Sunday, June 7, 2020

Healing from Lies I was Told - Racism

I'm going down memory lane on racism against Black people. 

When I was a little girl, some time before third grade since I wasn't in public school yet, I remember complaining to my mom about the girl next door who got all bossy about where I was allowed to color in my own coloring book. I seem to recall she was the one who brought some fancy crayons, and we were coloring on the concrete on the side of the house.  We had both wanted to color "the good part" and I only remember how much it bothered me specifically because it was my coloring book and I was sharing, but she was also sharing her crayons. 

We were just kids, we hadn't learned how to navigate each other's feelings, and even though I thought she was being too bossy, I decided to just roll with it.  I didn't know what to do about my feelings and that's why I decided to talk to my mom about it afterward. Mom always knows the right thing to say and do right? 

Well, I don't remember what Mom said. What I do remember is that after that, I never played with that little girl again. And that confused me. I liked her, and I still wanted to be friends. She was still next door, but somehow we never played together again. What I also remember is that she was Black. Surely her skin color didn't play a roll in this right? I don't know, but I suspect it did. 

I suspect it did because of clearer memories later. 

---

In 5th grade I was made fun of, a lot. Bullying was an every day occurrence in some form or another. One day, outside of regular school hours, I was walking to the post office to drop off some mail. There were a few very nearby shops and places that my parents would let me walk to as a way of giving me that coveted independence. I walked through the parking lot along the shops. In the parking lot was a running car of a bunch of teenage kids, and they were likely waiting for someone to come out of one of the stores. 

No big deal, right? Wrong. For whatever reason, they decided to shout mean things at me. I have no idea what they said, but one girl at the driver's seat was the loudest and the instigator. It very likely had something to do with the way I was dressed or the disrepair of my shoes. I was very obviously a poor girl. I got mad. I didn't know them, they were older than me, they shouldn't be mean to little kids, and I was just so mad, that I turned around and shouted at them. 

I do not remember what I said in the beginning, but I do remember what I said at the end. I said, ". . . LIKE YOUR BLACK ASS." Then I turned up my nose with a hmph and continued walking. I glanced back, and that girl who was mean to me started to get out of the car, and I was like OH NO, she's gonna beat me up! But, the friends she was with, a mix of boys and girls, calmed her down and she didn't.

And I kept walking, frowning, that whole scene, her expression, her friends pushing her back down and saying no, don't do it. She was angry, and I kept thinking about it on that walk and I realized, I was mean back. I realized on that walk I had hurt her feelings really badly by being mean about the color of her skin, that she couldn't do anything about. I wasn't even sure why I did it, I just knew I didn't like this whole experience at all, and didn't want to do that anymore. I decided then and there I wouldn't be mean like that again. 

Mulling this all over, on my way back from the post office I looked for them, but the car was gone. They were gone. I was going to apologize, but it was too late. It took me too long to figure out my feelings and what had happened and what I should do about it. 

No, where the hell did I learn that I could use race as a way to hurt someone?
At home, where racist things were spoken of in old movies without any discussion of how wrong they were.  My only saving grace was that I had loved the book Huckleberry Finn, and there were a few things I was also hearing that was nicer to Black people in school and other movies, but the racism I was exposed to was still there, and it came out of my mouth when I was 10 or 11 years old. 

---

In 7th grade I became friends with a Black girl who described herself as mulatto. I hadn't ever heard the word before but I learned it meant she was half white half Black. Cool with me. We really enjoyed each other's company, and I would go to her house after school sometimes, and we had a grand time. Her name was Monica Green. I still miss her, after losing touch. 

Anyway, one day, my paternal parent found out that Monica was a Black girl and suddenly I wasn't allowed to go to her house anymore. I realize now that he probably didn't realize she was Black because she had a "white" sounding name, particularly her last name. 

Of course, I protested saying  this is stupid, I went to her house before and it was fine, blah blah, and desperately I'm playing the "make my Black friend an exception" card. 

Nope. I then said, "but she's  half white! That should count!"

And that's when I learned the "one drop of blood" theory white people have about Blackness. If you have just one drop of Black blood you are Black and that's that. 

I was floored. I said, "that's so dumb!"

Now, I will say this whole time I was talking to my mother. My paternal parent left her to be the spokesperson for his bigotry. 

Mom said something to the effect of, "I know, and I don't agree with it but I can't do anything about it."

Oh, well now, okay. I saw my opening and I took it. I told my Mom, "I'm going to Monica's house, and you can't stop me. You can either tell dad I'm at someone else's house, or I start lying to you too."

And that was when Mom and I formed a team. I would tell Mom where I was going so she would know just in case there was an emergency, and she would lie to my paternal parent if he ever asked about my whereabouts. 

And this, this is why I think that somehow, my paternal parent found out about the coloring book incident with the little girl next door and wrecked my friendship with her. I have no proof and my parents say they have no memory, but it doesn't matter. The fact that that's even an option on the table? Gross.

---

Some of my family of origin would say that Ojiji (my paternal parent) didn't get racist until my big brother went on his mission (LDS). However, I say he was before, it's just that's when Ojiji started to get really overt. I remember hearing the N-word a LOT in high school. Even to the point that my mom pleaded with Ojiji to please stop saying it because my baby brother was saying it and she didn't want him to get into trouble at school (elementary school). Oh, that enraged him, and he started ranting even louder. 

