~Rear view mirror…
My Ma made me a scrap book of pictures of my life thus far. It’s interesting looking at old pics emotions seem to jump off the page and throttle you. Looking at the picture when I was little and lived in LA made me feel cozy and warm all over. That was such a happy time. Glancing at scenes of my Mother and I, I was so in love with her. She was my world. Why did that ever change? She really could do no wrong.
As I turned the pages the warmth drained out of my body and I began to suffocate. We left sunny LA and entered the GLOOM of Olympia Washington. I remember feeling OVERWHELMED by the trees. They were EVERYWHERE! I was an eight year old city kid. Where was the sun?! It FELT like it rained every day. Oh and don’t get me started on the clouds! I REALLY think I didn’t know what the term “overcast” meant till I moved here. GOODNIGHT, I was sooo SAD! Move from L.A. to Oly ?! WHAT! PLEASE BE KIDDING?
Oly was my introduction to racism. I had been called a nigger once when I was five in LA by a snotty kid. I’d really never heard the word before. By the WAY he said it I knew it wasn’t a nice word. But not immersed in racism until Olympia. I wanted, dreamed and cried about going home to LA. In truth even if we would have moved back to LA it wouldn’t have been the same. How do you unlearn hate or get back innocence?
How do I forget the boy who wore gloves when we were square dance partners because he didn’t want to touch my black hands. The teacher turned a blind eye to it. I know he saw it. It wasn’t like my partner was quiet about it. Any kid that asked why he had the gloves on he GLADLY and LOUDLY told them. I was embarrassed and humiliated over and over again. When I was a sophomore in high school the same kid asked me to the Homecoming dance. By then it was the 80’s. I was the “pretty light skinned black girl”. FUNNY I didn’t feel pretty. I was still that scared little, new, little black girl. I just pushed by him and asked if he was gonna wear his gloves? He yelled what are you talking about? A CARELESS act by a STUPID kid had HUANTED me for years. How could he NOT remember???
What about the bus driver who watched the kids make me go to the back of the line because I was Black. In second grade a substitute kept picking on me and slapped me and put me in the hall. Looking at my pictures of my Jeri curl I could see the sadness in my eyes. I was trying to look like blacks I saw on TV. What I didn’t realize that it took me further away from the whites I lived among.
So many stories so many, I don’t have the paper or stamina to recount them all. They all just added up to the same thing, emptiness. I felt so small and exposed. I don’t know why people couldn’t see the hole through the little Black girl that walked around. That was the first fracture in my relationship with my Mom. It’s interesting that it just now looking through this scrap book I realized it. So not fare to my Mom. Not fare at all. At eight I just couldn’t figure out why my Mom didn’t protect me. She didn’t know about a lot of it. I thought she really had eyes in the back of her head and saw everything.
We never talked about it. I kept it to myself. They moved us from LA to give us a better life. As an adult I’m so grateful they did. How were they to know Olympia/Lacey wasn’t ready to fully embrace the color of our skin.
There were two white ladies that were friends of the family. Even though they were married with kids they wanted a black baby. They related to us their most recent trip to the LA area. They looked in any and all garbage’s and dumpsters for a black baby. They had heard once on the news a black baby was found alive in a dumpster. I was nine and didn’t understand. I came to the conclusion blacks didn’t love their kids. White was better. These women were saving black kids. Subsequently I wanted white parents. Now you wouldn’t call these white women racist. Yet by their actions and words I learned white was better than black.
My sister asked me why does everything come back to race with you? I think it’s a form of protection. Too many times in my life I’ve thought I was in a safe place from racism but it found me. When I was in middle school the kids gave each other nick names. You know what I was given? Tarbaby. I wasn’t excepting a nick name because of my race. Another reminder I wasn’t one of them.
Albert and I were dating, an older white woman in his congregation asked him what it was like dating a colored gal? Once we were married and I was in said congregation somehow we started talking about hair. Albert made a comment about how seldom I washed my hair. He explained it was very dry. A fifty something white man POP’D off with how gross that was and some other choice words. I felt smaller and smaller. He just wouldn’t stop talking. I caught his wife give him the SHUT UP shove. It did nothing. What about my stepson calling me a nigger behind my back. What about someone relating a situation when an elderly client told her she can’t wait to get that nigger out of the Whitehouse? Why was it necessary to relate the story to me? Lincoln emancipated us in the 1800’s. Yet I’m still colored, negro, black and a nigger. No wonder I have a hard time identifying myself as an African American. We’ve only had that name since the 80’s.
