Why I Write About Race

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” Why do you write so much about race?” It was a question put to me by a reader who also happens to know me personally. She is White and is surprised by some of the things that I have said.   I responded that this blog, My so Called Glamorous Life, is about my very unglamorous and normal life.  It’s my perspective on a lot of things that affect me on an ongoing basis – like being a wife and a mother.  Sometimes I post recipes because I love to bake or I write about books because I love to read, particularly children’s and young adult books.  Then there’s the fact that I’m Black and like most people (whether they know it or not), race and ethnicity do influence my perspective.  We continued talking for a bit.  “Surely,” she said “race isn’t a daily issue in your life?”

“Depending on what I’m doing that week, it can be.  Even more so when I worked out side of the home.”

“You dealt with blatant racism on a daily basis during your career?”

“No, not blatant.  More the kind of subtle thing that is born of complete ignorance. Usually, I would just walk off, roll my eyes and move on.” This is still usually my response.

“Like what kind of things?”

“Oh, you know, like when I was the only Black woman sitting with a group of moms waiting for our daughters to get out of a class.  One of the people working at the studio was trying to schedule a meeting and asked every mother there if she worked outside of the home and if so, what time would she be available for a meeting.  When she got to me, she said “Oh, Mrs. Owen, I know you have a job.”  In fact, I was the only one there who didn’t work outside of the home, but why didn’t she ask me?

Or…

“The time that the driver of the car behind me, waiting to turn left at a corner, swung out and around me and yelled “Dumb ass spic!” because apparently he thought that I was taking too long to turn the corner.” Never mind that I’m not Latina (which really didn’t matter) and he was playing chicken with an oncoming car.

Or…

“The countless times that I have seen surprise register on someone’s face when I say that my parents were married for 59 years before my dad died.  Nope, it’s not always like it is on  t.v.  All Black people do not come from broken homes.”

Or…

“The time that a little boy in my then pre-school daughter’s class said that he could be friends with everyone, EXCEPT Black girls.  She was the only Black girl in the class.”  I guess if I have to be honest, I really didn’t just let that one pass with an eye roll.  I let the teacher handle it in class but, my passive – aggressive nature took over and I made sure that each and every time his mother was in my presence (even remotely) I went over to say “hello”.  Because I’m just that friendly.

She didn’t need me to go on after that one.  She really didn’t know where to go from there, I think because she wondered if I have ever had cause to walk off and roll my eyes at her.  It’s clear that I make her uncomfortable or at least my posts about race do.  Do I make you uncomfortable?  If so, that’s a good thing because we should all be uncomfortable when it comes to the subject of race relations in this country.

When I previously wrote about Ferguson (A Mom’s Eye View of Ferguson), I explained why I understood the rioting in response to the shooting and subsequent police handling of the situation.  I did not say that I thought that the riots were a good thing, but none of it is a good thing.  Discussing how the citizens of that city should have responded without discussing how the cop should not have shot that unarmed young man 6 times then left him lying in the street for 4 hours is inequitable and naive.  Trust me, there is enough blame and responsibility to go around.

A reader once accused me of ranting about race.  No, I don’t rant about race.  I rant about poor customer service and from time to time I rant about my kids not doing as I would like them to, but not about race.  I’m too old to rant about  it because I’ve dealt with this type of environment for so long that it’s become par for the course. However, I am very open about my take on the topic because if there is one thing that I know, it’s that attitudes about race permeate absolutely everything in this country – politics, education, health care, entertainment, sports…EVERYTHING.

The United States is ushering in  new generations of  Americans that have no real, first hand, knowledge of our racial past and everything that we have gone through to get where we are now.  Young people who only know of Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, Shirley Chisholm and other Freedom Fighters from text books.  Textbooks that have never told the entire story and are now being watered down even further to tame our ugly past.  In large part that’s why what took place on the streets of Ferguson was so hard to understand and disturbing for so many.  They had never seen this before and the racial tension is palpable.  Race riots, which is really what it ended up being, were only contained in history books.  Right?  I mean, after all we have an African-American president so surely we are past all of that racial strife, right?  Hardly. It is that distance from our past, for both Blacks and Whites, as well as Latinos, Asians and everyone else that has landed us exactly where we are today.  After all, it is far easier and more comfortable to bury your head in the sand. Ignorance is bliss.  No. Ignorance is just, well… ignorant.

