27 August 2006

Exploring Racism, Vol. 1

I guess it's time to just jump in this cannonball style. I've been hanging out on some blogs of people of color recently, primarily Blac(k)ademic, {Nappy as I want to be} and thefreeslave. (Thanks to Nurse Pam for turning me on to Blac(k)ademic, who led to Pam's House Blend and AngryBlackBitch and {Nappy} and to GrannyVibe, who led me to Maxjulian at thefreeslave. I think it was Bitch | Lab who led me to BlackAmazon at Having Read the Fine Print.)

I've been sensitive to issues of race for a long time, having grown up in a very racially mixed small city before moving to the largely lily-white "sticks" at the age of 9. Talk about your culture shock! I was supposed to be the slick kid from the big city and I was scared out of my wits. And I missed my friends. I was always the fish out of water away from my friendly little, lower-middle class, struggling / "dying" city.

So I came to never fit in nowhere. Not among the blacks and Hispanics I spent my early life steeped in, not among the group of young, white snots I thought I wanted to be "in with" when I was in junior high. I had learned to jump double-dutch and chinese jump rope when I was a kid. I was a master at hopscotch. Kick the can. Stickball. 1-2-3 Red Light. I was a talented kid. Any grace and ease I developed in those early years evaporated like so much cheap perfume in the vacuum of the South Jersey countryside in 1966.

When I entered junior high in 1969, there were rumors of racial strife among the older kids in the high school. I was never personally witness to the racial tension but it affected us all anyway, we younger kids. It wasn't openly discussed. I remember feeling fearful yet not understanding why. I wasn't nearly as good at self-analysis when I was 13. God knows I wasn't getting any help from the school or my family.

There were few cross-racial friendships in those days. There were a few kids of color who were part of the hip crowd, but they seemed like mere tokens to me. The children I admired most were a couple of Asian kids, cousins, if I recall properly. They were quiet. They were popular. They were accepted without any special skill or effort on their part. I didn't take the time as a teenager to wonder why that was.

By the time I had my first car and driver's license in 1974, I was way more interested in spending a night or weekend stoned out of my gourd to pay much attention to racism. I had my little group, The Freaks, as we were known. A label I'd still claim proudly today! I had my best friend, the first woman I ever consciously "crushed on." I had a car and a job. Life was too good to muck it up with things like thinking about injustice.

I did note, as I flew past in my '62 Chrysler, that the "blacks sections" of the township were all in the 'middle' of the long, country roads. The white families would be at or near the intersections. The black families would live a couple of miles in in small clusters. The last mile or so of road before the next intersection would again be populated with white families.

Some of the black families had been there for generations yet nothing was celebrated about that. They were not featured prominently in community celebrations or gatherings. The vast majority of the voting public and politicians were white. Most of those in government positions were part of a network of prominent families in the town, primarily business owners. Funny how high school mirrors the community, huh?

Like the happy trippin' teen I was, I never stopped to wonder at why this was. I never paused to pay attention to the knot that rose in my stomach when I thought about these things. I was not ready to touch upon more complicated feelings. God knows our family did not touch upon any feelings we could possibly repress.

So, I am here now, belatedly but with good intent, to learn and try to understand. Believe me, I understand about privilege. It's not something I ever asked for or, indeed, ever wanted. If it was possible and my giving up my privilege would make an iota of difference in the larger sheme, I would do it without a second thought. At least, that's the way I feel. I'd like to think I would have the courage of my convictions. Actually letting go of privilege is a whole 'nother matter, though, isn't it?

I think now would be a appropriate time to make Maxjulian the first blogger whose archives I read in their entirety.

tags: blogging / life / racism


At August 28, 2006 2:48 AM, Blogger Maxjulian said...

Wow, that's a great compliment, Cheryl. I grew up in predominantly black hood, but with lots of privilege. We played tennis for God's sake; on grandfather who was a doctor, the other a pharmacist. Fitting in was not easy as I wasn't black enough for blacks or white enough for whites. Thanks

At August 28, 2006 12:55 PM, Blogger Cheryl said...

My pleasure. I should probably not even ask the question but have you read Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama yet? He writes very eloquently, for a young college student, on being bi-racial in a black and white world.

You were that black kid who lived in the Cramer Hill section when I was a kid...in the "mansion" out in the "rich" section, hmm? Funny but I never thought of him feeling as if he didn't fit in, too.

Thanks for stopping by!

At August 28, 2006 7:47 PM, Blogger Maxjulian said...

Ah, we weren't rich, but we were definitely privileged. But I was a freak in the hood.

At August 28, 2006 10:23 PM, Blogger Cheryl said...

No,Max...the people in the "rich" section weren't really rich, either. They were just perceived that way by those of us who had even less.


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