This month of Black History I tried to write about race, but in a way that just didn’t reflect on just Black people in history, but how others have contribute to it regardless of race. Black History is all of our history.
During this month we have seen history that involves Black people, discussed Black people and residue of how some people who are still culturally unaware when it comes to race. From the election of the first Black chairman of the Republican Party, the tough call to better communication by the first Black Attorney General, the continued work to make America live up to its definition by the first Black President to the culturally unaware cartoon and Photoshop created depictions that highlighted age old Black stereotypes.
I’m personally glad that much of this stuff is coming out, because we are FINALLY getting into a mindset of becoming aware of what we do and what we say. Not in a way that it must be politically correct all the time, but what it says about us as a person. It’s quickly no longer socially acceptable to be culturally unaware. We must get out of the gated communities of our own associations and experience others.
After all of the conversations related to race this month I started to think about the people who helped shaped my opinion of self. Although I do not remember the names of all of them, I want to thank them for the role they played making me who I am. Some may criticize them for it, but I appreciate them. They are Black, White, Kurdish, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Republican and Democrat.
So in my personal efforts to conclude this month of deliberate emphasis on race relations I want to use the last two days to thank those who let me know that I was ‘just as good if not better’ than anyone else.
First Realized Encounter with Racism
I slightly rephrase the story of Author Amy Vanderbilt when she tells of a personal story race.
“While traveling on a bus with one of her son’s, I noticed my son kept looking back and smiling to someone I couldn’t see. When we got off the bus and the person he was smiling at got off to. It was an elderly Negro woman. She said to me, ‘your son seems to not see a difference in us at all, how is that?’ I replied with, the grown-ups around him never taught him that there is a difference.” – Amy Vanderbilt
I loved this story, because I could relate to it. I’ve been blessed to have the unique opportunity to have come of age in diverse environments. Although I had plenty of opportunity to be bitter and to be suspicious of a specific group of people my parents didn’t teach me that. My suspicions today are not based around race, class or religion, but affiliations.
Of course my parents had their reservations as I got older and started to like girls, but they cautiously taught me about history, but still allowed me to experience life for myself. I can’t be more thankful for that.
This is something that I strive towards today with my son. When children are uncoached by the adults around them to embrace a negative understanding regarding class & racial differences they tend to openly accept and enjoy people both despite and because of their differences. As they get older society begins to work to ‘set them straight’ and to ‘know their place’.
My first realized encounter of this hypocrisy was when I was only five years old. I remember asking a girl in my class does she want to play basketball with me. I was 5, what kind of basketball was I going to play. Just a series of double dribbling, walking and bricks. Before she could even say yes or no her father came running towards us and told me that ‘his daughter (Cindy) doesn’t want to play with you’. Which was confusing to me then, because I was only one of two Black kids in the class, they played with me before when he wasn’t around.
Thirty-one years later I still remember that first brush with someone trying to tell me to basically stay in my place. If it wasn’t for the confrontation of the mother of the only other Black child in this class to this idiot and to me this could have scared me in a negative way. Because far too often children accept this ridiculous and unwarranted assessment of ‘their place’ without question, thus shutting themselves off to the warm and open experiences with those just like themselves.
The lady’s son was one of my childhood best friend until 1997 when he was shot and killed helping a friend fix his car. I appreciated our friendship throughout the years and thank his mother for intervening at a critical time in my young mind. Thank you for telling me that I am just as good if not better than those who may say or believe otherwise.