Covey

 

The most important thing that we all can do for each other is to really listen and learn from one another.  I mean really listen. Let down your guard and welcome honest conversation.  Be willing to let go of the stereotypes.  It is not an accident that every issue to come to the attention of the masses seems to divide us racially.  Given the amount of  garbage being spewed (and I mean vile, disgusting, contrived garbage) all in the name of political, religious and social freedom,  it’s completely expected and I would argue by design.  If you can sow seeds of doubt, mistrust and hatred within a society, you divide it’s its people and thereby reduce its power. Is it any wonder that the United States finds itself in such a political and fiscal mess?  Power is multiplied by unity.

While on a visit with my 87 year-old  aunt, I was telling her about my blog.  She turned to me and asked “Are you helping anyone?” Good question. I really had to think about it.  Which brought me to this:  I write about race because I know that there are people out there who believe that Black people are always whining and playing the victim.  That we are our own worst enemy.  That we should just let the past be the past and just move on.  I know that some of these people are actual friends and acquaintances of mine and would never believe the accounts of prejudice that I relay here on this blog if they were told by a stranger.  Likewise I know that there  are black and brown people who believe that all white people are racist.  I know that’s not true and it’s important that we (Black people) stop approaching every white person with mistrust.   It’s important that we stop letting our fear get in the way of taking care of our selves and each other.  It’s important that we stop preying on each other and focus our positive energy in a different direction.  I also know that there are people on both sides of this issue who feed the fire and fan the flames.  Some unwittingly because they have no idea that they have bought into every stereotype  out there. They are naive and uneducated when it comes to this thing we call social justice.   However, for some it’s very intentional because they divide the masses in order to retain some sense of control.  If the United States is a great and powerful country in its current political and economic state, imagine the possibilities if we were unified?

I write about race because I really want you to listen and understand that race is a part of every day life in America.  Now, what are we going to do about it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Mom’s Eye View of Ferguson

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In 1973, when I was 7-years-old,  my parents bought a house in a small bedroom community near the town where we lived.   While Mom and Dad agreed that they both wanted to move, this particular house was my mother’s doing.  The middle class neighborhood full of neat little mid-century split-levels and ranch style homes with tidy yards was 100% White and my father wanted nothing to do with it.  Yes, from 3rd through the 6th grade I was one of only 5  to 7 Black children in a school of approximately 400 students.   The other Black families lived in a subdivision on the other side of the school.   Believe it or not, until now I have never thought of it this way, but my parents were pioneers.  Unintentional pioneers. Many years later (I had graduated from high-school and gone off to college), there was an African-American man who moved in around the corner from my parents.  One day he saw me out walking and introduced himself.  During the conversation he said “Do you know that your parents have been the only Black family in this neighborhood all this time?”    As if I might have missed that. I laughed. Anyway, before we moved into our new home, my parents were informed that while the majority of the new neighbors were “fine” (notice the quotation marks?) with Black people living in the neighborhood, there was one neighbor, who happened to live next door who was vocally and adamantly against it.  After all, Blacks don’t take care of their property, they’re loud and their kids are wild, etc.    He said that he was going to build a 6-foot high fence or plant cedar trees or whatever it took to keep our family from seeing into their yard.  After all, he didn’t want “the Negro men looking at his wife while she was sunbathing.”  Because apparently all Black men like to look at White women sunbathe.   That was sarcasm.

What the new neighbor didn’t know was that my father didn’t want to live next door to him as much, if not more than he didn’t want him there.  Daddy did not trust White people and in all fairness, he was a Black man born in Missouri in 1929.  Think about American history as it pertains to the treatment of Black people; think about what he lived through (violence against Blacks, segregation/Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement)  and I’m sure that you can understand.  Actually, by the same token, you can afford the neighbor the same understanding.  After all, he was about the same age, maybe a little older than Dad and his racial attitude was fairly common, particularly in their generation.  Having said that, the cold war began the day we moved in.  They just ignored the hell out of each other.  No wave.  No friendly hello.  No acknowledgement what so ever. And it went on like this for years.    I will tell you how this story ends in a little bit, but first…

Ferguson, Missouri. 2014

One month ago today, Mike Brown, an 18-year-old, unarmed Black man was shot and killed by  a White Ferguson police officer named Darren Wilson.  The circumstances surrounding the shooting are unclear and just like I didn’t write about the legalities surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin (It’s Not Just About Trayvon), I’m not going to discuss the legalities of this case either. I wasn’t there so I don’t really know what happened.  Although, I will point out that it is a fact that the unarmed, Black male in both instances is now dead.  However, again I’m going to speak as a mother. A  mother with two African-American, twenty-something sons.  A mother who is a sister to 2 African – American brothers whose father repeatedly warned about appropriate, careful interaction with police.  A mother who has made those same warnings to my own sons.   A mother who has seen this type of thing happen so often that it is no longer surprising.  This type of violence against young Black men either by the police who are here to serve and protect or at the hands of  other young Black men is all too common.  Much of America is becoming desensitized to it. Perhaps they, young Black men are, too, which is the real tragedy. No, I don’t think many people, at least Black people, will say that they were surprised by the shooting of Mike Brown.  What really caught America’s – the world’s – attention was what happened after the shooting.  I think most people would point to the protests and the rioting as the flash point, but for me, it was something else.   It was when the police chose to leave Mike Brown’s body lying in the street for 4 hours.

