Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Am I Racist?

I never thought I was racist. Growing up in Northern Maine everyone is white. Yeah we had some kids that were Native American. We called them Indian. Just as we sat Indian Style on the classroom floor. We would sit up straight and proud and try to resemble the pictures of Indians that we had all seen. We were always told that Indians were very proud people and what had happened to them was a terrible thing. The children that were Indian were proud and sat up ram rod straight.

When Chrissy went to kindergarten and the children went to sit on the floor at circle time they had to sit criss cross applesauce. What the hell is that I thought! I asked her teacher, cause I had to know, and she said it was discriminatory to say Indian style. WHAT!?

We didn't have any black kids in school until middle school. That's what we called people who were black then. I referred to them by their names. Then we had two at different times. That's it. Neither was 100%. Not that it mattered to me. That's was what I heard. We all hung out together. Neither child stayed long. I remember some of the kids ragging on them. They took it well but I'm sure it hurt. It always is hard to be different.

I remember the first Afro American person I saw. She was in Zayre and I was six. She was the largest lady I had ever seen. I was fascinated!!!!! She was standing at the front of the store and in a big, booming voice, she was hollering for her son who was running around in the store somewhere. I couldn't help but stare. I thought she looked like Aunt Jemima. Not the one on the bottle now the one on the bottle with the Do Rag on her head. She looked like someone who liked kids and would pick you up and hug you in her arms and make you feel special.. I used to study the bottle in the morning as it sat on the table. I always wondered who she was and did she have kids. My mom grabbed my hand and yanked me along and hissed it's not polite to stare. But stare I did. As I was being pulled away she turned and winked at me and smiled. I smiled and tried to wink back. I led a very sheltered life.

When we lived in Florida it was a huge melting pot of people. Colors everywhere. Different cultures and personalities. It was so exciting. This little girl from Maine was in love.

I wanted to embrace everyone! To be friends with everyone. I already talked to everyone I came in contact with so why couldn't we all be friends? Then when Kadie started school it all became clear. If you were white in color you had an easy life. Except if you were white in color and Jewish. Then you were rich. Oh, I worked in a Dr.s office and the Dr. and his wife were Jewish. She always said the Jews will Prevail. To this day I'm not sure what that means. She was scary so I never did ask her. I would just look down at my schedule book and nod my head yes. I DID NOT work there long. I didn't even give a two week notice.
If you were gay you were trying to be different. You wanted people to look at you and make fun of you. Can you even imagine that? If you were from India and you wore your your native clothes you wanted to be different. If you lived on a street where everyone was white you were racist. And so on and so on. It became tiresome.

In Kadies classroom the children were relentless. Not at first. At first, in kindergarten, all the kids were the same. Everyone played together, went to birthdays together and had fun together. Kadie had one little friend, Kaleia, who was her very best friend. They were stuck at the hip. It all changed in fifth grade. They had not played through the summer as Kadie was here in Maine at camp. The first day of school rolled around and she couldn't wait to see her friend. Kaleia ignored her and played with her other friends. After a week Kadie was alone in the bathroom and her friend walked in and she confronted her. Why won't you talk to me? Kaliea told her she couldn't be her friend any more. You need to be with your own kind. When I heard that I was appalled. I called her mom and when I didn't get an answer I left a message. SEVERAL times. My call was never returned. So I went to the school and the principal informed me that at this age the kids start to pair off in their own groups. IE Spanish with Spanish, White with White and African American with African American and so on. Whew, this is tiring. Can you imagine living it? All these rules. What you can say or not say. Who can you talk to or not. Kadie was 10.
In Jr. High we had even worse problems and when I feared for Kadie we switched schools.

This whole time people are saying I'm racist. Or I must be because I was questioning the source of our aggravation. It was mind boggling. So when we had more children we decided to move. We put names of states that we like into a hat. We had Tenn. Idaho, WI and Maine. We had ties to WI and Maine. We picked out Maine. We sold our house and moved here. No jobs and no home to go to. We just took a Leap of Faith that it would all work out.

Yes Maine is white. Very white. That doesn't mean it doesn't have the same problems as Florida. We have drugs and crime and poverty. Blah blah blah. It just means we can be who we are. People who love other people. I can't speak for others. I also can't save a world that doesn't want to be saved. I have a hard time making my bed in the morning and teaching my kids school. All my family and I can do is help the people who want it and try hard to live morally. I teach my kids to treat everyone kind. If we don't care for someone to still be kind to them. They are people to. Not everyone likes everyone else and that's okay. We can still be kind and use our manners. Yes, at times it's hard to do. We just want to live our lives in the simplest manner possible. If that makes me racist than so be it.


KimberlyDi said...

I never wanted to be a racist. I try not to be one. Part of racism is fear. And with people throwing bricks through our windows, I'm struggling with alot more fear these days.

Auds at Barking Mad said...

I do not think it makes you racist in ANY sense of the word. Especially living here in Maine where equality is stressed to the hilt. It doesn't mean we are void of the typical problems of bigger and more populace states, we just don't see as much of it.

