Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Ma's Lecture #214 - EQUALITY

I don't usually write about my childhood, but in the wake of Obama's "historic" speech; I have something to say, or rather, relate. I was brought up without any racial prejudice. None. Now I realise that most people think that when someone says this, the speaker is considered just the opposite. But hear me out. My mother, who can cuss like a truck driver, never spoke a racial slur to this day. At least, not that I'm aware of. I grew up with the lesson 'people are like dogs & cats, they come in all different sizes and colors but they're all still dogs & cats' A basic analogy for a 5 year old, but effective as I've always remembered it. My mother would also say "we're all the same inside, we just have different color skin." Really. And growing up, aside from the word "nigger", I was never exposed to racial slurs. And I mean never. I grew up in a suburban New England town where we had all types of families, white, Asian, black, Hispanic and we all went to the same schools. I never gave it a second thought. As a matter of fact my first recollection of learning a racial slur was in 10th grade. I had watched a movie on TV and heard the word "coon." Having no idea what the word meant in terms of race, I went to school the following day and began to use my shiny new word. Immediately after my first using of this word I was pulled aside by a 12th grader who informed me what the word "coon" actually meant. I wanted to die. I didn't hate anyone black, and I certainly never wanted to hurt any one's feelings. I don't need to inform you all that I NEVER used that word again. As a matter of fact, when I hear the word used in non-hateful ways, like the actual animal, I still shudder a little out of total embarrassment. Apparently, my mother is different than most. Apparently, my mother was far more progressive than any one's for that matter. Her three children NEVER thought of anyone as "less than" because of skin color or nationality.
My lessons in American history taught me about the slave & molasses trade & routes. I had a very progressive American history teacher. We literally spent a whole term reading and discussing Roots & Uncle Tom's Cabin. Anyway, the ugly underbelly of American history was now made abundently clear to me. I was so happy I had nothing to do with it. I was in disbelief that humans could be so cruel to other humans. I didn't understand. I still can't; that is unless you count greed into the equation.
When I went away to undergraduate school, I quickly became lifelong friends with a black woman named Angela. I loved her. I still do. Angela never really discussed racial inequality with me, and now I wonder why? I never considered her being black anything but what it was. Of course we had little jokes, like she used to say that "white people smelled funny" and I used to tease her about her Jerri Curl perm. But we never had hate in our hearts; we were friends and I loved her far too much to ever be purposely bigoted. I'm not sure I knew that I even knew how. During this time I'd read about the KKK and would be absolutely horrified that it even still existed. Never mind that they had rallies in parks. I really believed that this type of prejudice only lived in American history books. Silly me. I was always baffled that our government leaders wouldn't shut down hate groups like the KKK. In a way, I still am. Now I realize the whole "freedom of speech" and "right to peaceful assembly" - but these groups aren't peaceful, and freedom of speech doesn't equal freedom from critique. I still do believe that.
Then I moved to NYC to go to graduate school. Again, I had a black friend named Norma. She & I were walking down the street and some asshole yelled at us. "I'll get you, I saw Mississippi Burning!" Norma was devastated by this. I didn't understand it as I've never seen the movie. I can still hear that ignorant male voice yelling this across the intersection at 79th & Amsterdam. To this day, I don't know what that meant. I didn't ask Norma as she was upset but I knew deep down it was racial. Then, due to circumstances beyond my control, I ended up moving to Boston. That was when I really could feel racial tension. Boston was full of hate. Sure, today it's better, but they are a racist lot. And I don't mean the whites hating the blacks. I mean the reverse. I was the one being called names while I worked as a waiter. Entire black families would come and sit at my tables and be nothing but belligerent to me. Now am I saying all black families are like that? Of course not, but I've never been exposed to this kind of hate. Coming from either side. And I certainly didn't understand it.
Then through a series of more events I moved back to NYC just a few days before 9/11. Luckily, NYC isn't as hateful as Boston. My issue is, why do I have to discuss race relations? Why do I have to understand Rev. Wright's horrible comments? I am the new generation of non-racial prejudice. Perhaps one of the few, but I am. I was told that I'm a lost cause recently because I didn't understand why "Jungle Fever" is a racial slur. I still don't. I explained that my only exposure to the term was the Spike Lee movie and as far as I was concerned, if Spike Lee could name a movie after it, why couldn't it be considered a 'fair game' phrase? Of course, no one wanted to explain this to me, they just threw their hands up in the air. So now I understand, it's a slur because you said so.
Now don't misunderstand me "jungle fever" is not even a phrase that I would use. Nor is the word "nigger." But I am certainly not one to limit words. Words, to me, are simply colors that we humans can use to relate to one another. I don't believe words have power to hurt so much as the intent behind the words. I don't believe words should be banned, shunned or even punishable. I simply can't subscribe to that. I think the world is way too sensitive. If I hear a friend say the word "fag" to me; I'm not offended. If were to hear some redneck shout it at me then I would be. Words aren't the enemy; it's the intent behind them.
So all in all, my mother was WAY ahead of her time by raising three racially blind children, but now, I feel like I'm the one being punished because "I just don't get it." Of course I don't. One would think that blind innocence of race would be welcomed, but it's not.


Blogger Todd HellsKitchen said...

A great post!

1:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A very touchy subject to post on. Great job!

3:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most every person I know tries to raise his/her children as racially blind. But for many it becomes a learned thing, later in life (when it becomes too hard to ignore that all three times you got carjacked involved those of a certain hue. Along with other experiences).

5:58 PM  

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