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.