I’m not turning on the news today because I don’t want to hear more information about the crazy man who murdered 12 people in DC. We, as a country, aren’t going to do anything about it anyway, so why all the fuss. Unfortunately, what I did read were some of the texts coming out of the crowning of Miss America. Miss 7-11, Miss Arab (pronounced A-Rab), Miss Muslim. This is Miss ‘Merica not Miss India. I hope she doesn’t read the paper for a week or so either. By then, I’m sure the short-attention-span bigots will have found someone else to attack. Meanwhile, I want to share with you my thoughts about race and how it has affected my life.
• When I was a little girl, I was riding with my mother in her Cadillac to the grocery store. We were approached in the parking lot by 2 police officers. They asked my mother for her identification. When she inquired what she had done, the reply was that she didn’t look like she should be driving a new Cadillac. She told me to be quiet. I was crying. They suggested she was part of a stolen car ring and we needed to get out of the vehicle and into the police car to be taken to the precinct for questioning. I remember the ride to the station. I was terrified. My mother was pissed. My mother called our lawyer, Leroy Vital (Google him). I remember the chief, feet up on his desk, asking my mother where a Negro lady got the cash to buy such a nice car. He said HE couldn’t afford a car like that. My mother replied that it wasn’t her fault that he was a failure. Our attorney arrived just in time to have us released just as two deputies were about to remove me from the room and away from my mother.
• My father’s sister told my father that she supposed it was okay that he married my mother, as long as they didn’t have children….
• In college, some kids were in my dorm room. I had a photo of me with my parents on my desk. I was asked why I had a picture of my dad and the moulinyan maid. I didn’t even know what that shit meant. Someone wrote “Half-breed” on our eraser board on our room door. I brought it to the attention of the RA, also warning him that when I found out who was responsible, I would be beating their ass.
• My husband and I entertained friends for dinner one evening. Our friend asked to bring along a relative who promptly told us he had to leave early before the niggers came out. Much to my dismay, our guests apologized to me, as if I was the only one who should have been insulted.
• My mother was shopping for groceries and I was standing apart from her at the meat counter. I overhear some men laughing about the nigger lady who was buying pork ribs. I was too small to respond to them, so I cried and never told my mother why.
• I was shopping in Nordstrom at Oak Brook with my mom and my Aunt Ruth Ewing. We were followed all over the store. We had a lot of bags, but so did everyone else. We were approached by security and asked to step in to a back office. My Aunt Ruth called her husband, famous investigative reporter Russ Ewing (who cracked the John Wayne Gacy case) who came down to the store with a camera crew. THAT was fun to sit back and watch.
• Walking with my girls when they were little, a lady asked if they were my daughters. My goodness. They are beautiful but look so different. Do they have the same father? My reply was Shrug: “I don’t know.”
• Not too long ago, I had a women grab her purse when I passed her grocery cart. I responded, “Bitch, please”.
For most of my life, I have floated virtually undetected through the mysterious world of white people. I have had the opportunity to observe, from an insider point of view, what makes people tick. First of all, when it comes to race relations, many white people I have encountered are passive aggressive, displaying their feelings through hostile jokes and negative commentary. I have listened to rants about Malcolm X, Al Sharpton, Muslims, Michael Vick, OJ, professional sports are too black, President Obama, The Butler, Django, Paula Deen, race mixing and the horrible effect it has on the children. It seems that all their fears manifest into these tall tales about how black people are taking over our country. Well, we only make up 13.1% of the population, and most of that is Detroit and Jackson, MS. Once it is determined that I am not in agreement with this silliness, I am quietly kicked out of the club as too risky a security breach. Consequently, my husband and I are not invited to as many parties.
