I’m about to tackle an incredibly touchy subject.
While passions run high in the wake of the Ferguson riots and now the Garner protests, it’s nearly impossible not to have some level of awareness of racial tension.
It’s clogging social media, sucking all the attention away from positive news stories and making everybody just feel frickin’ uncomfortable.
I don’t have some profound take on the issue. I am no expert. But, I have acquired a pretty comprehensive collection of personal experiences.
Let’s begin with my fundamental Christian beginnings.
At the first church I can ever remember attending.
My very first memories of a best friend.
Her family went to our church. Her mother was black and her father was white. I was friends with her because she was nice. (and very pretty)
My brother had a black friend from the neighborhood that came with us on a family camping trip.
I’m not trying to say, “We’re not racist! We had token black friends!”
What I’m saying is that the song we sang in our church preschool wasn’t just a catchy little diddy.
“Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
It was a mantra. I pictured those kids. The red and yellow peeps I had never seen were always perplexing, but I grew up believing there was absolutely no difference between me and anyone of a different skin tone.
Accepting others, even when they are different from yourself is not something my parents just taught us. It’s something they put into practice.
My parents had black friends. We had black friends. It was NORMAL.
There were also ample opportunities for me to deny my upbringing and become racist.
One of my first elementary school crushes was on a black kid who teased me mercilessly. (Clearly, he was in love with me.) He got expelled for bringing a gun to school. (I still thought he was AWESOME and misunderstood.)
Another little black boy was obsessed with my long hair. He would sit behind me in 4th grade and pluck it out strand by strand.
It was annoying.
I was flattered! He liked my hair!!
In middle school, I had a crush on a black kid in gym class because he had a six-pack and could do several back handsprings in a row. He was a total badass. Isn’t that what all girls are looking for?
While my friends were writing their wedding vows to the boys from NKOTB, I was equally enamored of Christian Bale from Newsies and Michael Jordan.
My middle school was rife with racial tension. I was once walking down the hallway when a gaggle of loud black girls started hollering behind me. I glanced back to see what the deal was and one of them said, “What the f&^k you lookin’ at white bit&h?” They proceeded to (as a group) shove me onto the ground.
An overhead view of our school cafeteria would’ve revealed something resembling a black and white cookie. It was split down the middle, Black kids on one side, white kids (and others) on the other side.
Somehow, I always ended up on the border. The girls from the black side frequently threw school lunch food at my hair. I had to rush to the bathroom to drag tangled spaghetti noodles out of my hair, more than once.
That could’ve made me racist, but thankfully there were always OTHER black kids around. Perfectly decent, lovely human beings.
She would never know it, but one of those people was Fontaine. We weren’t close friends, but in retrospect her impact was pretty profound in my life.
At a time when I felt harassed and humiliated for being white, she was sweet, smart and treated me like anyone else. She would be my science class partner without batting an eyelash.
It was no big deal. Which made it a big deal.
I went to a high school in Southside St. Pete. If you know Tampa Bay, then you know exactly what that means.
I was 16 years old when the race riots broke out in the wake of a black teenager being shot and killed by a white officer. People set fire to businesses, looted stores and even beat a newspaper photographer, all within blocks of my school.
But, I was there the next morning ready for class.
Some black kids wore black power tee-shirts and the richest of my white pals were noticeably absent. That was it.
It further solidified my belief that even if I was white and they were black, it wasn’t a “me” versus “them” situation.
I knew plenty of ghetto people during high school and college, the vast majority of whom were white.
The guy who was hopped up on cocaine, rested an axe on my shoulder and whispered, “I could kill you right now.” He was white.
The guy using scales to measure drugs with the gun in his waistband. White.
The crackhead who called me a bi*&h for hanging out on a porch during some rave party at a house because he didn’t want the cops to show up. White.
I ended up staying in a house in the heart of Southside St. Pete for many weekends over the course of a couple of years.
