I don’t know how my mother did it, but she did, All I can think is that she must be some kind of miracle worker because I grew up in a color blind world. I had friends of every color, race, nationality. I had Asian, hispanic, Mexican, caucasian, and black friends. We had sleepovers, I was surrounded by friends and families of friends and not once did anyone mention the color of my skin. No one asked my about my hair. I never heard racial slurs. There was no racist jokes, not at home and not when I visited others. Nothing. How did she do it? As an adult looking back on my childhood I suspect that my mother had many private battles, with teachers, schools, and religious organizations, but she kept it all well hidden from us. I am sure that she thought she was protecting us from the evils of this world, but in hindsight I think I needed some perspective.
When I was in my mid twenties and I met my future husband the fact that he was caucasian and the issues that might come up with that never crossed my mind. Not even once. The fact that we would be raising my black son with a white father never even occurred to me. We were a family, we loved each other end of story. My husband and I talked about race issues occasionally, but at the time I was firmly of the opinion that race issues were a thing of the past. The only people using the race card were con artists who understood the value of drama. Then one day my husband got a job that moved us from the utopia of Austin, Texas and into the suburbs of Chicago.
Talk about a cold shower.
For the first time in my life I experienced racism, and it was ugly. The most memorable moments in the experience include the day when my daughter declared she would not go to the store with me anymore because the people were always mean when she was with me, but nice to her whenever she went to the store with her dad. There was also the Fourth of July parade where the parade participants would throw out candy to all of the kids near us, then look at me and pass over my kids. No candy near us. First I thought I must be imagining the slight, but my husband noticed it too. Eventually we decided that the only way to make sure that my kids would get the experience of everyone else was for me to step away from them enough so that the parade participants would not realize that I was part of the family. It worked. We were thouroglhly disgusted and that is when we decided that we would never raise our family anywhere near the suburbs of Chicago.
There were other similar experiences. I had people run from me in parking lots, refuse to serve me in restaurants. I even had a doctor refuse to treat me in a medical emergency. The entire experience was an awakening. Racial tensions are still alive and well in the good ol USA, you just have to know where to look.
We solved the problem by moving. No way were we going to allow any of our kids to grow up in an environment where race shaped so many aspects of their life. No way!
So color me surprised when our next two moves, one to California, and one back to Texas did not solve the problem. Is Houston and Austin the only safe havens in the country? I don’t think so. I think the transition happened when I left shelter and moved into the real world. Though I will admit that we have a far better time in big Texas cities than we have in any other part of the country.
When we lived in Chicago I started writing about my experiences and how they shaped me. Then one day a good friend of mine said that I was racist. I was taken aback. She said that I spent some huge portion of my writing focusing on my experiences of oppression. Those incidences were few, but when it happened I spent tons of time writing and talking about it. I immediately stopped writing. I wondered if I was using the race card, if somehow I was contributing to the problem. Maybe I am, but I don’t think that the problem will go away unless we keep talking about it. We cannot tolerate it, and the only way to make this violence, this unrelenting division, this societal cancer go into remission is to talk about it.
Let me be clear. The problem is getting better, but it isn’t resolved and pretending that it is does not help anyone. I don’t want to live in a society where I have to fear for the lives of my sons because the police may shoot them. I have 4 black sons and I refuse to spend the rest of my life hoping that they are ok and doing nothing to make sure that we, all of us, contribute to finding solutions to this seemingly unsurmountable disparity that exists between us.
What am I doing? Am I becoming a social commentator? I dislike most social commentators because I think of them as whiners who spend most of their time blaming the other side. Then the other side gets angry and starts to defend itself, which is a very human thing to do. Unfortunately this sort of quagmire does nothing to help find solutions for the problems. I want solutions! I need solutions for myself and for my kids and my grandkids and their kids. Since this is the goal I am opening up my blog to comments, not to wage war, but to start serious discussion on ways that we can all contribute to finding solutions.
I love your writing, Dee, and thank you for putting it out there. Let’s please keep talking about it, because I do not know of any answers, and I’m not sure what to do, but it’s very important to me. XO
I’m so sad that this is still the way of the world. I, too, would like to pretend it isn’t so, but that feels incredibly insulting at this point in our history, robbing real people of the validity of their experiences. I am especially sad that you experienced this in my community. I would like to think we are different. I would like to think *I* am different. But that is part of the problem. “Not me, not us.” Self examination is difficult, and painful, but necessary to contribute. No more “yes, but.” No more looking at a tv news story like it is some far-away country. This happens on your street, in your hometown. You may not have had a police shooting to make headlines, but those shootings are made up of single moments of dehumanizing, fear, stereotyping, and just plain ugly hate. Little things, but each one matters. Each time we stop a little thing in its tracks we challenge the status quo. But sometimes we need to open our eyes and ears and mind to recognize what is happening, in ourselves and others.
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