The Race Project: Fred Bartenstein and Yolanda Simpson
In this installment of the Race Project, a conversation between Fred Bartenstein and Yolanda Simpson, who come from different racial backgrounds and different generations.
Transcript (edited lightly for length and clarity):
Fred Bartenstein: My name is Fred Bartenstein, and I'm white. I grew up in a segregated Southern family, Jim Crow segregation was very much in place and I do remember it.
Yolanda Simpson: I am Yolanda Simpson. I am African-American. I am a member of Black Lives Matter Miami Valley. I am also a member of A Better Dayton Coalition.
Fred Bartenstein: Yolanda, when you are the only Black person in a room, do you feel isolated, nervous or wary?
Yolanda Simpson: My mother was well aware of what the differences were with Black and white when we were children. So we were taught very, very early on that Black was amazing. It was never an issue of feeling nervous, or uncomfortable because I always felt like that I had a right to be there and my Blackness wasn't an issue for any kind of division or any kind of feelings of inferiority. So, no, to be honest with you, I've never felt that. Fred, what is the biggest lie that we as Americans tell each other about race?
Fred Bartenstein: What is projected to the world by America is that we have significantly overcome our race issues in this country, that was something that was in the past. That's a lie. I spent a year living and working in a public housing project in Newark, New Jersey, which is 60 percent Black and became very involved during that year in racial justice activities.
Yolanda Simpson: My mother is actually from Newark. Was that a cultural shock for you?
Fred Bartenstein: The biggest shock of all was one morning when I looked in the mirror while I was shaving and saw the whitest face I've ever seen because everyone around me was Black. And, boy, that really hit home.
Yolanda Simpson: So when you say that you looked in the mirror and recognized that you were white, what about that whiteness?
Fred Bartenstein: I want to tell you a story. When I was in Newark, then working in the project, I worked for a Black Baptist home missionary. I was at her house one day, and Cathy said to me, 'Fred, I hate white people.' How how could that be? You know, I'm a nice person. We're here in the same room. And it was years and years later when I was watching a television documentary about Prince Edward County in Virginia, which closed their public schools in 1959 and Black students were not educated again until 1964. Cathy was from Farmville, which is the county seat of Prince Edward County. There were 3000 kids who were not educated.
Yolanda Simpson: You been forced into this same situation as us. Your ancestors actually brought you to this place. You certainly didn't ask for a divided country. You certainly didn't ask for racist ancestors. You certainly didn't ask your ancestors to bring Black people into slavery. So we have to recognize that you are just as much a victim of racism as we are.
Fred Bartenstein: Yolanda, what do you think about police?
Yolanda Simpson: What's happening in policing is the fact that they're killing Black people. I think that police officers, I commend them. There is absolutely no way I'm going to stand in the middle of the street knowing that there is some crazed criminal trying to shoot a bunch of people and stand in and protect those people. I admire them for doing that. I do think that the police department was founded on really horrible systemic racism. You know, they were slave catchers. That's what they did. And unfortunately, that has only perpetuated. I love the fact that police are police. I hate the fact that the bad ones are creating problems for Black people.The bad is starting to outweigh the good.
Fred Bartenstein: Yolanda, I so appreciated this opportunity to dialog with you.
Yolanda Simpson: It's been an incredible experience having met you. And thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of this conversation. And I do think that it is courageous.
Additional production support from David Seitz and Meghan Malas. This story was produced at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.