I Grew Up in a Racist Town, and I Never Even Knew It

I grew up in a small town in California, and like most blind, white people, I thought racism was solved. I was aware that occasionally individuals would say mean things about POC, but I assumed that was few and far between. I believed that being cruel wouldn’t get you anywhere in life. Looking at our president, it’s obvious that belief was wrong.

When we moved back to my hometown last summer, my then boyfriend, now husband, would sometimes bring up the absence of black people. Seeing a black person in Bishop is like anomaly. I always knew that was true, but I never thought that there might be a reason for it. I had black friends that grew up in and still live in Bishop or Mammoth. Only .74% of the population is black, compared to 87.2% white. I grew up believing that that was just how it is in rural areas. But my husband decided to research it and educate me.

A Sundown Town is a town with a mostly white population that practices a form of segregation through racially discriminatory laws. The name comes from the law, whether spoken or unspoken, that a person cannot be out after sundown if they are not white. If they are out, they can be arrested or worse. One of the largest employers in Bishop is LADWP (because LA decided to steal water from the Owen’s Valley in the early 1900s, but that is a whole different discussion.) In the 70s, LADWP would send people up to live and work in Bishop. Whenever they sent a black family, they would not stay longer than a year, and usually left after six months. There were men in the town that “quietly encouraged” people of color, especially black people, to move on. When asked why there were so few black people, one former resident was told that black people don’t like the cold. Even though there are large black communities in places like Detroit, Chicago, and New York City, which are much colder than Bishop typically is in the winter.

I decided to ask some of my friends that I grew up with if they ever dealt with blatant racism. One of my best friends said that he didn’t notice it toward himself as much, but his dad was pulled over regularly by the same officer until he filed a complaint. People would often say things about the race of his parents.
And when I think about my own family, my parents definitely held, and still hold, blatant racial biases, even if they don’t realize it. My mom always made an effort to learn about different cultures, but her biases still came out when something bad happened on the Reservation or when her POC friends talked about their abusive parents. There was always a lens to see the situation through. It was even worse in my family when it came to Middle Easterners. It was always assumed that they were abusive toward women, that they were Muslim, and that they hated Christians (because Christian children are taught that Christians are persecuted, but again, a discussion for another day).

I am training myself to recognized my biases so I can be a better anti-racist. I don’t want to look through a lens, but if I have to, I want to be aware of that lens. I thought that my town was diverse. I thought that most of the people who lived there were Latinx or Native. I was wrong. My cowboy town is a white cowboy town filled with blind, white Americans that seem to believe that if your skin is dark, you probably weren’t born here.

Here’s some links where I found some information:

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