People can (and do) change their viewpoints.
During my senior year at Malvern High School, I took a bookkeeping course. I fell in love with the course of study. I fell in love with my teacher and the high expectations she had for her students. And, I fell in love with the idea of pursuing a degree in accounting while in college.
Upon arriving at Ouachita Baptist University, I learned the University desired that freshman students dedicate themselves entirely to general education studies in their first year. Students would then start core studies in their major in their sophomore year.
Despite this scenario, I was a man on a mission. Personally, I was driven to continue the momentum from my high school bookkeeping course as soon as I arrived on campus.
As such, I lobbied my faculty advisor to allow me to study Principles of Accounting I and II during my freshman year. To my great advantage, my faculty advisor was Margaret Wright. Margaret was also my accounting professor and she allowed me to begin my accounting studies in my freshman year.
With no interruption after my high school year of bookkeeping studies, I was elated to continue to the next step with my accounting studies at OBU. Fortunately, I excelled. And at the end of my freshman year, Margaret invited me to work for her. I was ecstatic to accept her proposal.
Beginning in my sophomore year and continuing through my senior year, I graded tests and kept records for all the accounting classes Margaret taught and for which I had already completed my course of study. Essentially, I worked as a teaching assistant as I tutored junior and senior business administration majors who needed assistance in completing the accounting course requirements for their general business degrees.
As I continued with my own accounting studies, another student (Larry) and I became study partners. Together, we would complete our accounting homework in either his dorm room or mine. It was our belief that through this approach we would become even better students.
At the end of our study session one evening, Larry dawdled in my dorm room and asked if I planned to rush Sigma Alpha Sigma social club that year. I had rushed the previous year. However, I was “blackballed” and not given an invitation to join the social club. Larry was already a member of Sigma Alpha Sigma.
I told Larry I had been blackballed. And I said since that event happened, I did not plan to seek Sigma Alpha Sigma membership during the upcoming rush period.
Larry’s response came as a complete surprise to me. He stated he knew I had been blackballed. Then he took a moment before saying: “I am the person who blackballed you.”
It is an understatement to say I was stunned by this revelation. For an entire year, Larry and I had worked together in a diligent and dedicated manner to become the best accounting students we could be. We had formed a partnership, had become really good and encouraging friends, and were even more accomplished students.
As I spent a few seconds trying to process what I had just learned, I started rewinding the tape of the past year’s experiences with Larry. I searched for any signs or clues that would help me understand this new reality that had just emerged. I discovered nothing other than something I already knew. I am black and Larry is white.
As soon as I was able to disentangle myself from my unspoken thoughts and was able to finally stop playing the tape of our past year’s experiences, I inquired very simply: “why did you blackball me”?
He responded: “Because you are black.”
At that point, he began to describe the rationale for his decision.
Essentially, Larry stated that as he grew up he had been taught he was better than black people and that black people were inferior to white people. As an individual and as a student, he found his experiences with me to be completely incongruent with what he had been taught. I did not fit his preconceived philosophies.
He said he found this new reality difficult to process and accept. He also said that previously he could not rationalize the thought of me becoming a member of Sigma Alpha Sigma. Fundamentally, he could not see me as one of his brothers.
Even so, the idea to become study partners was his idea. So I asked, if I as a black man was inferior to him as a white man, why did he suggest the two of us become study partners?
His response? “Because you are a much better student than am I. And, I thought I’d be a better student if we studied together.”
Larry said he’d had a complete change of heart and in his belief system. He then asked me to rush to receive a bid from Sigma Alpha Sigma. Moreover, he said he wanted to be my big brother.
I rushed Sigma Alpha Sigma and received a bid for membership. Not long after I became a member, I became president of Sigma Alpha Sigma.
After graduation, Larry asked me to be in his wedding in Northwest Arkansas. I accepted his invitation and was given a remarkably warm welcome by his family, his wife’s family, and all the wedding celebrants in the same town where he had been taught that blacks were inferior to whites.
People can (and do) change their viewpoints.
Recently, I had a mini-reunion with my college roommate who is white and is also a member of Sigma Alpha Sigma social club. Following our reunion, I posted a photo of the two of us on Facebook. Another Sigma Alpha Sigma brother (who was a member at the time I was blackballed) commented on my Facebook post with the following statement:
“You two represent the best of our brotherhood.”
Pharmaceutical Marketing Executive
Second Baptist Church (former member) Little Rock, Arkansas
Resides in Phoenix, AZ