Teaching Racism, Or Not

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.


6 responses to “Teaching Racism, Or Not

  1. Madame DeBarge

    Please tell me that, at some point, you grew up and slapped your mom back.

    I believe people are people, and do my best to live up to that. I give everyone the same opportunities to be good or bad, regardless of appearances.
    No one is racism free, no one, but it’s how you treat other people that shows what’s inside.

  2. crazy shit. the area of town i live in is still racist. and it makes me sick. there are some outright hicks that are stupid to the bone, but most people operate from the perspective of fear because they have no direct dealing with people of color. this is a segregated little town – nobody readily admits it, but it’s true. my ex is hispanic, and one day he commented on how i made eye contact with blacks as they approached us. he thought it was weird. and noted i didn’t really do it with whites. i told him it was a conscious decision i made because i knew, in this town, whites are afraid of blacks (big blanket statement). and i’ve seen whites move over to get out of the way. that makes me sick. i realized that this must suck to high heaven to walk around and have to deal with stupidity EVERYDAY!!! so, i look people in the eye and say hello and usually strike up a conversation. just the other day i started talking to this somewhat unkempt man in a store. people were looking at me like i was a loon. he was so nice and showed me pictures of his kids. he was a proud dad – just like every one else. but nobody knew that about him, because they just looked at his skin color and his clothes and figured they had him pegged. the thing that bothers me the most is USUALLY the people who are the worst are the ones who think they are the best. if you get my drift. don’t want to attack any organizations but ironically, fear seems to fuel those groups too.
    and on a totally differnt note, i’m having bunny issues and was wanting your input. i noticed today that the underside of Haushia’s neck is bare. it could be from her resting it on her hut opening, or scratching, or licking. it doesn’t appear to be wounded in any way. she sems in fine spirits. she’s inside as it’s getting a little hotter. just wondered if you had any info to offer. thanks

  3. Hey, spotted elephant, thanks for writing about that. I hate it that your mom and family put you through that, but like you say, you aren’t the stone racist they really hoped they were raising, and that is what matters.

    You’ve got me inspired to write a blog post about negotiating my own encounters with racism coming up. I really feel what you wrote there– your mom’s racism was really mystifying to you, it didn’t make any sense. Well, it doesn’t make any sense. That’s something so often children really get. 😦


  4. My wife and I are raising our family in an increasingly colorful neighborhood. Less and less white all the time. We have Black neighbors, Latino neighbors, neighbors from east Asia, neighbors from the Pacific rim. This pleases me.

    However, the bigotry some of my white students bring to class with them is horrible. Esp. in terms of hatred against Blacks and Jews.

    We still have a lot of work to do…

  5. Wow, I read things like this and I want to run to the parents and tell them how grateful I am for my childhood.

  6. More proof of my hypothesis: kids are born smart and society tries to teach them to be stupid.

    I’d write more but every time I try I dont know how to put into words my first experience with racism.

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