I have so many opinions on all of this, especially since writing the piece I did over at Barking Mad. In a sense, we are damned if we do, damned if we don't...ya know? I didn't realize until I read those other blogs that saying I'm " colour blind" was an insult to people of colour. See what I mean about the damned if you do damned if you don't comment? Honestly, I deal with people based on how they treat me, their character and past actions...race never comes into it. I guess, according to everything I've been reading, it's not enough though. I don't know what is.

You should see some of the hateful email I've gotten since writing that. People have totally misconstrued the intention behind the post and accused me of playing the race card in my own favour,which I'm not. I do understand what it's like to be on the other end now, after being called what I was. Other people have accused me of trying to put out a pithy missive which is nothing more than a "see I'm not racist!" attempt. It's rather sickening.

And just now I've gotten a comment saying that if I'm white and raised in America I'm automatically racist.

I'm beginning to think that my boring fare on my blog, in the past, wasn't such a bad idea.

I'm glad you wrote this Melissa. Please don't let others, or what others say make you feel like a bad person or a racist.

noble pig said...

Wow, so interesting. I have never heard of kids saying that...I can't even imagine. I'm sorry your daughter felt betrayed.

carsick said...

I just want to say that what happened to us with our oldest daughter did not make us hate anyone group of people. Girls at JR. High level can ofter be cruel. There are just different kinds of cruelty.
Betrayed is exactly how she felt! bUT, WE DID NOT LET HER DWELL ON IT. I never did tell her I called the girls mom, we kept it from her.

Anonymous said...

OMG, it's so funny you'd post this, night before last at the safeway an african-american lady walked up to me and asked me to help her pick out some sandwhich bread because :

"Black people can't make good sandwhiches"

I'm sure I had an expression on my face equal to or greater than the one I would have had she walked up to me barefoot and carrying a big watermelon.

You know, I shop at night to avoid just this sort of incomprehensible thing. It's after midnight, don't talk to me. I need to put that on a T-shirt.

Anyway, I pointed her to the fresh kaiser rolls and showed her my fav bread, french with sesame seeds all over it. I even told her my sandwhich secret. Lightly toasted bread. Mmmmm.

I've lived all over. When I was in Boston in the late 80's the only black people I knew were the guys at work. They were all jerks, you couldn't talk to them. I was dissapointed and suprised, but figured it was just that Boston sucks. I must say, these guys were not good people. They way they talked about women, their lack of any respect at all for anything, the whole cliquish HS attitude, didn't work for me.

Then I moved to NC and was around country people mostly, and they were pretty decent folks. So I decided that it wasn't so much black or white or whatever, it was the difference in country people vs. city people. I often think about all the friends I made in North Carolina. Still I wasn't sure if it was a country vs. city thing until I moved to the SF Bay area. Yeah, it definately is, I'm sure now. Haha.

Then again, I worked in Spokane with a black guy, who was a JW or Adventist or whatever, and he was a real douchebag. First day on the job he announced that I wasn't qualified. Me. With what 12 years of electronics experience and having aced, and I do mean 100% on both the tests they gave to place me, one test wasn't even required, I asked to take it. And I hate tests.

Eventually, after calmly defleting this rudeness, I asked what he was making per hour. He predictably bragged. I went to the management that afternoon, told them about the incident, and VERY politely asked them for a four dollar an hour raise on the spot, not expecting to get it, and looking forward to finding a job somewhere else. They actually gave it to me. I liked that job a lot !

Anyway, the stereotype is usually that country people are racist and city people are enlightened, which is bullshit, I lived in NYC for a year and that place was a freaking bigots buffett. Just my little experiences, your results will almost certainly vary.

Tell you what, though. I have to wonder, as a parent... I read all your blogs and stuff, all you parents here, and really feel for you when it comes to having to deal with inevitable subjects like teen pregnancy, drugs, abortion, prostitution... I can just feel a mini stroke coming on imagining how hard it must be, being a parent, and I am always in awe of my little sister.

I also wonder what kind of hell it must be for a black parent to have to have that first conversation the first time they are asked, when your kid learns, for the first time, that people with your skin color were once sold and breed like cattle, for starters, and then deprived of the most basic civil rights until around the 60's.

I don't think I could handle the abortion or pregnancy subject. I can't imagine how hard that issue would be to handle. So I have to plead ignorance, I don't know what it's like to be black in America, I couldn't know.

Just like none of you will ever really know what it's like to be gay in America...

FishermansDaughter said...

I lived in an "ethnically diverse" (read ghetto) NJ neighborhood where whites were the minority. The older I got, the worse the hostility became until it escalated to intolerable violence. It was a regular day for me to be chased home from school by "the rainbow coalition" throwing broken glass, rocks and dirty diapers screaming, "KILL THE WHITE GIRL". We moved.
Still, I don't let a couple bad apples spoil the bunch - there are a-holes in every color.