Four hours of his family looking at his lifeless body in the street.  Four hours of a mother just wanting answers and to care for her boy.  Four hours of a community being reminded by means of fear and intimidation, who was in control.    I must admit that the first thought that crossed my mind was the comparison to lynching victims whose bodies were allowed to swing from trees for days in order to remind the Black community to fall back in line.   Four hours of mounting shock, grief and anger.  And then they rioted…and I completely understand why.

Riot quote

There are always those who will take any given situation and turn it into something advantageous for themselves.  Looters or so-called journalists looking to distort the facts to create sensational headlines.  Or self-serving community leaders who are only looking for the limelight and free publicity.  However, at the heart of the matter are people who bear the brunt of a society so deeply steeped in racism and bigotry that we often don’t recognize it even when it’s coming from our own mouths.  Let me make it clear that I know that not all White people are racists, just like I know that not all Black people are lazy, dumb, smelly, good athletes, great singers, thieves, liars and any other stereotype that’s floating around out there.  I also know that not all police are corrupt.  I have the pleasure of being related to and friends with some very fine officers.  What I do believe is that we are ALL bigots.  Your particular prejudice may not be race or ethnicity; maybe it’s  gender, or sexual orientation, or people who are over weight, or people who wear green, or people who are from Vermont (nothing wrong with Vermont, just what came to mind as I was typing).  Whatever the case, it’s there in ALL of us.  ALL. OF. US. In the case of Mike Brown, both the citizens of Ferguson and the police officers were bearing the brunt of our societal sins because they were the ones on the front lines acting on emotions based on decades of mistrust, misinformation, fear and anger.

The riots were the result of the people of Ferguson just being so damn tired of what they deemed to be oppression and an abuse of power by the police department and city officials. They were screaming and crying out in anguish, which is not hard to understand under the circumstances.  It’s not the first time that this country has seen what amounted to a race riot and, if we don’t get our act together, it won’t be the last.

What played out over the next several days and evenings was a direct result of a nation that doesn’t know how to confront it’s own racial divide. While there were Whites (and other ethnicities) joining the protests in Ferguson and as well as on social media, a majority of people took sides along racial and political lines.  By the way, this says a lot – not good – about the current state of race and politics in America.  Once we were a country that fostered an openly hostile environment toward people of color.  Over the years we have moved to a state of tolerance.  I have never liked the term tolerance as it relates to dealing with people who are different from you because there is nothing about it that encourages true relationships based on understanding and open dialogue.  To tolerate someone means to put up with them.  Trust me when I say that I will never ask anyone to merely put up with me.  If you’re just going to put up with me for whatever reason, you need to keep moving because I will stay firmly planted.

What is missing in Ferguson and all over this country is respect.  Unfortunately, for some of us more than others, a lack of respect can lead to a loss of life.  As a mother of Black young men, I am acutely aware that my son’s lives are in harms way every day.  Not because we live in a bad neighborhood or they lead a dangerous lifestyle, but simply because they are Black men.  There is no such thing as “friendly fire” where they are concerned.   Police often assume on sight that Black men and boys are dangerous, as was the case with John Crawford, a 22 year-old Black man shot while holding an unloaded BB gun in an Ohio Walmart (read it here) on August 5, 2014.  On the other hand, other young Black men, trying to establish power and control within their own communities, in the only way they know how, are often the one’s that pull the trigger.

Where do we go from here, what do we learn from it, and  how do we move forward?  Good questions for which I have no answer.  Well, not really, but I do suspect that it starts with being honest about who we are as individuals and who we are as a nation. You can not have a discussion about where you are without discussing your past and this is where the United States gets off on the wrong foot when it comes to race.  It seems that everyone is tired of discussing slavery, segregation and Jim Crow.  “It’s old news!” they say. “Get over it!” they say.  “We’ve got to let that go!” some of us say.  However, understanding the root cause of mistrust, where it began and how it is fostered is really the background conversation that everyone needs to start with.  No whitewashing please.  The purposes is not to let Blacks wallow in self pity and play the victim. The purpose is to establish an understanding of where and how it all began and the modern-day ramifications both social and financial.  Let us not forget that this country benefited from hundreds of years of free labor.  It could not have become the great country that it is without it.  History always plays a part in modern-day circumstances and ignoring it just makes one ignorant.  Honest conversation can always lead to reconciliation if your heart is in the right place.  I will have more on this in my next post, but for now back to my story about my dad and his neighbor.