Black girls would glare into my car as I drove down the street, some stopping in the middle of the road as if daring me to hit them. I had a car. They didn’t have bumpers. This never made sense to me.
In an area where gunshots and sirens were the nightly soundtrack, I was given shifty looks every time I walked the dogs.
I never chalked it up to “all these black people.” It was “all these ghetto people.”
I could hang out in Pinellas Park and feel equally uncomfortable about “all the ghetto people.”
While I was treated like some kind of outcast in St. Pete, my best friend in college was a guy I called “big black Steve.” He called me “Ofay.” Although we haven’t seen each other in years, he’s still my friend.
I have encountered plenty of racist white folks and they all seemed to have one common denominator. They were from wealthy, exclusively white suburbs. Their lack of exposure seems to be the biggest problem. They just don’t know any black people, so they make assumptions. Shitty ones.
I knew a (rich, white) guy in college who once said, “I think I want to date a black chick next.”
I asked, “Who is she?”
He said, “Oh, I don’t know any black chicks. I just know I want to date one.”
It told him this was reprehensible.
I knew a guy who used to say, “There are black people and then there are ni&&ers.”
I said, “There are good people and there are bad and they are all just people.”
In conclusion: I feel like there are many factors that contribute to someone’s likelihood or improbability of being racist.
It’s your upbringing, your parents putting their beliefs into practice, exposure to people of all races and the common sense understanding that a handful of people will never represent an entire group.
It’s why I love the daycare worker who braids Alma’s hair all the time, the little Asian kid named Andy that’s Huck’s best friend at school, the crapload of Indian kids that live on our street and Doc McStuffins… finally a character of color with her own entire goddamned Disney show.
The most important thing I will ever do in my life is raise a little girl and a little boy to grow up to be good people, ones who don’t even consider the color of someone’s skin as a factor.
I think it’s a safe bet.
I grew up in a Christian fundamentalist household and believe it or not, we were fundamentally happy.
My dad was a teacher, high school football coach and even the school bus driver to make ends meet. My mother stayed at home or worked part time. We went camping, took road trips and had family night every Sunday. We had what I refer to as the Christian Conversion Van; complete with blue shag carpeting for the interior, floor to ceiling. We didn’t have a lot of money. It wasn’t all Slip ‘N Slides and swimming pools. But, it’s safe to say I had the quintessential childhood.
Now, that I have my own children, I’m trying to figure out what makes my children’s childhood seem so vastly different.
Oh, wait I know.
I work full-time.
My husband works full-time.
My kids spend 8 to 11 hours a day with complete strangers. No wonder they don’t even vaguely resemble the children I spend a couple of hours a day trying to mold them into. By the time I get home, I’m too dang tired to be Supermom.
My mom was June Cleaver. I feel like Courtney Love.
My baking skills begin and end at banana bread. Woah, I can mix a bunch of crap in a bowl and hit “bake.” I dread the day my kidlets need help with a science project. I will probably just suggest that whole baking soda volcano thing EVERY YEAR. My mom actually made our playdough. My mom actually baked our birthday cakes. I stand in line at the Publix bakery for one and feel frazzled.
While most stay-at-home moms probably daydream about power suits, fatter bank accounts and adult conversation, I’m sitting around imagining what it would be like to rush the kids to soccer practice in sweatpants. I want to have playdough stuck in my finger nails, not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. I want to smell like a campfire, not like long-day-at-work funk. I want to finger paint with my daughter and kick the ball around with my son. Instead, it’s a mad dash to feed them, bathe them and rush them into bed so they can sleep so we can wake them up and clothe them, feed them and rush them to school. Wash, rinse, repeat.
I’ve spent all of these years working overnight, working weekends and working holidays so I could give my children a better life than the one I had.
Now, I am slowly coming to the realization that less money and more time is what they need to have a childhood even a fraction as awesome as mine was. That and a Christian Conversion Van.