Last week I wrote about the conundrum I faced growing up. I loved my dear grandmother, but as I came to adulthood, I realized how she didn’t like anyone who wasn’t white. No other way to say it. She didn’t like minorities. And she didn’t like me having minority friends. On the other side was my mother, who had also grown up under the influence of that same woman and who didn’t care what color someone was if she was a good person. True, she mostly lived in white communities, but she also had a black brother-in-law, a wonderful man whom my grandmother never accepted into the family.
At college I came into my own where race was concerned. Yes, it was in the Sixties when the world was set on end. We all had our causes: feminism, racial equality, ending the war in Vietnam, saving baby seals. When we were marching, I didn’t realize how many different ethnic groups marched beside me until I saw pictures of the crowd in the papers or on television. We were united by our causes, not divided by our racial or ethnic backgrounds.
My grandmother had been long gone when I dated the rainbow coalition in college. Japanese. Chinese. Vietnamese. Black. Mexican-American. Apache. I’m sure she would have banished me from the family as she had her own daughter. It was my choice. I didn’t consciously decide to date non-whites, but I hung out with them all the time. From study dates onward, we were thrown together. Sometimes romance happened; sometimes lust happened; other times friendship happened.
Fast forward to today. A month ago I was listening to a piece on NPR about racism. Three colleges were offering courses in the subject. I nearly drove off the road. In a political climate where anger is seemingly the new normal, I couldn’t fathom anyone teaching or taking a course in racism. Was it a how-to course? The more I listened, the more fascinated I became. These courses were a combination of self-awakening, New Age philosophy and a bit of a 12-step program. The goal was not to teach us how to be racists, but how to recognize our own racist tendencies.
On the first day of class, the teacher stood before his students and declared, “I am a racist.” He proceeded to talk about things he did routinely that show some kind of bias. Students told their own stories. The goal was to open minds to what we do or think that is subtle. Once we were aware of what we do, we could change or not. The choice was ours. I raced into the house and wrote down several things I do that are racist without me being aware of them.
- In large cities, I cross the street if I see a group of young black men with pants dragging on the ground coming toward me.
- When driving through poor or minority neighborhoods, I remember to lock my car doors when I seen a young man walking along a sidewalk.
- I take pride in “having friends of all colors and nationalities.”
- I laugh at people who make racial distinctions. One example, a man talked about an Indian shop. Another man asked if he meant dots or feathers. I thought it was funny until I realized it wasn’t.
- I look at working men wearing camouflage jackets and think “redneck,” as if being a redneck is someone I wouldn’t want to know.
I could go on, but I think you get my drift. Until I listened to that NPR story, I might never have consciously been aware of how racist some of my actions are. Yes, you’ll say I’m keeping myself safe or just being prudent, but I know that if I saw a group of white young men with their pants on the ground, I probably wouldn’t cross the street.
I have a wise Facebook friend, Ron LeBarton, who writes about some of these issues in The Good Men Project. His latest article is about white people becoming part of the solution. https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/being-part-of-the-solution-wcz/
I’m ready to be part of the solution. Grandmother, I reject your early teachings. You were wrong, but I still love your memory of everything else you taught me. Mom, you showed me color didn’t matter. My friends at UCLA reinforced this. And now it’s time for me to stand with other white people for equality for all.