Fantasy v. Reality
|When I was a young child I was White. The reasons that I knew that I was White was because we lived in a neighborhood where all but one family was White. I would often hear my mother refer to that family as being "light, bright, damn near White" so as far as I was concerned that meant that we were White and they were trying to be White. You have to understand, I went to a private, all White school. We shopped in stores where White people shopped, all of my friends were White and everything that I enjoyed was suburban and Black people did not live in the suburbs where I grew up. I wasn't exposed to Black people and from what I would hear on the news, I was glad that God did not make me Black.
I read a lot and Nancy Drew Mysteries were my favorite books to read. I listened to the Carpenters, Captain and Tenille, Alabama, Chicago, Elton John, Cindi Lauper, Madonna and many others that I cannot name. I watched a lot of television and I identified with "Leave It to Beaver," "Father Knows Best," "Ozzie & Harriet," and the like. To me my family was patterned after those shows, my mother's style of dress, my father's stoginess, eating dinner together every evening and then sitting down to watch an hour of television, all of us together. We ate American cuisine not Soul Food and my sisters had chores and we got an allowance. I didn't think that Black people did that.
When I think about it now, I realize that I was crazy for real. I dreamed of getting married and when I imagined who my husband would be he was always White and I was White too! My mother was really big on education and would have us randomly pick words out of the dictionary and we would have to spell them and give the correct definition or there would be hell to pay. Well, the only word she ever made me and my sisters learn that she picked out was the "N" word. She would make us recite the definition over and over until we could do it in our sleep. Before Webster re-defined the word it meant a filthy, dirty person, a vile person. Well that definitely did not describe me or my family.
I know what you're thinking, what did I see when I looked in the mirror. Well, what I saw was what I saw when I looked at my parents, colorless people. When I looked at myself I saw no color, so that meant that I was White didn't it? When I looked at my friends they were colorless too. The only people in my world who had color were the neighbors who were light, bright, and damned near White. My friends spent the night over my house and I spent the night over theirs. Now my friends were Italian, Puerto Rican, Ecuadorian, and American White and they were colorless too.
Then came the assasination of President John F. Kennedy, when he died my mother cried for hours. For a minute I thought he was a distant relative. She even went down to view his body, crying all the way. It was a sequence of events that led to the destruction of my world as I knew it. It was like riding on an endless rollercoaster whose cars only travelled one way, down.
One Saturday in the Spring, I was about 14 or 15 my mother agreed to let me go with my friends to the Sears & Roebuck that was located in a nearby town. I was allowed to use public transportation for this shopping trip with my friends and I was feeling quite the independent lady. Well, we got on the bus and as we were walking towards the middle of the bus an elderly White woman said in a rather loud voice "I'm not sitting next to no nigger." Everybody on the bus got really quiet and most just turned their heads in the other direction. I said to my friends "Who is she talking about because I don't want to sit next to one either." They just looked at me and said don't worry she's just ignorant. I don't know if it was innocence or ignorance that prevented me from understanding that she was talking about me but I do know that the thought never entered my head. We actually had a nice shopping trip, I got a scooter skirt and a sailors hat. You couldn't tell me that I wasn't going to be looking good once I put that outfit on.
When I got home I told my Mother what had happened and she really did not address it one way or the other but she did say that she was glad that I had a nice time. Then they sprang Dr. Martin Luther King on me, telling me he was the President of Black people. I knew for a fact that he was not my President. As history tells us he was assasinated and riots broke out in most of the major cities that were heavily populated with Blacks. In my neighborhood the National Guard rode around in tanks all day and night. I asked my parents why they were doing that and they told me to prevent the rioters from coming and destroying our neighborhood. Then it happened, I came home from school only to find my father putting up a sign in our front yard that said "Soul Brother" in big, bold letters. I was appalled. My head started spinning, my mind was racing, what does this mean I kept thinking. Why is he doing that, I wanted to knock the sign down but my father just said hello to me and kept on hammering the sign into the ground.
Oh my God, I was livid. I ran upstairs and threw myself on the bed, I was always a bit dramatic, and cried until I could not cry anymore. I was angry with God and I don't think I ever truly got over it. Suddenly everything was in color, my sisters were varying shades of brown, my mother and father were brown, and worst of all I was Black. I felt that God had played a cruel trick on me. I demanded that my parents tell me why they had never before told me that we were Black. They just looked at me as if I had just landed from some far away planet and said girl stop being silly. I wasn't being silly, I was being for real and my sister who I shared a room with knew that I was being real. It didn't matter, I was Black for now and forever. I had an epiphany. My life was over. They stole my innocence.
I always thought that my parents listened to Motown because they just liked that kind of music, me I preferred Pop, Donny & Marie. I thought that they didn't eat Soul Food, well I found out that they did, but it was considered such a treat that they did not prepare it for me and my sisters until we got much older. Older than I was at that time anyway. I didn't want any damn Soul Food anyway.
Then my mother started breaking it down for me. She told me that when I finished school I probably wouldn't be seeing much of my friends that I had now because their parents would probably send them to all White schools. The neighborhood was beginning to change, more Black families moving in. She told me to make friends with my new neighbors. I didn't want to, I was a die hard. My life was shattered and she wanted me to make friends with people that I felt I had nothing in common with, absolutely nothing. I didn't date for a long time because I did not find Black men attractive in any way. But as time went on I sort of eased into being Black. But it took a lot of maturing and education on my part to get to that point.
My partner and I joke about that time in my life. He laughs at me from time to time and says that I am still White but that's okay with him. What I have come to realize though is that being Black or White is a state of mind. We wear our ethnic affiliation like a coat and that's what others see but our personalities, the true essence of who we are is colorless. I like Jazz, you like Rap, he likes Pop our likes and preferences are colorless. When I read a good mystery the story is neither Black or White it's just a mystery. Now the characters may be assigned a color but that is only to give the reader a visual image. It gives the story life and substance. I don't read Black books, I read books. I don't listen to Black music, I listen to music and a wide variety if I might say so. I enjoy things, colorless things. I don't buy Black clothes or only go to Black movies. In fact, I probably don't go to Black movies very much if I am being truthful. I don't want to be reminded of the differences that separate the masses. I want to be reminded of the things that connect us as a people. Being a Black person, I can't exist if you don't exist and we won't survive as a people without each other. So today I'm a Black White person or is it a White Black person??? Well, anyway you figure it out and when you come up with a definitive answer please let me know.