** This post is crazy long and contains quotes of offensive language. Frankly, it turned my stomach writing it, just like it turns my stomach hearing it. **
I’m breaking my silence to speak up on an issue that probably seems far removed from my white, SAHM existence. Let’s talk racism, shall we? The Martin investigation and Zimmerman trial has been the catalyst for a lot of talking about race in our house lately. I’m not going to comment on the case/trial itself other than this: a child is dead and that is a tragedy, no matter the reason. Even *if* he was exactly what he was feared of being (a thug, a criminal, a “bad” person) he was young and had his whole life ahead of him, and I know I am a completely different person than I was at 17 and he may have grown up to be a different person too (for better or worse). The loss of his future IS a tragedy and is horrible. At the same time, not all deaths are murder. It’s very easy to make assumptions about what Zimmerman was thinking, or what his motivations were. From the comfort of our homes, behind the anonymity of the internet it’s all well and good to be an expert on what happened or should have happened that night. But… none of us were there. We don’t know. There seems to be a massive case of polarity happening surrounding this situation (Zimmerman’s a hero for “taking another nigger off the streets” or Zimmerman’s a murderer for “gunning down a poor, innocent kid”) but, the truth is life is full of gray and none of us were there. None of us know for sure what happened or why and one life has been ended and another ruined. I won’t speculate on the verdict or facts of the case. I will only say the situation is horrendous and I wish we lived in a world where things like this simply didn’t happen. But, we don’t and they do and they aren’t always black and white. We all need to embrace a bit more gray.
That said… I grew up believing racism was dead. I went to an urban school and have a very unique name. Meaning? White kids were in the minority and my name bought me instant coolness with the black kids. I didn’t realize at the time, butnthis was actually another form of racism. I was one of the “ok white people” because most weren’t. My Dad was raised similarly (actually, he was raised in the projects, and the vast majority of his friends were black until they moved to a more balanced neighborhood when he was 15). I never heard racial slurs. I never heard skin color based stereotypes. Never. The first time I heard the word “nigger” I had no clue what it meant, why it was offensive or why it caused my Dad to get SO MAD. We were at a convenience store and the guy behind the counter (a friend of my Dad’s) called one of the kids we were babysitting a “little nigger.” My Dad made us put all of stuff back, yelled at his friend and we never went back to that store. It was less than a block from our house, we NEVER went back. When I say racism was not a part of my upbringing, I mean it. We weren’t like a lot of white families who had black “friends” and talked the talk in public but used racist speech at home. There was genuinely zero racism in our home. For all of my Dad’s faults, that is one thing he did right. He raised us to believe “people are people.” He truly instilled in us the importance of judging people on their actions and words.
Unfortunately, he didn’t warn us that although many people were like us, many more were not. He didn’t tell us that the media “line” and the actual way the media reports on race issues are completely different things. He didn’t warn us that our biracial children would be seen as different from us and we would be judged for being seen with them in public. He didn’t warn us that we would have friends who wouldn’t understand how we could believe that people were more than the color of their skin. He didn’t warn us that racism is still very much alive and well.
Since we were white, and no one told us any differently, we grew up believing that racism was dead. Except for the few cases of radical groups that no one really associated with much any more (KKK, Black Panthers etc…). I genuinely believed that until Big C was about 2 years old. That was the first time I heard someone comment “whore” as I walked by them carrying “my” bi-racial baby while shopping with my white husband. Since then, I’ve heard lots of comments like that. And, it’s worse when I have my sister’s three bi-racial children and my white child out together by myself. I hear “four kids, four daddy’s” and “my tax dollars at work.” Because obviously, a white woman with lots of kids, some of whom have a black father, must be on “the system.” Never mind, that I’m not and most of the kids aren’t mine. But, when faced with my family people draw assumptions from their core beliefs (white women that have children with black men are whores) rather than actually get to know us. Their loss. And the least of my worries, frankly.
Because, as it turns out my precious darlings are subjected to MUCH WORSE when playing in the neighborhood while visiting their dad. (Another common core belief conflict: All black dads are dead beats. My BIL has shared parenting and pays the kids daycare and buys about half of their clothes and is at every school performance/event/holiday.) Apparently, the 7-10 year old children in that neighborhood are being taught words like “Puerto Riccan nigger” and “porch monkey” and my favorite “jungle monkey” (which duh, monkey’s live in jungles! but, I think it’s supposed to be their way of combining “monkey” and “jungle bunny”). Also, they like to yell these things at Big C and Little C when they’re riding bikes. There are houses that my boys are afraid to ride past because they’ve been told that they’ll “be lynched.” They have no idea what “lynch” means, they think it’s like a wedgie. I didn’t know. Until we started talking specifically about racism I had never heard the severity of the issue. I knew they were saying “Puerto Riccan nigger” over there, but had assumed it was an isolated thing (maybe one kid’s older sister ran off with a latino guy and their parents were throwing that word around or something). But, it’s not, it’s a widespread issue coming from multiple families. Obviously, these children didn’t make these words up or decide to be racist all on their own. No one is born racist. I repeat NO ONE IS BORN RACIST! They are learning it from their parents, and the media. Scares me to death.
It’s not just isolated to little hooligans in a bad neighborhood, either. Recently, I was driving my oldest nephew to a doctor’s appointment (he’s 21, yes, step-nephew, but he’s been around since he was 5 or 6, so he’s ours now) when I turned on red. Apparently, there was a “no turn on red” sign. I didn’t see it. We were late and lost, babies were fussing and I wasn’t paying enough attention. But, a sheriff was paying attention to me and I got pulled over ($100 ticket, too!). My nephew was literally shaking. He was PETRIFIED. I couldn’t understand, we had nothing illegal in the car, it was a minor traffic violation, we’d get a ticket (and directions) and be on our way. Inconvenient, sure, but nothing to be scared of. I tried to talk my way out of the ticket (unsuccessfully), got directions and drove off. He was still scared and checking behind us to be sure the cop wasn’t following us. Then, when we got to his appointment without further incident he said “It sure must be nice to be a white lady, Aunt Minta.” At first, I was a little offended and pissed by that statement. The cop was only doing her job, and we gave her no reason to be rude/excessive with us, so she wasn’t. Honestly, at that time I’d never had an incident with the police that didn’t go that way. After his appointment I asked him what he meant by his little comment and he told me that he’s been pulled over three times. Twice he was drug out of the car and held while his car was searched (illegally) and he was patted down. The other time the cop actually punched him and made him sit in the cruiser while they searched his car with a drug dog. My nephew is a clean cut, well dressed, handsome kid. He drives a decent car, but not nice enough to think “drug dealer.” I asked him if he had drugs, “No.” Did he argue with the cops, “No. Definitely not the way you did. They’d have beat my ass.” Was he speeding excessively in a residential zone, “No, when the cop punched me I had just dropped Nanny off from grocery shopping and hadn’t even made it off of her block.” The fuck?
This terrifies me. I am frightened of my nephews being stereotyped and mistreated because of their skin. Honestly, I had no idea racism was this prevalent still. When are we going to learn that People are People? Not before my boys will be scarred by the ignorance of society, because that’s already happened. And how the fuck do I protect the littles, without their being over shielded like I was?