Tuesday, February 5, 2008

When I was color blind

I've waited a month to post this post, because I was not sure I knew how to properly write about this subject, yet I feel drawn to talk about it considering the geographical closeness of this incident to my neighborhood.

Until recently, I had never spent much time contemplating race relations in our country or in our town. I grew up in a predominately white community and I don't remember any children of color attending my school until I reached Junior High. The most unhomogeneous aspect of the community was the answer to this question: "are you Catholic or Protestant?". Unbeknownst to me, in the late 60'2 and early 70's, a whole flurry of activity was swirling around in the world outside of my bubble...from the hippies and Woodstock, to the Civil Rights Movement, the Women's Movement and Watergate.

When I was in third grade we studied slavery in the south and I was horrified when I found out that white people had black people as slaves. It was news to me. I can remember being ashamed to be white, and thinking what in the world were those people thinking. I was immediately determined to be nice and befriend any black kids that came my way, but in actuality, I never ran into any, and so I bopped along oblivious to the events happening in the world around. They say "ignorance is bliss" and it was for a time.

When I got to High School, I was still unbelievably niave and so were my friends. I know that now, because that's when my friend Michelle and I looked at each other and I realized she was Hispanic and she realized I was white. Until High School apparently I had been color blind and so had my friend. That's because friendship trumps color everytime.

Before you get the impression that I've never experienced anything outside of the little bubble of my community, I have to say that when I went to college, I was in the minority. My classmates were Syrian, Iraqui, Iranian, Jordanian and Israeli, Chineese and Japaneese and they were all men. That's what you got when you went to any Engineering School 25 years ago. Suddenly I didn't have that warm fuzzy feeling of knowing and understanding where people were coming from. What my classmates thought about the world around us was very different from what I thought about the world around us.

But I've drifted from my subject...the topic of what has happend in our town recently. A black man and his girlfriend bought a house on the street that I grew up on, and not long after that a fire destroyed the house. They had origionally planned on tearing down the house and rebuilding a new house on that spot, so that is what they did, they took the insurance money from the fire and began construction. It has taken them two years to get to the point that they are now, in building their house, yet the house is still under construction and they have still not moved in.

A neighbor lady (white) was walking her dogs in the neighborhood (off leash which is against the law in our town) and the lady(black) who is the girlfriend of the man building the house happened to be in her front yard and there was a confrontation and the white lady (who happens to be a 60+ senior citizen) hit the black lady with a 2 by 4 that was laying in the front yard. The black lady ended up in the hospital. Jeff Foxworthy and his "you might be a redneck if..." comes to mind as I'm writing this.

Even though our town is big, it still has that smalltown feel to those of us who grew up here. I happen to know the family of the white lady. But on with the story...not long after this incident someone painted words on the black mans garage door. I've cut out one of the inflamatory words, because I don't want to post something like that, but here's his garage door: The neighborhood, made up of little old retired folks and widows, was sincerely saddened and shocked that this happened to that man. I know that because my parents live within sight of this house. Most of the retired folks keep to themselves and don't get out much, because frankly they might just fall down with their walkers and hurt themselves. It is yet to be determined who may have done the graffiti, but the little old lady that's white, is the prime suspect (apparently she had been in jail they had let her out of jail , maybe good behavior, I don't know and then hauled her off again when the words appeared on the garage door).

To make a long story, longer, the black man did not immediatly paint over this graffiti, but left it up for weeks, causing his neighbors, who had originally been concerned for him, to become agitated with him. Apparently he had no intention of painting over the graffiti, but gathered together some folks from the NAACP and they had a big march through the neighborhood (how'd you like to live in that neighborhood?).

Needless to say, the neighborhood folks were not happy about the organized march and having to look at his garage door for weeks. In addition, all the uproar over the graffiti, caused people to forget that there was a lady who had been hit with a 2 by 4 on the street! The doors are now covered with a blue tarp, some folks from a nearby church convinced him to cover over the words, while he's waiting on replacement doors. When the replacements arrive he has decided to donate the old doors to a civil rights museum in another southern state. For awhile, things were hoppin' in the little old neighborhood, with police in patrol cars watching the house 24/7, but all that has passed and the neighborhood talk and all the activity has died down. I feel bad for the man and his girlfriend, and I feel bad for the neighbors who had to see those words everyday and host a march in their quiet neighborhood.

It's too bad we have to grown up and realize each others differences. Things would be much simpler if we were all color blind.


glee said...

What a frustrating situation! It sounds like there is more than enough hatred to go around! Each of those groups you spent time with in college have bitter enemies, too, and a lot of people have no interest in being "equal," but must designate themselves "superior."

It would make an interesting topic for a group discussion with kids, though, so that they can see how ludicrous such an attitude is.

So sorry this has happened to your parents!

Linda said...

I'm pretty speechless. It hurts so bad when your kids have to find out what the real world is like, doesn't it? You hate to see their innocence destroyed. So much hurt out there. Thanks for writing about this from an average person in American perspective.

Jerri Phillips said...

My major was sociology, and in one of my classes, we studied immigration. Our first paper was on our experiences with people of different races. My dad's best friend, Daddy Norman, was as dark of skin as I think I've ever seen, but I didn't see that. I saw Daddy Norman. In my paper, I referred to Daddy Norman as "colored", and the professor went off on me. No, she wasn't of dark skin. She asked me what Daddy Norman was, and I stared at her like she was tripping on something. He was Daddy Norman. She pointed to my mention of my friend Wray, also with dark skin, and she said, "Well, what do you call him?" I stared at her some more and said, "Wray."

Well, she made me write my paper over. Daddy Norman was gone by then, so I had to interview Wray to get his perspective of race classification, and when I asked, "So, what are you?" He looked at me like I was stupid and said, "Wray. What kind of small-minded question is that?"


As you said, "Friendship trumps every time." Too bad people can be so absurd about who can be their friends.