I had written a feel-good blog about volunteerism. It was edited, and it even had some pictures to go with it. It was ready to be shared, but last minute, I decided to archive it, and to write about something more pressing on my mind…COLOR.
When we were in our mid-20’s, my husband and I attended the Monterey Jazz Festival, and my husband bought us a print. It was a couple on a rickety, wooden canoe, floating through the marshy flats, and it was beautiful. The print showed a man playing a banjo, singing to his girl, and she was lounging back, propped up on pillows, in a white, flowy dress; she was obviously, enjoying his company. The minute we saw it, my husband said excitedly, “look! That’s us! Let’s get it.” My reaction was quite different. “It’s lovely, and I like it, but they can’t be us. They are black.” We bought it, framed it, and it lived above our bed for many years. It is currently in storage, so I can’t share a picture with you, but it has always been such a special reminder that I had found a guy who does not see color.
I always knew that he didn’t see color because I had been around his friends growing up. They were from all different backgrounds, and they were all different colors. My siblings were the same. They had all sorts of friends, and their friends were all different colors too. I didn’t have a lot of friends, so I can’t say the same was true for me. I had a few friends, and most of them were white. All I knew is that I shamefully saw color, and the people closest to me did not. As I said, I was ashamed, and I was envious. I always wished that I didn’t see color, but the truth of the matter was…
I always saw it. From my first day of school, going into the first grade, I saw color. I was a brown girl going to a predominatly white school, so not many people looked like me. I knew that my family ate different foods than the rest of the kids’ families, and I knew that our holidays, weekends, and parties were quite different than theirs too. Despite being different than the other kids, I loved school. I loved my teachers. I loved observing the other students. I loved the open floor plan of my magnet school. I loved it so much that I never missed a day. From the first day of first grade until the last day of 6th grade, I never got sick, never got a belly ache, and never went on a family vacation during the school year. I didn’t want to miss a day. I knew that my parents worked really hard to buy us a home in that predominantly white neighborhood, and they found a house within 3 blocks of this special school. I knew enough than to blow off what they had worked so hard for.
My brown-ness became even more obvious when they started bussing the white kids out of my school and bussing the brown kids into it. It was part of an integration plan to allow white kids to get to experience life on the east side for a year, and it gave a select few of the brown kids the opportunity to come learn at my special, magnet school for a year. I was one of very few kids who never got bussed. The school wasn’t about to send a brown kid to the east side because that would defeat the purpose, so I stayed put and continued my never-miss-a-day attendance streak.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the school probably got additional funding because it was a magnet school. It also probably got more funding than the schools on the east side because the property values were higher near this school, and the property taxes are what funded the school. I would bet that my class-sizes were smaller than those on the east side, and I bet we also had better tools for our learning centers. As I observed my color difference than my classmates, I failed to see what this would do to set me up for success. I was a little kid, and we didn’t talk about things like this at home, but my parents, who were born in ’48 and ’53, knew what Civil Rights was all about, and they were determined to integrate us into as white of a society as they could. We never learned Spanish, and they talked about sending us to college before we even started elementary school. They didn’t talk about us being different than our white classmates, but I always knew that I was different. As long as didn’t draw any attention to myself or didn’t do anything to stir any pots, I would succeed in this predominantly white school, and I did just that. I made excellent grades, and I made a few friends there too. I developed some solid stepping stones so that I could excel throughout the rest of my school years. I took every advantage of the fact that I was in a unique situation, and I busted my tail knowing that it was unique.
I still envy the fact that my husband and siblings don’t see color, but I recognize and am now less ashamed of it. For moments in time, I think that the fact that I see it allows me to navigate and sympathize during this confusing time. Although my situation is far different than most black people’s situations (it’s actually different than many Hispanic’s situations), I can still understand how it feels to walk into a room and to know you are different, because I knew I was different the first time I walked into school too.
I want to make this VERY CLEAR: this is probably THE ONLY similarity that exists between my situation and most black people’s and even most Mexicans’ situations. I have not been called the N word or any other racial slur to my face. I never had to fight overt racial injustice. What our black community is facing is far different and far WORSE than anything that I can even imagine. Because of this, I understand that I must continue to study slavery, the short-lived Reconstruction Period, the Civil Rights Movement, all of the compromises that black people have been forced to make over the course of HUNDREDS of YEARS. I also need to gain a better understanding of what current day racism looks like so that I can figure out what small steps I can take to help this population of people who have enriched the amazing landscape of our country. It is also my belief that at the end of the day, we are all humans, and we should be treated as such.
For now, because I am living in Japan, with my military husband, all I can do is raise awareness, and I can tell people to register to vote, so if you have made it this far, I am asking you – PLEASE register to VOTE NOW.