race with me

I wanted to title this one "shades of gray." But heaven knows what sort of traffic I'd get, so I didn't.

I never heard the "n" word growing up, at least not from the mouths of actual human beings that I knew. I think that I figured out what it meant when I was watching the "North and South" miniseries starring Patrick Swayze. If it wasn't there, than I really don't know how I ever heard it. I knew that the word existed, but didn't think people really used it when referring to black people.

Then, in 7th grade, I moved to a small town. Where there was one black person in my entire school. The first time I heard classmates using this word in an obviously derogatory tone, I had that horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. (Like I was being caught red-handed doing something bad.) I felt sick and uncomfortable, but being 13 years old and having no experience in these matters, I didn't say anything and felt bad about it for years. (Although in all honesty, I was way more worried about myself.... I had just gotten both braces on my teeth and a back brace for scoliosis, so I think I felt like I had enough on my plate.)

It didn't come up very often until I got to high school. There was a senior girl who was dating a guy from a rival small town. She was a cheerleader, an athlete, beautiful, fun, all of those things that "matter" in a small town. And the guy she was dating was black. Again, I was too self-involved to really care one way or another. Until the time that I realized some people are just ignorant, mean idiots. Our school was playing their school. And all of the "popular" guys decided to make a statement. The exact details are fuzzy to me now, but I know that they painted their chests black and each wrote one letter of his name. They would pull up their shirts like you see at a college football game... But this wasn't to show school spirit, it was to show hatred and send him a message. ie - we are better than you. Basically, they wanted to make him feel like the word they used to describe him.

Thinking about it (and my lack of action) still disgusts me. It was so cruel and unnecessary. I think that girl - Courtney - still lives in that small town. She goes to games in that same gym. I wonder if she ever thinks about that day.

I remember being so bothered by it that I actually asked my mom what she would do if I ever dated a black guy. Granted, I didn't really know any at the time, but I was tempted to go find somebody just to spite those hateful boys. The topic of inter-racial dating had never really come up for us, probably because there was never really ANY conversation that had anything to do with race in our house. There are good people and there are bad people. You want to surround yourself with good people.  Based on every message I'd ever heard from my parents and their total acceptance of basically anyone and everyone we'd ever come across, I think I was probably sure that she was going to say that race didn't matter.

But when I asked my mom what her thoughts were, when I said, "Mom, what would you think if I dated a black guy?" she said, "Well, I think it would be pretty hard on you." I don't remember what else she said, probably something about how she and dad cared more about me being treated well and being happy, etc. but I clearly remember her saying it would be hard. Maybe she had seen the same sorts of things or heard the same sorts of conversations happening around town, I don't know. But that stuck with me. Not because I thought that SHE really cared whether or not I dated a black guy, but because it made me realize that the are a lot of people that would. I guess it was one of those moments when I realized that I wore rose-colored glasses. It was the first time I realized that just because *I* didn't care what color other people were, it didn't mean everyone else feels the same way.

I just finished the book "Calling me Home" by Julie Kibler, which is what made me think about all of this. It made me wonder if the reason Courtney's kids are blonde haired and blue eyed is because she got tired of fighting, got tired of being ridiculed, got tired of it being too hard.

Deep thoughts for my blog, I know. A good book will do that to you.


sarahsmile3 said...

I remember that Courtney incident. I also remember when some of the boys stole Ku Klux Klan costumes from the theatre department and wore them around the school parking lot (and town).

I hope things have changed in that small town.

The Ursa Majors said...

Whhhhaaaat, Sarah?? I can't believe that! I can't wait to borrow that book now!

Jessica said...

What a sad thing! I never knew those horrid things. What gross, sad, immature things to do. I bet those guys still remember doing it. And I bet a few of them (the ones who moved on from being ignorant racists) feel bad to this day and wish they could just muster the courage to apologize.

It is insane how many times I've heard horrid, racist things in the small town I'm currently in, and how people speak them in front of me so freely, like it's just how you talk about Mexicans. They find out very quickly that is not how I think, but it still baffles me how ignorant people are. :( Sad.

Jessica said...

P.S. Because this post made me give a terribly long response...

I know what mom meant, and she was right. I was treated horribly by my Mexican boyfriend's family because I was white. His friends, his family... they treated me like I was a silver-spoon white brat and laughed at me all the time.

And the half-black boy I dated briefly... forget it. His friends were horribly racist and told me that they don't know why white girls think they can come in and scoop up all the decent black boys. They HAAAATED me. So yes, Mom's answer was wise. She knew exactly what she was talking about.

(Same goes with me raising children with a non-Catholic. Jeff's conversion made our life so much easier! Better, in many, many spiritual and religious ways. But also just... easier.)