Newly Minted

Newly Minted
Right after I was hooded

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


What I remember most clearly from my conversations about race with my mother was her telling me not to worry so much about “being” black. My mother always told me that what was most important, now I know it was most important to her, was “being” a good person. My husband often suggests that I view everything, past and present, through this critical race lens. I have trouble getting him to understand that the critical race lens really only provides a language for the things I already know. Even as a child, my mother's shaping of “being” upset me. I experienced race, since I had no community of color to process with, in my belly. It is funny, both of our daughters get tummy aches. I know now that it is anxiety and so I can only guess that my processing of race, at three and five, and nine was with an anxiety so intense that I took it for granted. I understood my “being” as abnormal to the rest of the world. But my mother kept telling me that “being” different was not only acceptable but a gift to the world. My mother gave me Martin Luther King Jr. and through that I came to believe that world peace, rather racial peace, was my job and my job alone.

My mother was fond of talking about how all the races could and should live as one and she held up our family as the perfect example. While we were by no means perfect, we were a family and we were different races and race was not the thing that held us together or tore us apart. I was very aware that my mother and my sister experienced pain, much in the same way my husband experiences our children's pain, when my race and other people's reactions to my race impacted me negatively. I can remember people asking my mother if I was hers and the anger that question evoked in her and then the sadness I saw in her eyes. I often feel like the only time I knew my mother truly loved me was when she was defending my blackness.

There were inconsistencies, in reconcilable behaviors and speech that occurred around me every day. My mother could sit and tell me what an amazing person I was, or was going to be; how I was going to bring the races together one day, and then call someone on TV a nigger. My mother was a very biased and racist person, yet she held up people like MLK and myself as the ambassadors of world change. I can remember wincing as my step-father talked about “the damn Jews” and “the greasy Italians” and I can remember clearly thinking “what does he think about me”. And so, the very sense of racial harmony and justice that my mother had instilled in me became my burden.

I have a sister and brother I don't speak to and I am pretty sure they have no idea it is because of their racism. I could no longer tolerate their racist banter. The final straw was my brother's face book bumper sticker that read “Speak English or Go Home”. My sister had written on his wall “Yeah, that is what I am talking about”. I wrote under her comment “you are both racist asses” and defriended them. I don't think they have noticed. No, I am sure they noticed, but I don't think they have a clue what I was talking about. For my family, racism is against black people. No, racism was against me. There was never anything there that abstracted racism to the rest of the world nor connected it to other isms. I can remember my sister in grade school addressing racist speech with “hey, my sister is black”; instead of something more universal about blackness and black people. I was the only black person we knew. For my sister and brother, and probably my mother, I am still the only black person they know.

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