‘If I were white’ — A Black high school senior reflects on racism

(As a Black Catholic attending Assumption High in Davenport in 1961, Thomas Mason III wrote an essay he titled, “If I were White.” Sixty years later, his grandson, Chase Mason, a senior at Bettendorf High School, wrote an essay with the same title, reflecting on how some things have changed — and some have not — since his late grandfather’s high school days. Chase, who attends Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport with his family, shared his essay with The Catholic Messenger for our Racial Justice series.)

By Chase Mason
For The Catholic Messenger

“If I were white or any other color than my own, I would get along better with the rest of the boys in my class. Also, I could go to more places in Davenport and Rock Island; I could get into the Hollywood Supper Club for instance. Also, I would be able to get a better job after college without going to the city to run my own business. My children would be able to get a better education and they wouldn’t have to be humiliated like I have been. If I were white, I could buy any house in Davenport that I could afford, and live in any neighborhood I chose without any questions about it. I would be able to get my hair cut in any barber shop that I wanted. If I were white, I could date any girl in this school that I wanted to without being looked down upon by teachers, students, and parents. People would treat me as one of them, not as an outcast, as they have treated my ancestors in the South and the North. Nowadays, when a Negro buys a car, all of the white men look at them as if he shouldn’t have one. A white boy wouldn’t have to put up with such things as this. Furthermore, if I were a different color I could wear any piece of clothing that I choose and students wouldn’t make fun of my clothes as they sometimes do now. But I am glad I am not of a different color. Even though there are some hardships, I still enjoy the color and the race to which I belong. After all, some of the great athletes in America are from the Negro race.”

Contributed
Chase Mason, a member of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport, shares his Bettendorf High School essay, “If I were white.”

The passage above was written by Thomas Allen Mason III, or as I called him, Grandpa Tom. My grandfather graduated from Assumption High School in 1961. I can only imagine the struggles that my grandfather and other Black Americans went through. He grew up in a time when America treated Black Americans as if they were second-class citizens. They were humiliated, discriminated against, and sometimes even murdered because they had a different skin color. From the beginning of this country’s history, my ancestors were treated as property instead of actual people, even though our nation’s Constitution states, “All men are created equal.”

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The days of slavery are long behind us, but the days of discrimination and prejudice have not left us. Many people might read that passage from my grandpa and think that we have come a long way in those 60 years, but many of the problems that my grandfather faced during his time in high school are still around today. To show that these issues are still relevant today, I wanted to write an article similar to the one my grandfather wrote.

If I were white, I wouldn’t have to feel like I have to act a different way to fit in with my classmates. I would be able to play sports and not have to worry about my teammates using racial slurs and making racist comments. Students would not refer to me as the “whitest” Black person they’ve ever met simply because I am educated. If I were white, I wouldn’t have to worry about students mocking my culture. I wouldn’t have to worry about people using racial slurs because they heard them in a song or because white people “made the word.” White students never have to worry about dealing with this issue.

If I were white, teachers and staff members wouldn’t treat me differently; instead, they would accept me for who I am. They wouldn’t mock me for wearing an “I CAN’T BREATHE” shirt, they wouldn’t justify other students calling me racial slurs, they wouldn’t allow students to wear confederate clothing or suggest that Black students do not deserve respect because “respect is a two-way street.”

If I were white, I wouldn’t have to wonder if my life mattered. I would never have to create a diversity group to ensure that minority students have a group that they can go to if they feel like they don’t belong or worry about going on social media only to see people trying to argue that my life doesn’t matter in comparison to all of the other races. If I were white, I wouldn’t have to worry about my classmates questioning my accomplishments. Students would not claim that I only won class president and homecoming king because I got the “Black vote,” or make egregious claims that the school rigged elections so I could win.

Even though I, along with the majority of Black Americans, have faced many hardships throughout my lifetime because of my race, I would never want to be any color that is not my own. Instead, I believe we need to educate our society on these issues. We need to determine how we are going to solve them. I believe our society is already beginning to start this movement in order to make change. After the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many other innocent Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement last summer, there was a nationwide awakening to the issue of police brutality. Americans of all walks of life decided to educate themselves and take part in peaceful protests. Our society decided to take a stand and it was amazing to see.

In my own community, I have recognized that change is happening. Bettendorf High School is one of the main examples of this change. Yes, I know I described my school above in a negative light, but the student body has created change in ways that would never have been possible before. I am a clear example of this change. In this past year, my classmates have selected me as their class president, homecoming king and a captain on the golf team. I am not sure if I am the first Black homecoming king, but I know for sure that I am the first Black class president and captain of the golf team at Bettendorf, and I have a strong belief that I will not be the last. We have come a long way because there was no possible way for my grandfather to be any of these.

We have come a long way in the 60 years since my grandpa Tom graduated from high school, but we need to continue this effort. Educating our society on racial issues is the most important step in making everyone equal. My culture is something that I am extremely proud of and it is something that I would never want to change. Who knows, maybe 60 years from now my future grandchild will write an article like mine. Will we have reached the Promised Land that Dr. King wanted us to have? Or will the essay be about how we have not come far enough? This is something that only God knows, but I cannot wait to find out.

(Note: Thomas A. Mason III was a proud graduate of Assumption High School Class of 1961. He excelled in football and track and varsity lettered three times in each sport. He and his wife, Mary, raised six successful children.)


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3 thoughts on “‘If I were white’ — A Black high school senior reflects on racism

  1. Your essay is well written, but as you get older you might come to understand that many kids from all races often feel like they don’t fit in with their high school peers, one of the more famous hurdles faced by most adolescents. Your high school achievements are remarkable while mine were not, but I never thought “because I’m white”, and I’ve come to understand the hundreds of racial slurs I heard then, and to this day, are part of my life, and those yelling them just ignorant.

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