racism part 1

social awareness

I listened to this live-on-air clip of a republican calling Obama the N-word (because that’s the PC way to write that…) on C-Span. Maybe it was too soon after the midterm elections and when my distaste for those in our country that refuse to allow social progress to happen was blaring red. It made me so mad. Not because I haven’t heard worse, not because I don’t know that this was extremely mild in comparison to the profusion of disgusting things that come out of peoples mouth every second across this country. But because this guy just said what no one was talking loudly enough about. Racism in politics. Racism in everyday life. Before the election.

Not that what I say or what anyone else says will drastically change someone’s conduct, or political decisions, but because the sensationalism of the Republican party to villainize Obama for literally everything stopped just short of what this caller let so easily roll of his tongue. He has one thing right, watch out for 2016. We Democrats are angry, poised to become angrier.

(My boyfriend watched the same clip and said and I quote, “Ehhhhh that’s nothing”. That’s a whole additional conversation about the desensitization of a life time of hatred unjustly directed at you because of something utterly arbitrary).

*Needless to say, I was a little angry when I started writing this, it somehow twists into one of a series of posts that I am writing about my experience with racism, enjoy.*

Did you know that I live with a black man? That I have sex with a black man? That when I have a flat tire on the side of the road the first person I call to come rescue me is a black man?

And I’m a little white girl with a little white daughter.

Does this make you uncomfortable?

Do I care? Yes and no.  I could jump to the, “It’s my business, stay out of it conclusion”. I could just console myself with, “Haters gonna hate.” I could do what I’ve done for a very long time, all of my free-thinking conscious decision making days, and put physical and mental distance between those who have ideologies that I can’t begin to stomach. Even when those people are my neighbor, my sibling, my community. I’m from a little town in North West Kansas. The type of place that you think of when you think of Kansas (Not LAWRENCE please see this blog post if you would like to learn the distinction between one of the most swell places on earth and the state in which it happens to be in).

This is the type of place where everyone waves at each other as the pass each other going 15 miles per hour on brick paved roads. I lived on a farm, I grew up in a town with a population of 3,017 in 1990. You can literally walk every single place in that town easily. The closest Walmart was 2 hours away. All of the stores (there couldn’t have been more than 5) closed by 7 and didn’t open at all on Sundays.

I mostly grew up at the end of my grandparents kitchen table. It was a big solid wood oval, the place that we folded laundry on, where I learned to sew, where we ate fried chicken and had birthday parties. During the afternoons it was the place where my grandmother sat chain smoking cigarettes chatting at super sonic speeds with a host of women from around town. My grandmother was as socialite as one could be in bum fracked Kansas. She was informed potentially misinformed, she over-shared, she was a social epicenter. Life swirled around her. She thrived in the clamor.

I remember sitting there coloring pictures, looking vaguely tuned out but secretly soaking in all of the dialogue like a parched sponge. I learned way too many things way too early. I knew everyone’s business. People, families, melodramas swirled in my little brain like paper dolls with novel worthy narratives. One of those from my fourth year on this earth, was that there was going to be a black girl at my soon-to-be school. Her Dad was in prison, her family moved here to be closer to him so that they could visit him. As best I recollect, as was probably distorted.

I can’t quite remember what my notion of race was at that point. Surely I had seen people of color when we had been ‘to the city’ (Hays America, or Oberlin Kansas… that’s funny if you know either of those places in relation to the rest of the world). Most definitely I had seen them on T.V. there was LeVar Burton, why let’s do take a look. There was Mayor Ben from Zoobilee Zoo, only the most amazing show of my childhood. I’m sure Mr. Rogers had some sort of affirmative action clause for his casting director. Michael Jordan. Oh and Oprah, God’s gift to this Earth.

zoobilee_zoo

And most resoundingly were my Grammy’s stories. My grandmother was more or less raised by her ‘nanny’, a Southern black woman that she thought the absolute world of. She would wax poetic about how much she loved her. All of the things that she taught her. How she was there emotionally when her parent’s weren’t. I feel like her husband was intertwined into many of the stories. I wish that I remembered them better.  I don’t know how linear my thought process was about race at such a young age. But, I do remember thinking, that these people were mystical and magical in some way.

The only ones (I know that’s a dick thing to say but we are only as big as our environments) that I knew where legendary and famous. I didn’t know why it was a big deal that, that girl was going to be in my kindergarten class, I just knew it was big. My family was only racist in the sweetest of ignorant ways…. you know like making sweeping generalizations about an entire population of people solely based on their skin color. Saying things like, “Well they’re hard workers”. Maybe that’s just what I heard. The story about the little girl felt more like news than an assertion about her being bad or anything really. They didn’t teach me to hate. Racism wasn’t even a concept then for me (granted that’s inherent in being born an innocent, untainted child). As an adult I know for a fact that way too many of those people in that small town, potentially a majority of them are racist even today is chilling. In the late 80’s and early 90’s there simply wasn’t any ethic diversity to be up in arms about. Racism isn’t very obvious when there’s only one race, your own.

I went to kindergarten. The most shocking event of the first day wasn’t a little girls skin color but rather that no one had taught me how to write my name in lower case letters. How could this happen to me? I was embarrassed, devastated by my own short comings, there was no room for social politics. I learned that, that little black girl was named Princess. I remember playing with her on the slipper slide and quizzing her about her name. Surely she was a real princess, some sort of royalty. It seemed to me that everyone that was labeled black, African American, or any array of words that I would rather be stabbed in the eye than use were all of some divine origin.

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