Saturday, September 1, 2007

Change of View

Originally Posted at on July 18, 2007 at 2:19pm

Looking back, I realize that I was expecting Vera to reveal some shameful tales about my family. In the end, the opposite happened. It turns out that my grandfather took a hard stance on civil rights and maintained a close relationship with his children even though he divorced their mother. In turn, my grandmother seemed to know that her children were destined for a life beyond their beautiful small town and she made sure that they had the skills to go wherever life would take them by expecting her daughters to excel in school and insisting that they spoke proper English.

The other thing that struck me is the radical change in the world that Vera has lived through. For starters, her own father could not read or write, yet today, she is an English teacher. She was taught to never look a Caucasian person in the face, let alone call them by their first name, now she works side by side with them.

The thing that saddened me was the mistrust that my aunt feels towards Caucasians in general.

For years I have believed that my own mother had a problem with racism. My father played professional football, that was my family’s ticket out of Greenwood. So, I grew up in an elite all Caucasian neighborhood in San Diego, Ca. My mother regularly taught me that I could not trust Caucasian people, that they would always tolerate me but never accept me. I thought she was insane because, in my world, everyone was Caucasian. Who was I supposed to trust? This type of thinking was the beginning of a separation between my mother and I that may have started as early as the year I entered the fourth grade.

This division continued as I grew older. I remember having a problem with a co-worker on my first real office job, I was about 21 at the time. I called my mom for advice. Initially it sounded as if her advice would be quite useful to me. Then the conversation turned down a different path. I can still recall the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when my mother said, “and you tell them that you are the only one being treated this way and you are also the only black person in the company…” I knew then that her advice would not be useful for me because we saw the world differently. I grew up wondering why my mother seemed to turn every problem into an issue of race. Now I know why. For the better part of her life, many of her everyday problems actually were issues of race.

The other day on MSNBC I read an article about a university chairman who, in a heated discussion about adding diversity to the school’s board, referred to African-Americans as “niggers”.

It occurred to me that during the civil rights movement there were people who fought vehemently against integration and rights for African-Americans.  A number of those people must still be alive and may even be in positions of power. However, there are also just as many Caucasians, and certainly many more, who see African-Americans as equals. There are those like my mother and aunt who may never be able to fully trust Caucasians, and others like me who may never fully understand their lack of trust. Whether talking about a university chairman or my aunt who teaches in a small southern town, the mark of the civil rights movement will always be with those who lived through it, no matter which side of the aisle they were on.


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