An Introduction to Racism: Mine, Not Yours

A Tough and Twisted Subject

It’s bold of you to talk about it.

I’ve been disgusted my whole life with the way we’re steeped in racism, inequality and the like but have never had a clue as to how to talk about it meaningfully, never mind fix anything. I just sound like another chippy white chick spouting off about something she doesn’t understand. And maybe that’s the crux — maybe I don’t understand, maybe none of us really do. All we have is what we’ve seen, lived, and conjured and the diversity of that experience is infinite.

In the 50's, my tiny pale blonde and very young father was a jazz musician, the only white face deep in dive bars nightly among much older, and much darker, guys. The stories he tells have filled me with rage — stories of white cops with billy clubs smashing the fifth in black men’s back pockets on Friday night, payday. Stories of separation, segregation, violence and degradation — stories we’ve all heard but, in spite of all the righteous rage I’ve mustered, I’m not sure I really understand. They turn my stomach, these stories, but what do I do with that- what have I done with that?

What can I do? I feel powerless, impotent. Pissed off, but fairly useless.

He was unceremoniously kicked out of the navy for defending a black buddy from the vile and very violent racism of a superior. I’ve always been so proud of that story, but what came of it? What changed, and for whom?

My paternal grandfather took a Japanese friend out on his little boat on the Chesapeake Bay every summer weekend in the 40's because this foreign man — this ‘other’ — was not allowed to take his family to any of the beaches.

My maternal grandmother abandoned her young family in the early 50's to run away — literally — with a Mexican man. She used to complain, “if you come to my country (America) you better speak my language (english).” Huh?

My step-sister married a black man in the 70's and they couldn’t find a place to rent — a place to live — until he stopped showing for the interviews.

And, my father’s grandmother was a Mohegan Rosicrucianist in New Jersey who had séances and locked him in closets.

Reconcile that.

Assholes come in all colors and patterns and so do angels.

We’re all crazy, every goddamned one of us. Our families, no matter the color, are patchwork quilts with squares of madness and much diversity. Some of us are nicer, some of us try, some of us remember and learn. But it’s a big wicked stew we’ve created and what’s to be done with it?

My best hope, aside from just trying to be kind, is to teach my kids what’s what.

But, what exactly is what?