For some reason we had my Dad’s birth certificate and my sisters out. My father’s race said colored, mine black and AG’s African American. If we would of had Grandpa Walker it would have said Negro. We all have our own stories of dealing with racism. My Mom told me one of hers. She was just a little girl. Her parents were divorced. She was visiting her Daddy in Texas. Coming from LA where they didn’t have the whites/blacks bathrooms. She had to go potty and went to walk in the 1st women’s bathroom she saw. Grandpa Rowe was like HOL D ON baby girl! You CAN’T go in there! That’s the white one. You can imagine a child’s shock and confusion.
And DON’T GET IT TWISTED separate was NEVER equal. My Father was in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. The infamous Black Power black gloves wearing incident. My Dad explained the black athletes were not treated the same as the white ones. It was very much two separate teams. One treated inferior to the other. When Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fist it wasn’t about Black Rights but Human Rights. They won despite not just them but their Black teammates not given those rights by the country they represented. So when they won despite the odds it meant something.
One of my favorites was when I cocktailed at the Sheraton. A middle aged married white man was inappropriately hitting on me all night. Finally he grabbed my hand and asked where I got my light eyes from? Of course I told him, from your great grandpa raping my great grandma. Not exactly APPROPIATE for me to talk to a guest that way. But NOT like he was going to COMPLAIN to my Boss. If he did he would have to tell what his part was.
When I was a child I felt scared and alone. Since a lot of those experiences weren’t as simple as someone calling you a nigger they were hard to understand. Were these people friend or foe? We ate dinner, we worshiped I went to school with and watched the Super Bowl with these people. If you ever asked them if they were racists they would vehemently say NO! Yet why did their words HURT so much?
I remember an older guy observing me said you have no idea how pretty you are. That oddly goes hand in hand with my lil sis’s question. I don’t know an existence without race being a factor in some way. How could I view myself as pretty. Too much yarn has been rolled telling me different. Jay-z uses nigger to defuse the word and identify it differently. I talk and write the way I write to acknowledge the differences and laugh at them. In my mind it celebrates the differences.
One of the worst things someone said to me is they don’t see color. We are different. There’s nothing wrong with that. Saying you don’t see color indicates there is something wrong with color. To me that statement takes away or doesn’t recognize my pain. I know I’m not explaining this right. I don’t mean to offend anyone. This is just a part of my truth. I only represent myself. For every Black, African American or Negro whatever you want to call us theirs a different story. A different take on how they deal with said experiences.
Why this why now? I started this particular blog months ago. I’ve never been able to finish it. It takes a ban aide off a wound that doesn’t seem to heal. Someone close to me told me Black kids today don’t have a clue. When they grew up racism was the law. The dumbest white person was better than the smartest black person. Institutionalized racism in America. That same person is one of the kindest forgiving persons I’ve ever met. At 72 they told me sometimes reading my blog is hard for them. Unknowingly the way I free my soul hurts theirs. It’s Pandora’s Box all over again. My Mother would have never known making the scrap book would make me feel the way it does. No more than Jay-z would know using the word nigger in his songs would even be a blip on Oprah’s radar.
It’s 2013 and a Black Man is President. I think we would all like to think somehow we are over our issues with racism that we’ve had. The truth is someone will say something one way, you will read something, you will see something…or just a buried memory will come to the surface. It’s kind of like that saying on the side mirror of a car, “objects in mirror are closer than they appear”. I almost think it would be easier living back then when racism was institutionalized. It was very black and white…black restroom, white restroom…there was no confusion. When I grew up it all seemed like a grey area. They didn’t call it racism, but it sure didn’t feel good. I think that really is why to this day, I hate trees…they suffocate me. I think they represent that point in my life where I started becoming aware of these things. Trees shade things and cast shadows. I like everything out in the open, where I can see it.