He talked about how Black people had inferior brain waves. Cited the book "The Bell Curve" as gospel. And speaking of gospel, Black people had the Curse of Cain, and even talked about hearing a Black man saying it's true because he had a "black thumb", as in the man couldn't grow plants. He used passages in the Book of Mormon to further his view of the superiority of the white man (and yeah, he was definitely misogynist too, and racist against other non-white folk, but the point here is the racism against Black people so I won't go into those). 

I remember him telling me about the conspiracy of Black men tricking white women into marrying them to purify their black cursed bloodline. No joke. (Moreover, later, as a grown ass adult, I had to explain to another grown ass adult, that no, this wasn't true, and if any do exist that they are outlier extremists who believed the lies they were taught about their race. That was a thing.) 

I remember in high school finding out that the top student in all my teacher's math classes was a Black girl in my class, and I thought, "Ha! Take that Dad! If white people were smarter then that would be me, but it's not, it's her, a Black person so obviously they aren't inferior." I was so proud of her for existing and proving Ojiji wrong. I never told her. I just smiled and nodded at her when she got the big eyes for being called out as the best in the middle of class. 

During this time, on my jewelry box in my room was a sticker of a Black girl ballerina, an open testament to my defiance of Ojiji's racism. 

On my part of the wall was a part of Martin Luther King Jr's speech, a little out of the way, but there for anyone to see if they were paying attention. Another act of defiance. I still have this piece of paper. 

I grew up steeped in racism and I kept fighting it, using scripture, and things I was taught at school, and the experience of friends. I did my best. 

I did not come out unscathed. 

---

I believed that interracial marriage was a bad idea. 

When my boyfriend (now husband) found out, he was upset  by this. He said, "what if I were Black?" And the conversation turned into this whole back and forth thing and he got me to imagine a world without racism so I could imagine him having dark brown skin and having that be the only difference and thus be able to say, if he were Black, yes, I would still want to be with him. 

But I still had some misgivings because, racism existed, and racism changes how people experience the world and really, what Black person would want to marry into my family? That's crazy talk, because racism. No one wants Ojiji for a father-in-law. 

Other things, well, I sure didn't understand institutionalized racism, nor did I understand white culture. In fact, I had convinced myself that racism no longer truly existed, that it was just really old people, and I wasn't racist you know, so it's not a problem. 

Yeah, well, I didn't get the clue until I started attending San Jose State University to become a teacher, and I was floored about the unofficial segregation of our schools and other things I had learned and was right there in the data. Fascinating stuff that I won't go into. I still had a hard time understanding white culture and white privilege though, but I started getting it.

I learned a lot of things, I got better as a white ally.

And I still was not unscathed. 

In my student teaching I described a boy's actions as violent to the master teacher. She said she was concerned by my language use to describe a 5 year old's behavior.,. I gave some reason for it, she didn't say anything else, but I stood there and thought about it and I remembered a white boy doing something similar and not using the word "violent" to describe his actions, and I realized, holy crap, I am saying this because the boy is Black. !!!

I was shocked at myself. Ashamed. I was in a teaching program called the Critical Research Academy that was all about social justice work in the classroom and looking at silences and implicit biases in the school curricula, and here I was,  a grown ass adult behaving like a racist jerk face toward a CHILD. 

I then said to the master teacher, "but you're right, I shouldn't describe any child's actions that way, they are still learning."

Talk about needing to check myself. Flippin' A. 

I knew better, and I failed to do better. 

I was particularly surprised, too, because to me, any group of men is potentially dangerous, whatever their ethnicity. Other life traumas taught me that. Even so, it was just like what I read in a book by Denver Snuffer said, "We breathe in the smog of our culture" and our culture says that white is default, and ultimately noble no matter what. 

---

I was born into a world filled with lies about Black people, and I had to learn, that despite all that valiant effort of defying overt racism I heard while growing up I was still spouting racist stuff. I would say, "I'm not racist." and with comparing myself to Ojiji, I was right, I wasn't, but I was still racist, and I couldn't hear that. My boyfriend, now husband, would say to me, "I know YOU'RE not racist, but what you are SAYING is." That got me to separate myself from Ojiji. 

Ojiji was bad for a myriad of reasons, beyond racism (if you can believe that), and so in order to not fall down the dark hole of killing myself (I was suicidally depressed) anything that made me the same as Ojiji made me unfit to live so I couldn't tolerate being told I was racist because then I was him.

Bless my Robert forever for helping me with my own psychology so I could separate myself from racism and thus from Ojiji, so I could learn that yes, I was saying racist things, things that didn't match my true heart, and still feel like I had a right to breathe. 

I used to say, "I'm not racist" because I do the work of checking myself. Now, though,  I say, "I'm anti-racism" because it acknowledges that I still gotta check myself from time to time, and that there's still more work to do to help the situation.

I know there are plenty of good white folk out there who get their backs up when someone accuses them of racist thought. To you I say, it's okay, you're not evil, you were simply born with lies spilling out everywhere and there is more work for you to do to heal from those lies.

It's hard work, and it's worth it. 
I am happier for it, and I am closer to the Heavens for it.

But whatever you do, do not stay the same. 
Do not turn your backs on our Black brothers and sisters and siblings.
To have been deceived by the lies we grew up with isn't evil.
To stand with those lies after being given the truth is evil.  

The real curse is racism. 
Heal from that curse. 
Stand with Black Lives Matter. 
To do otherwise is to perpetuate evil. 





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