When I was very young, my white neighborhood was scandalized because a Black Family moved in. My parents were especially horrified because The Black Family moved in right next door! I was too young to understand what was happening, but as I grew older, I was taught very important things. Our neighborhood was no longer nice because of The Black Family. The Black Family had a pool in their backyard-critical for surviving St. Louis summers. No one in the neighborhood could afford a swimming pool, so everyone concluded The Black Family must have done something Bad in order to have one. The Black Family was different from the rest of us. I was five years old, and all my family talked about was how bad, nasty, and dirty Black people were.
My home life was cruel, judging, and unaffectionate. I was lonely, and starved for kindness and adult attention. I spent quite some time trying to work up the nerve to speak to the woman in The Black Family, Mrs. C. When I finally spoke to her, she didn’t yell at me and she listened to what I had to say. In no time at all, I was plaguing Mrs. C. I spent as much time with her as possible, talking nonstop. She talked with me, she gave me cookies and milk, and she let me play near her while she worked. Mrs. C treated me like no other person did, with respect and friendship.
My mother saw me coming home from Mrs. C’s house and was furious. She’d had no idea that I was spending time with The Black Family. My mom yelled at me and told me to never go over there again. So I started sneaking over to Mrs. C’s house. I’ve never been a sneaky person, and I was quickly caught. Besides yelling at me for disobeying her, my mother gave me several arguments why I shouldn’t go to Mrs. C’s house: Black people were different, they were dishonest, they were bad. I’ve always been stubborn, and I stood my ground, telling my mother how wrong she was. The fight wound up as ugly as it started:
mom: You will not spend time with n******!.
me: Mrs. C is my friend and I will spend time with her!
mom: Slaps me hard across the face.
me: (Crying) Mrs. C never hits anyone for having a friend!
I don’t remember exactly what happened after that fight, I just know that I didn’t see Mrs.C very often anymore. I’m so grateful to her. She provided the kind, friendly attention that I craved. But just as importantly, she counteracted all the ugly things I heard at home and at school. As a White American, I cannot say that I’m not a racist-my privilege prevents that from being the truth. But due to Mrs. C, I am not the racist my family attempted to raise, and for that most of all, I’m grateful.