Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Reflections on changing racial interactions

This morning I was hit with some memories of how race has played a part in my life.
I grew up in a white neighborhood, but the grade school, two blocks away, was slightly integrated. We had two star musicians, one was Black and one was Asian. Two blocks in the other direction was one of the "housing projects" where some Blacks lived, which was why they attended the same school that I attended. Actually, the majority of people in that project were white, as one had to be a veteran to live there. Race was never talked about in school; non-white issues were invisible, but the kids seemed to get along just fine.
I do remember inviting a Black girl to stay overnight at my house. Unfortunately, my mother knew that my father would never accept that, so my mom had to call that girls mom and uninvite her. I was mortified and I doubt I dealt with this issue with my friend.
In junior high, I started noticing racial tensions between students. I remember seeing an Asian boy getting pounded in the bike parking lot. In my high school, of 3600 kids, there were people of all kinds, but we all "knew" that if one wasn't white, one would never be elected to any office. But within a few years, Blacks started living in the regular neighborhoods and were elected to such things homecoming king. By then I was away at college, which was quite white with some kids deliberately imported from Chicago, so that "integration" was there in a forced way.
The places I've lived since graduation have been overwhelmingly white. The non-whites are, for the most part, not Black. "Race" and "mixed-race" has a different meaning for me than for many people. My family is "mixed-race." I sometimes forget that others don't see me this way because it isn't so visibly obvious, especially when I'm by myself!
My son loves baseball. When he was about 6, we would watch the games on TV and notice the differences between the players. We made comments that celebrated these differences rather than ranking people by their differences. When he was in 2nd grade, I bought him a book about Jackie Robinson. His teacher called me with some concerns after he read that book, "___ has been saying, 'I'm not black.' over and over." He had learned from that book about the persecution that Jackie Robinson had faced when he played major league baseball. My son was distancing himself from this player because of skin color but not because of any feeling of superiority.
In later years, I've asked my son about racial issues. He would tell me specific names of only a few kids in high school whom he thought were racist. But mostly that wasn't an issue. I think when people have known each other all their lives, these issues fade into the background. My son actually told me that he used his race to his advantage at times because he stood out. Perhaps issues would arise if kids were dating, but since most of the "non-white" families I know of here are mixed race, it is obvious that people here have been comfortable mixing for a couple of generations. Yet, another non-white family we know told me that they were self-employed because of the difficulty of finding jobs here.
Now that my son lives in a big city and has worked at several jobs, we've had some discussions about race. He feels that racism has been at play in not getting some jobs he applied for. When unemployment is so high, I'm not sure how one would figure that out as there could be many excuses for not hiring somebody. But he has told me that occasionally the person interviewing him would ask him some direct questions about his background.
I've had fewer conversations about race with my other kids, but there were some telling comments. One told me that other students assumed that our kids were foster kids. My third child wanted nothing to do with the organizations at college that were promoting racial or ethnic pride and knowledge. I'm not sure if she missed out on something helpful or not.
At one time, the only thing my kids knew about Black people was what they saw on TV and that wasn't always very positive. It wasn't just Black people who lacked role models. Now my kids and grandkids and all kids will be able to turn on the TV and see that Blacks, just like Whites, are in all positions and jobs, top to bottom. Lets hope that people of other groups will soon also have these same opportunities.


  1. I do hope that this will open doors of opportunity. It's bound to, it seems to me. Thoughtful and interesting post that made me do some remembering of my own.

  2. Raqcism is a strange thing. My father talked like a racist. I was ashamed of him. But when the state agency had a black baby that needed a foster home all the liberal good talking people said no but my dad and mom said yes. They took care of Jamie until a couple was found to adopt him. My parents went on to adopt an Indian child that nobody wanted, my sister Chris.
    I was so proud of them they rose above their background, their beliefs, and did the right thing.


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