My favorite of late was suggested to me that white people need civil right activists for all the wrongs done to their race. Yet, I have yet to meet someone who has actually been able to articulate any facts to substantiate this argument. Yes, it is an opinion to which everyone is entitled. Yet, we have to agree that it is pretty shitty when a young man can’t walk to the store for Skittles and iced tea and make it home alive. Shouldn’t you be able to knock on a door to ask for help after being injured in a car accident without fear of being shot 10 times? But I digress. My point is that we all should be able to admit that it is much easier to be white in the United States than any other race. As Chris Rock so eloquently put it “No white man would ever switch places with me, and I’m rich”. Quit your complaining.
Now, black folk will usually claim everybody of color. When we find out you have a trace of black in your family, you’re family. To name a few, we claim The President of The United States, Tiger Woods, The Rock, Halle Berry, Slash, Mariah Carey, Pete Wentz, Chris Humphries, Wentworth Miller, Maya Rudolph, even Carol Channing (yes, Carol Channing). White people share this same sentiment. You’re black. Here’s one that will make your head to pop off: Steve Jobs, half Syrian.
The racial objection many blacks have with white folks comes from a place of inequality and distrust. In my case, I will add low self-image. Growing up, some of the black girls thought I had better hair which, as a child, was a bone of contention. I recall seeing them make the imaginary scissor fingers at me and mouthing “after school”. Also, being “light skinned” wasn’t always my darker sisters’ invitation to befriend me. I imagine all this has something to do with being bombarded by images depicting the American beauty standard as fair skinned, stick skinny with long hair. I get it.
When someone tells you “It’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand”, they’re telling the truth. Unless you can contribute a story like the few of many I have highlighted above, you really have no idea what it’s like to be judged on a daily basis by the color of your skin. Ask ANY black man, rich or poor, when, not if, was the last time they were discriminated against or profiled. Okay, if you’re gay, you probably get this. If you’re black and gay, heaven help you. Oh wait. You’re not going to heaven. Hahahahaha. I can joke. Some of my best friends are gay. Seriously.
My parents were the ideal role models for seeing people for who they are. What I have learned from them is that no matter what your race, we are all stewards of the human race. It is your responsibility to act. Don’t let others get away with biased language or behavior- speak up and out.
Take a position against hate and take a Stand Against Racism.
Imagine what would happen if we found the strength not to tolerate intolerance. Your silence defines you.
Which will you choose?
24 thoughts on “You’re Black? No. Really? I thought you were Italian”
The best blog post yet!
Thank you for opening your heart and sharing your life experiences. So many people suffer through situations like this silently. Your post brings these things to light, and hopefully some will read this and learn to be more accepting, and less disgusting. The stories I could tell………………….
Sis, we have both had it rough growing up,as if it would have gotten any easier being an adult!whatever hang ups people have are learned! As if you couldn’t teach your children any better!!Our parents were way before their time and thank God for that!!! But the was Miss America is Indian which makes her Asian continental wise! Get a geography lesson America and get your life!!!!!!
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Amen, Sistuh!! Best blog to date! This should be sent to your local paper as an OP ED!!! My heirs were the one of 5 black kids at a school of 550 in Wisconsin and routinely out tested, out scored and out shined their white peers. When we moved there I warned them that the other kids would be shocked at how smart they were and would automatically assume that they were academically inferior to them based on nothing but their skin tone. The power of white privilege. Heir 1 had a poem published in a national magazine and one mom said to me. “Oh, that’s right, you’re a writer. No wonder your daughter won.” I replied, “They worked on this in class only & the teacher submitted it without our knowledge. I saw it for the first time when it was published. I had nothing to do with her skill. She’s just talented.” I rolled my eyes and walked away. Same heir had a peer who was a struggling student at best say, “Oh, your standardized test is the C book and mine is the B book. You get easier tests, that’s why you do well.” Heir knew better and raised her hand to ask the teacher to explain the booklet coding. Teacher, “All of the tests have the same questions, there are 4 different books A-D with questions scrambled to discourage cheating. Books were randomly distributed…” Booyah. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Keep entertaining & enlightening folks!
