Welcome to my home, Williamsport, Pennsylvania. In this paper I will attempt to create a picture of what it means to live in this city if one is White, like the majority, or African American. To help me gain perspective on an African American’s point of view, I have interviewed Cherylene Moore, assistant manager of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. Ms. Moore is African American. Her perspective has enlightened me. It is my hope that someday all races will be able to live together peacefully in Williamsport and enjoy the prosperity that this city can bring.
First of all, let me introduce the statistics of Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Williamsport is in North Central Pennsylvania, the seat of Lycoming County. According to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, “As of 2007, Williamsport’s population is 29,814 people” (n.d.). The population of Williamsport is made up of 84% Whites, 13% African American, 1% Asian, and 2% other or Mixed (Williamsport, PA Profile, n.d.). Much of the population looks like me, because I am White. I have only lived in this area since December, 2006. Ms. Moore stated that, “I was born in Williamsport and have lived here all my life except for eight years that I lived in Philadelphia.” While I have not had the time to truly get to know the city, Ms. Moore has had the time to see changes in the past years.
Consequently, Ms. Moore informed me of her perspective on leadership in our community. Ms. Moore said, “It has only been within the past ten years that there has been a minority political figure in Williamsport. We currently have an African American woman on city Council.” I had only known that our mayor, Gabe Campana, is White. For the most part, I had believed minorities were well treated by the leaders of our community. Racial and Ethnic Groups (2006) state that a minority group is “a subordinate group whose members have significantly less control or power over their own lives than do the members of a dominant or majority group” (Ch. 1, p. 5). While I have not seen many minorities, like African Americans as leaders in the city, they do exist. Ms. Moore says that, “We have African Americans working as managers, doctors, nurses, caseworkers, teachers, etc.” I had believed for the most part, Whites were fair to minorities because I had not witnessed otherwise. Ms. Moore also informed me that the Williamsport high school principal is African American, a change from the time she was in school. “When I was growing up there were only two African American teachers in the whole school district,” Ms. Moore said.
Sadly, Ms. Moore gave me some instances in which she was not treated fairly. She told me that when she was growing up, there was a definite area of Williamsport where most African Americans lived. She stated, “I didn’t know until I was an adult that the area was frequently referred to as ‘Brown Town’.” She has witnessed this change, and sees African Americans living all throughout Williamsport, and not just in one section of the city. Ms. Moore believes that she had been turned down for apartments because of her race. She said, “I have completed applications for apartments and never gotten a response and I believe it was because they did not want to rent to an African American.” I believe that I have always been treated fairly. I have never been victimized because of my racial group. According to Racial and Ethnic Groups (2006), a racial group is “A group that is socially set apart because of obvious physical differences” (Ch. 1, p. 7).
Additionally, Ms. Moore has seen the affects of racism in high school and college. In high school, Ms. Moore remembers students using the “n word.” She feels that most schools do not acknowledge the success of African Americans in their academic work. I had never felt this way in my high school. Accomplishments were praised and sometimes awarded. I had never experienced racism. Ms. Moore remembers an instance of labeling. According to Racial and Ethnic Groups (2006), a labeling theory is “A sociological approach introduced by Howard Becker that attempts to explain why certain people are viewed as deviants and others engaging in the same behavior are not” (Ch. 1, p. 16). Ms. Moore states, “A group of African American males congregating in the hallway will be told to disperse because they assume they [the African American males] are up to something or gang activity. A group of White males will be left alone.” I had never encountered this at my high school. We only had about two African American males in my class. In college, Ms. Moore was a resident advisor during her senior year of college. She had to deal with a disruptive male on her floor and asked him to leave. She said, “When I asked him to leave, he started yelling racist things, for example, ‘Nigger go home’.” It is shocking to me how blatantly ignorant people are towards others.
On the other hand, members of the community treat me well. I never have someone looking at me suspiciously or asking me to leave. I have never been followed around a store. Ms. Moore has unfortunately experienced this. She said, “I have gone into department stores and been followed because they assumed I was planning to shoplift.” As unimaginable as this is to me, it has opened my eyes to the struggles that minorities face in their everyday lives.
By the same token, I have witnessed racism at work, though it was not against me. My assistant manager was referring to a section of the city where mostly poor people lived. She had mentioned that “all black people” live there and when she drove through that area of the city, she would lock her doors. I never did know who made our work manuals but they just mentioned people in general, not races. Ms. Moore shared an example of racism that happened at work also. She said, “I did have an experience a few years ago where a coworker used a racist stereotype in a conversation with another coworker. I did not hear the conversation but a few other coworkers did. They were angry enough about it they reported it to a supervisor.” According to Racial and Ethnic Groups (2006), stereotypes are “Unreliable, exaggerated generalizations about all members of a group that do not take individual differences into account” (Ch. 1, p. 16).
In addition, I do not see African American anchors on our local television news stations. They do interview different races when covering different stories but it seems like African Americans are only mentioned when there is a crime involved. It is the same with the newspaper. It is much different nationally. News stations like CNN or MSNBC all have male and female African American reporters. It is odd to me that while we do have plenty of African American people in our area, we do not have prominent ones on the local news.
As a leader in the community, Cherylene Moore helps and works with people of all races. She and I are similar in that we both have supportive families that believe we can accomplish anything that we set our minds to. She loves helping people and is in the same field of work that I hope to be in some day. Ms. Moore states, “…I would say that the [different] races share some of the same issues of daily life.” Our differences are the experiences we have gone through. I have never experienced racism towards myself. Ms. Moore has experienced racism.
By the way, I believe that the local YWCA is an exceptional asset to our community. Their slogan is “Eliminating Racism, Empowering Women” (Williamsport YWCA, n.d.). They offer programs to help people in a vast array of situations, from homelessness to drug and alcohol addictions. They aim to educate the public as well. I think that many of the inequities in my community, such as racism and stereotyping, can be resolved with education. Racism and stereotyping are the roots of ignorance. Ms. Moore said, “In general, I feel that things have improved greatly for Williamsport…I know that discrimination still exists here but it is definitely less.”
In conclusion, Williamsport, Pennsylvania has seen its share of racism th
roughout time. It has also seen positive change. It is my hope, and Ms. Moore’s, that someday the people of Williamsport will see what an asset the African American community is to the city. With its various cultures, Williamsport should be a welcome place to call home and start a business. We may have some distance to go, but perhaps someday all races will be able to live peacefully with one another. I’d like to see it start right here, in Williamsport.
“Williamsport, PA Profile”, Idcide.
“Williamsport, Pennsylvania”, Best Places.
“Williamsport YWCA”. YWCA Williamsport.