“If we don’t let the momentum die, then absolutely it can happen and it will happen,” he said.
A full video of the event is available on the Hudson Area Library Facebook page.