Mom and Mrs. Neighbor had a few conversations here and there – small talk mostly and in time the ice began to thaw between the two men.  I think through observation, they realized that they really weren’t all that different.  They were both family men.  Took pride in an cared for their homes and property.  Worked hard.  You know, just normal.  They started saying hello to one another, then brief, friendly exchanges. Finally, they ended up sharing neighborhood gossip over the fence, between the cedar trees.  The neighbor would give my parents tomatoes from their garden.  They actually became friends.  Not long after my parents were both diagnosed with Alzheimer’s they sold their house and moved. Shortly thereafter Mr. Neighbor died.

I love this story, because it’s proof that almost anything is possible.  God Bless America.

 

You Can Go Home Again

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  “Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, Those soft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all one way.” 
― Kenneth GrahameThe Wind in the Willows

I love a good book, especially for children.  Some of my fondest memories from my childhood home involve a book, whether reading one or discussing one that I had just finished. My 8-year-old daughter has developed my same love of reading and it’s because of her that I continue searching for just the right book to read with her and her sister.  She likes a good story – one that can lead to lots and lots (and lots) of questions.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Recently I found a copy of the children’s classic The Wind in The Willows, By Kenneth Grahame for $3 at a local bookstore.  At just $3 of course I had to buy it.    Just one look at this book and I was immediately transported back to  the leather sofas in our basement family room in the house that I grew up in.  It was my favorite place to read because it was quiet and I could snuggle up in one of the crocheted afghans that my mother kept folded on the back of the sofa.  I would spend hours down there alone reading and letting my imagination run wild.  I haven’t been back to that house since my parents were both diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and had to sell it, but I do remember having this book in my collection as a child and loving it.  So, it is with great excitement that I have begun to read this with my girls. In case you don’t remember or have never read it, The Wind in the Willows (which was first published almost 100 years ago) is the tale of the adventures of  a jolly and eccentric group of friends that were actually animals.  The Mole, Rat, Toad and Badger travel their way through the Wild Wood and along the way develop a friendship that can only be described as heart warming and human.  It is simply delightful, but what is really, really wonderful about this book is the vocabulary.  The depth of language used to tell the story is unheard of in present day children’s literature. The writing style of the author is formal, as was the case that many years ago, but it forces the reader to broaden their vocabulary to truly understand what they are reading, which spurs the imagination.  Thing 1 has her hand up after every paragraph with a series of questions, but they are not usually about the meanings of  words.  Somehow, she figures that out as we go along.   Instead her questions are about the actual story line,  personalities of the characters,  the scenery, what the characters may be thinking, etc. .  And she’s smiling.  A lot.

All of this is really timely because it’s the first week of September and I’m thinking of Fall.  Which means that I’m suffering from a bad case of homesickness.  You know? Fall? Cooler temperatures, leaves crunching under your feet, jacket weather…Fall?  Pumpkin spice flavored everything Fall? That is not Texas Fall.  Here I just look forward to the temps falling to consistently below 90 degrees.    What does this have to do with The Wind in the Willows?  Well, Mole has never been away from his home below ground when he meets Rat and sets out on his grand adventure.  Although he absolutely loves living and traveling above ground, especially along the river, he starts to long for the familiarity and comfort of home.  That’s me.  Most of the time I’m fine with where I am.  I have learned to be grateful for year round flip-flop weather and winter days where the afternoon is warm enough for me to sit on my patio and write.  However, from about this time of year through the Holidays, I want to head north…back home.

It’s hard to go back once you’re pulled up stakes.  We have a new church, new schools and  new friends..  We love our new house and the (somewhat) slower pace to our lives.   We have discovered new entertainment venues and local restaurants. Slowly, it’s becoming better suited to us, but the rest of our family is missing.  Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles cousins, friends that feel like family – you can’t replace people that you love.  We go back to visit as often as we can, but admittedly, it doesn’t feel the same.  Maybe it’s not supposed to.  After all, it’s possible to appreciate your old home while making a new one.

He saw clearly how plain and simple – how narrow, even – it all was; but clearly, too, how much it all meant to him, and the special value of some such anchorage in one’s existence. He did not at all want to abandon the new life and its splendid spaces, to turn his back on sun and air and all they offered him and creep home and stay there; the upper world was all too strong, it called to him still, even down there, and he knew he must return to the larger stage. But it was good to think he had this to come back to, this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome.” 
― Kenneth GrahameThe Wind in the Willows