I have many issues with my mother and her ability to parent, but when it came to the acceptance of people who did not look like me, her parenting skills were exceptional in a truly great way. In elementary school, I was friends with the black girl (eventually there were two) in my class, along with the Jewish and the Puerto Rican girls. I was taught by example that the only difference between me and those other girls was the color of our skin and our religions. We were the same human beings.
My mother dated a black man for years. While she mostly kept her relationship separate from our home life and family of three, I remember a sense of embarrassment should any of my friends find out about the color of my mother’s boyfriend’s skin. Somehow, I had internalized that there was something to be ashamed about. Forty years later I remain abashed by my ignorance.
When I was in 8th grade I tried out, along with my Black and Puerto Rican girlfriends, for the freshman cheerleading squad. I was selected to join the team, while my friends, who were more coordinated and better dancers than I, were not. It weighed heavily on me and I ultimately quit the squad after a couple of practices. I knew it wasn’t right and I wasn’t the one who deserved to wear that purple and white uniform.
My brother got into a fight once with a boy from the neighborhood. Because the other boy was Black, it wasn’t just a simple teenage tussle. Instead it became a racial altercation, which created (revealed?) a schism between me and the Black girls with whom I was friends. The focus shifted to how we were different, instead of the ways were so similar. It was jarring.
Shortly after I moved to Albany, I needed to go home for a night and I asked someone I worked with to walk my dog for me. I came home to find that he had robbed my apartment, stealing money, my bicycle, my stereo. I tried to contact him and was unable to, so I called the police. The officer who was dispatched couldn’t have been more clear about how dumb I had been to give my keys to a Hispanic man. It was if I should have known that he’d rob me because he wasn’t a white guy.
I’ve resisted society’s attempt to convince me that POC are inherently inferior, that they are criminals and thugs, but I know I haven’t been completely successful. I can’t lie – I’ve never dated a Black man, attended the wedding or other celebration of a Black friend, eaten a meal in a Black owned business or hired a Black person to do any of the work my house has demanded. Why not?
I see that this country values the labor of Blacks – from plantations to sports to the arts, we love what they produce, but we don’t love them. I understand that trying to not be racist isn’t enough, I know I need to be vehemently anti-racist. At a time when our country is so very polarized, it’s beyond time to pick a side. If they’ll have me, I want to be on the side of people who have been abused, discriminated against, marginalized and murdered.
My mother didn’t teach me to be racist, society did.
Our country is in shambles from an administration devoted to ignorance, a pandemic, an economic disaster, and necessary and just social unrest. We can’t simply move forward without addressing and correcting the deep inequities in our society. The time is now to be part of the change because if there’s no justice, none of us deserve any peace.