Monday, July 22, 2013

An Old White Lady's Thoughts on Race

My first memory of any recognition of race was the day I brought my new friend home for lunch. My grandma must have been watching us come up the steps because she met us at the door and said it wasn't convenient to have guests for lunch. She sent my new friend packing and then set me down and told me to never do that again. She said we don't mix with Blacks. That's all she would say. Later, I asked my mom what she meant. Mom said that grandma had moved to the city from the farm and she had no experience with people of other races. She said Grandma was prejudiced. I asked what that meant. Mom said prejudice was fear of others because they are different from us. She said there were lots of ways to be prejudiced but race was the most common. I went to public school and in the 50's there wasn't much integration so I didn't have many interactions with other races. In high school, after I started dating, my dad told me to never bring a Black man home to meet him or he'd knock him down the front steps. That's all I can ever remember him saying about race. Later, at his wake, several Black men came up to me and told me how kind and helpful he'd been to them. When I was 8 years old, my grandma moved across town and her neighbor was a Black woman. Irma soon became my friend. I would go to her house and sit with her in the swing on her front porch. I got my grandma to come along. As we all got to know each other, a transformation happened in my grandma and she began to lose her fear of Blacks. We met Irma's niece and her husband and their two sons. Grandma even let me go to church with them. Everyone there said I was the cutest little thing. It was my first experience being a minority. In college I lived in a single room on the first floor of the dorm. A young Black woman named Betty was in the room next to mine. Getting to know her was helpful. I learned the pressure she felt from Whites to fit in and from her Black friends to remain aloof. Poor Betty faced a daily struggle with deciding how to fit in. When her Black friends were gone, Betty would hang out with the rest of us. But whenever they were around, she didn't try to introduce us or interact. Maybe that's what they wanted. This was in the late 60's and schools were integrated then. But in the lunch room we didn't integrate. We sat at separate tables, by choice. I just heard Chris Mathews talking on Hardball with Eugene Robinson and Chris pointed out how we still segregate ourselves in church, at parties, in common lunch rooms, etc. When will it ever end? When will we stop fearing people who are "others" and start seeing the humanity in each other? Let's talk about it and confront our attitudes in the light of day. That way we can get rid of outdated prejudices and start working together. This country needs us to work together. The problems we face require 100% participation. That's what I think.

5 comments:

  1. Hi there, interesting thoughts. It's a great time when we begin confronting our thoughts on race. I'm currently reading Tim Wise's book, "White Like Me" where he discusses what you just did there. Thinking about the first time you confronted race. While a good exercise, he would say you are wrong. The first time you confronted race was when you were born into the privilege of having white skin. I highly recommend his reading. (And I'm not being paid by him or anything. Just think he's amazing.) I too, confront my thoughts on race and racism constantly, as the white mother of a biracial child, how can I afford not to? Thanks for joining in this fight. We have a long way to go....

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  2. Pat, what an excellent post, so honest, enlightening and educational. I do think things are getting better with each generation. What your grandmother went through with black people seems so similar to what our country has gone through just recently with gay people. The more they see us the more they realize we are the same as everyone else. I was brought up to believe everyone was equal and skin color was irrelevant. Yet I grew up in an affluent suburb of Boston where there were no black people. You bring up a lot of interesting subjects; people tend to stick with their own kind no matter if its race/religion/interests, and while thats a fact of life it should change to broaden people's lives. As far as fitting in I think thats a struggle all young people go through.

    I am glad President Obama spoke the words he did, it taught me a lot, made me think of things I hadnt thought of before.

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  3. Wow! Excellent! I just Followed you on Twitter. I'm a 60+ retired engineer & teacher with a progressive polestar. I write a blog-on-a-learning-curve.. Here's the link to my "Larinovem" blog drafts:
    https://www.facebook.com/Lary9/notes
    And here's "Larinovem" on Open.Salon:
    http://open.salon.com/blog/lary9

    Hope to hear from you.
    Lary

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  4. I really enjoyed reading your post, Pat. It was very uplifting as it's always good for someone who's felt the sting of racism, personally, to read the accounts of those who approach their relationships with those of other races much as children do. It's at a very young age when our ideas are often formed in regards to race and usually stick with us for life. Thank you very much for your unbiased stance on this critical issue that humanity is yet to deal with conclusively even as time is running out on us all. When the structure of political activism, itself, becomes a white-dominated hierarchy, an "ole-boy network," that's where I get off. When do we begin to speak in terms of one human race as being the only option to racial hatred and strife? I was an outcast, a loner in a severely racially-segregated prison system for ten years for taking just such a stance. Anybody who thinks that's easy to accomplish, then I've got some free marbles to offer you. Unlike some others of various races, creeds, colors and denominations, who merely talk about racial harmony and equality in the abstract, I gave up my privileged status by refusing to take sides under extremely trying conditions in an environment where racial hatred and violence are the norms, and anyone that refuses to partake in "the game" and become a "modern-day gladiator" is viewed as an enemy by all parties, not the least of which are the authorities themselves, and frankly, you haven't known problems till you've had a warden or two gunning for you. When do we stop being separate, "but equal," and just become one and the same?

    "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."

    --Albert Einstein

    “(Bias against the Negro) is the worst disease from which the society of our nation suffers”

    --Albert Einstein

    "Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen."

    --Albert Einstein

    “To know the true reality of yourself, you must be aware not only of your conscious thoughts, but also of your unconscious prejudices, bias and habits.”

    --Unknown

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  5. Hi Pat! I just found your blog and read a few of the posts. This one was especially touching. Thanks for sharing.

    Bryan

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