Jess, you’ve met your calling girl! I agree with JC, you should submit this to the newspapers, magazines everywhere! As a mom with a beautiful bi-racial child I fear for him and the experiences yet to come. Even though he is being raised privileged with a vacation home, private schooling. 2 parents who are college educated, theatre and well travelled, it doesn’t matter because in the eyes of the ignorant he will always be seen as inferior. It does suck, but that is our reality. I’ve always known that when I had a kid he would follow in our family legacy of attending Purdue University. Sad to say, I had to drop that dream because of all of the hurtful and racist activities that’s occurring on campus. I can’t protect him forever, but what I can do is to let him know its ok to kick some ass if he needs too! Done!
What an honest insight that shows how things used to be and how things are. That story about the black man who was shot after he was the victim of a car crash is indeed disturbing (even the homeowner’s reaction). I’m half black and half white and I have seen the effects of prejudice and racism from both sides. One thing that always disturbed me is when people would ask if I was black, then how come I talk “white” — whatever that means. This message is one that should appear in the OP-ED and a conversation that needs to continue.
Right on, JC!
I meant JB!
I just read this for the second time. Wow. One thing I know to be true is that because I am a 47-year-old white lady with blonde (careful, my friends, careful) hair and blue eyes, I have certain privileges that Jessica’s remarkable mother never had. (Surprisingly, Louis CK the comedian, has some pretty insightful things to add to this conversation. Look it up.) When people play the “reverse racism” card, the not-so-amiable, sarcastic voice in me wants to say, “Well, how long did you think they were gonna take it??” I know…that is ugly; I get unreasonable and incensed, which doesn’t help the discussion carry on. I realize this can be a pretty scary discussion, and I’m sure people have some pretty scary stories to tell, but I also know that many African-American parents feel the need to protect their children from the kind of heartache Jessica experienced as a child, so sometimes they let them know what they might be up against. Inequality, injustice, violence….they lead to distrust. This is a discussion we all need to have with our children…again and again.
Hi-Freakin-Larious! “Bitch, please…” Loved this post…I moved to the south-SOUTH suburbs of the Windy City from Atlanta about 5yrs ago and was a bit surprised at the level of racism in the area…I guess my naivety lead me to believe that the further north I went, the lower the level of racism? Idk but if one more person told me “I don’t like the n_ _ _ _rs or the sp_ _s but you asians are ok by me” during the first year I lived here, I was gonna go marching down main street with a white hooded robe and a pointy cap to see what reaction I would get…
Wonderfully written with insight and best of all humor. Thank you.
As a “white guy” born and raised in Texas I’d be a lier to say I’d never heard the N word used in context. I’d be a bigger lier to say, I’ve never used it myself. That’s shameful and difficult to admit but I think honesty is important and usually absent when we talk about this subject. I’m in my 40s and as a boy racist words and attitudes were as common and were tossed about as easily as talk about the weather was. It wasn’t until I began going to school, looking outward, interacting with kids that had different color skin than mine, that I started to realized some truth about rascism and people in general. Fear and stupidity drives rascism. The white folks that held those attitudes in my world were not well educated, didn’t travel, and were usually afraid of anything their narrow minds didn’t understand. Once I began growing my hairy and “thinking my hippie thoughts” those same attitudes were directed towards me. I guess I became the scary unknown.
This is why education is so important.
Learning about “what’s over the next hill” lifts the veil… We can begin to realize we have so much in common. Regardless of our religion, sexual preference or race, most folks want the same things… a nice place to live, good jobs, health and happiness for our children.
We really are all neighbors in a global community. No doubt we are evolving as a species. I think conversations like these are helping.
Great job!!!! Relating to Racism in on SO many levels!!! You know me…I am brown skinned girl…but don’t look Black! HUH?!?!? I have heard that over and over…You hair isn’t Black hair…you don’t look Black enough…you don’t talk Black…you must be Cuban, Dominican, and the more evolved…Ethiopian ( that my stepmother is so I get that ALOT). I really wish it didn’t matter but it sadly happens ALL the time. Lucky for me I had a strong MOTHER(s) too!!!!
