Growing Up in Black and White

Race is something I’ve done my best to ignore for the greater part of my life.  I've always wanted to keep my head down, work hard, and be above using the "race card."

So why I am I talking about race now? Slavery was abolished 151 years ago. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960's helped to bring down legalized segregation. Can't we put this topic of discussion down to rest?

No, not when school districts across the country are being released from their desegregation orders and 53% of black students attend schools where at least 9 out of 10 students are minorities according to a study by ProPublica .  

A big part of the problem lies in the denial that there is a problem.

"I'd hate to be black", "You're the whitest black girl, I've ever met", "We always laugh and call you Hilary Banks." These are a small sampling of the remarks I heard from friends and teachers growing up. It was these off-handed comments that first made me think something was wrong with me.   

My parents grew up in a black neighborhood in New Orleans, but they moved to the predominantly white suburbs outside of Atlanta, Ga when I was a baby.

They are both professionals-- an engineer and a speech pathologist: a fact that always seemed to amaze and sometimes offend the parents of my friends. They have always been hardworking and frugal, so my siblings and I were well provided for.

I only ever knew a handful of black families besides my own. We lived, worked, worshiped, and received our educations in a community filled with white families. And I’m not complaining: I thoroughly enjoyed my childhood.

I never felt like I fit the mold of the white culture around me, and I didn’t really see myself in the stereotypes of African American, urban culture either. However, I was always fortunate enough to find people to love and people who loved me.

The issue of race became more pronounced as I entered middle school and high school. People started coupling off, and I was pretty boy crazy. I never met a set of parents who were happy when their southern white son brought me home. 

 "I can’t believe you like white guys," I heard it more times than I can count.

I would have dated a black guy but, unfortunately there were about four black guys in our school and one of them was my brother.  Why would anyone care-- unless of course they viewed one group as superior and the other as inferior? 

I grew up being the "exception" to many people, and as such I was able to get to know and love many people who are racists (everyone has their issues). In many cases I became a sounding board for them to air their grievances and frustrations about the black people they work with and the blacks in and around their communities.   

My friend’s parents loved telling me how different I was from the other black people they knew-- thinking they were paying me a compliment. They didn’t realize that by telling me how great I was they were telling me that they didn’t think my people were worth anything.

The only people who think that race is no longer an issue are the people who are benefitting (even if they don't realize it) from the oppression of minorities. The good old days were only good for the people in power: the oppressors. I've heard it said that, "privilege gained from oppression feels like discrimination when it’s taken away."  

The animosity between white and black communities is as commonplace as breathing here in the US. It's one of the many ways that our society is broken. Many would say that we should leave the issue alone and leave the communities to live segregated. But without seeking to fix this problem, we will never experience real peace.

I'll be writing about race again next week. Do you think true integration can work in the US? What do you think are the biggest barriers?