Thanks for enlightening the unenlightened!!! This is where it starts…helps…and changes things!
I love your mom. And while I realize that it would have been difficult for you to enjoy the “It’s not my fault your a failure” comment during the midst of a traumatic experience, I sure enjoyed reading it :-).
About so much of this, Jess, I shake my head. That feels really inactive and insufficient, but I am happy to share words of the people I trust to articulate the ignorance in our society in a way that i stand behind. To that end, I clicked “share” all over the place because I always appreciate what you have to say.
One small note in defense of peoples’ questions about ethnicity… I think it’s an odd fact of human nature that we are fascinated by anything different and that we like to categorize. When a new hockey player joins my favorite NHL team, I am interested if he’s a Finn or a Swede. Why? I have no idea. It doesn’t matter to hockey. And it doesn’t truly *matter* to me. It’s just something to know. I’m also interested in the roots of a name. ie- he’s Russian, but they call him Bill. I want to know why. Again… pointless information, but it makes me feel like I know something about someone… a tiny connection, kind of like when Tiger Beat used to ask boy band stars their favorite color. I agree with Scott that fear and stupidity drive racism. But I think it’s great to be interested in race. One day, when this planet is so intermingled, we’ll look back on the days when we could trace our genetic roots and wish we could claim more a more diverse heritage… to wave the flag of our ancestors and feel like we had a sense of Who We Are. I hope your girls will enjoy their unique gorgeousness, but I have the feeling- growing up in your house- they’ll have a good comeback at the ready for the inane ;-).
Thanks so much for this honest commentary. We would love to have you as a guest on our talk radio broadcast. Please, email if you would be interested in speaking with us!
I would be honored. Please reach me at email@example.com.
Love this post. Just discovered your blog from “Love Crosses Borders”. I like how real your writing is. So how did your Aunt react to your father having children with your mother? Did your father’s family accept your family? I really don’t get the whole “interracial couples shouldn’t have children” thing. Just strange.
Hi. Thank you for enjoying my post. In response to your questions, my aunt wasn’t happy about me, but I turned out to be her favorite niece. My father’s family felt that he had disgraced his race, only to have my grandfather (dad’s father) rely on my mother for help as he aged into his 90’s. They used the common belief that a mixed child would have it so hard growing up because of being chastised. Only, they didn’t stop to think that they were the one’s responsible for the chastising. I like to think that as they all got older, they grew to understand love and who would be there for you in the end. I am in the process of writing a more in depth look a these relationships for a book. I hope you will read it!
Liked your narrative. Well articulated with obviously real life and painful examples of discrimination you experienced. Life stories like your’s provide those of us who for reasons of our race or other circumstances have not experienced the same discriminations. It gives us a chance to understand better and adjust our perspective.
I just discovered your blog- an absolute gold mine… As a young biracial woman I see this and I’m like “Finally.”…
I honestly can’t even begin to express the thoughts and sense of relief in my head that I am not alone in my thought process or with my experiences and being in the south I’ve got quiet a few to boot even in my late twenties.
Thank you for your blog. Please continue posting- I have a lot of reading to catch up on.
Thank you so much for the kind words. Would love to hear your experiences as a twenty-something.
Be well, Jessica
We recently celebrated the 50th wedding anniversary of a mixed race couple at our church the women is a white lovely lady and the husband is black as we were celebrating the had some pictures of back in the day here she was in the 60s in her shorts and sunglasses walkkng with her two older white children she was divorced from her abusive white husband and her four year old mixed daughter and pushing the pram she looked like she didnt give a dam. It was back in the day the signs read no blacks no irish and no dogs in the UK and here they were celebrating with their children grandchildren and great grandchildren. I had seen their grandchildren at times I had no idea they had black ancestry couples such as your parents really were trail blazers and helped pave the way for future couples.