Racism and me and you and our Facebook friends…

Social media is an interesting environment, and I suspect the generation that grew up with it will never truly appreciate how it gives them a glimpse into the world and the people we know—unlike anything before its invention.

There are many people whose paths I cross on social media. Some I knew from years ago, when I was a child or college student or young mother. Some are my real-life friends, online friends, or not really friends at all—Facebook or real life. It might be a person I knew from long ago who happens to belong to a group I do—and it has been enlightening.

During this time of turmoil there are many on social media pushing against the notion of systemic racism. Many of these people often share memes of adorable multiracial children in happy times—just to prove they are not racist.

There is a popular notion going around that many of the white people who refuse to acknowledge we have a problem do so because it never personally happened to them. We often focus on their limited life experience in this regard, and while we don’t necessarily give them a pass, we keep trying to educate them.

I have been giving this a great deal of thought after looking through my social media feeds, and I cry bullshit. Many have experienced racism—they simply never experienced it from the receiving end.

Let me explain…

One of these people I see professing the non-existence of racism, I remember her father. I remember as a child visiting her house as her father freely used the n-word and talked none too kindly about blacks. I remember being shocked, because we did not talk that way in my home. I was a small child. I said nothing, but I remembered.

Recently I crossed paths on social media with someone who I knew from years ago. This person’s feed is filled with anti-protest memes, along with photos of adorable black and white children, you know, to prove this person is not racist. However, I remember once, years ago, witnessing this person pointing to a black man on the corner and calling him a vile racist name—in my opinion worse than the N word. This black person was a stranger, just a man waiting to cross the street.

I see people I know—who claim there is no racism—twisting themselves into knots to find something derogatory to say about George Floyd or find something hinky about the video that captured the atrocity, in order to justify what was done to him.

I am a white woman who has lived most of her life in communities which were predominately white. One would assume I would have no experience with racism—and either I would be one of those people who assume it is not really happening because I never experienced it, or I would be a bleeding heart, swayed by those ugly things the media shows me, how horrible people are outside of my bubble.

But the fact is, it has always been there.

I remember being in grade school and my parents went on vacation, and my Grandma Hilda came to stay with us. While we were there, the grandson of Grandpa Pete (Hilda’s second husband) came to visit. He was in the army, and he brought along an army buddy—who happened to be black.

The grandson and friend had dinner with us, and while I rarely saw people of color, I just remember both he and Grandpa’s grandson, who I suppose was my step cousin, were very nice and we had a good time.

But after the visit a few weeks later, I remember overhearing a conversation between my parents. Apparently one of my grandmother’s sisters had thrown a fit about the “audacity” of bringing a black man to my parent’s home while they were out of town. My parents thought the aunt’s attitude ridiculous and narrow. They had absolutely no problem with my step cousin bringing his friend.

I remember once traveling on the school bus ride from Parker, Arizona to Parker Dam, California when I was a freshman. There was a black girl on the bus being verbally tormented by several white girls. I later told a boy I was dating how I should have said something. He told me to keep my mouth shut, those white girls would beat the crap out of me. I have always felt shame for remaining quiet.

I remember once in high school at Lake Havasu City, which had no black students at that time, a classmate told me that he could never like a black person. I thought that absurd, so I told him I was part black. I pointed out my dark brown eyes as proof.

He looked so sad, and said he wished I hadn’t told him. When he found out later that I was lying, he was relieved, because he thought we could be friends again. He had no idea that was no longer possible.

My point being in this long drawn out post—people see racism. Even people like me who have lived primarily in white communities. Unfortunately, many simply ascribe to the motto our first lady decided to once wear on the back of her jacket: I really don’t care, do u?

What we fail to see.

The high school I attended was all white—except for one of my girlfriends and her two siblings. Their father was white; and their mother was Nicaraguan. That was about all the color in the school, except for the one black student who showed up for one day. He didn’t return the next day.

My memory was that everyone was very nice to him and welcoming. I just always assumed he looked around at the sea of white faces and thought, hell no, I’m out of here.

Unfortunately, back then I had a tendency to view the world through rose colored glasses and often missed the ugliness staring me in the face. Until I hit my fifties, I tended to give people the benefit of the doubt. Today, I am more of a cynic.

I hope my fellow classmates back then were nice to that African American student. But, I’m no longer sure. I have no idea what some of the other students may have said to him. After all, it was decades after graduation that I learned how one of my friends had been cruelly harassed by the male classmates for the size of her large breasts, and how another friend had been physically abused by her boyfriend—both popular students in the school. I had no idea, but other kids knew. Heck, when one of my close friends married young, I was probably the only person in the school who never considered for a moment she might be pregnant. She was.

Growing up in Covina, California, I attended what was essentially an all-white elementary school. There were one or two Hispanics and Asians, but no black students the years I attended there. My first encounter with a black person was a student teacher I had in the fourth grade. I adored that teacher, yet now, looking back, I have to wonder what type of reception he had from the all-white school. This was in the mid-60s. I would love to sit down with him and find out what it was like for him back then.

My next encounter with a person of color was a few years later, when my parents were off on a snow skiing trip, and my grandmother was staying with us. My grandmother’s first husband (my mother’s father) had passed away when Mom was a little girl. Years later, Grandma married my Grandpa Pete, a dear man, who was a wonderful grandfather to me.

While Grandma was staying with us, Grandpa Pete’s grandson came to visit, bringing his army buddy with him. The two came to our house to have dinner and to visit with Grandma. I remember Grandpa’s grandson and the friend were very nice, and we enjoyed the visit. Did I mention the friend was black?

It wasn’t until I was much older that I learned my grandma’s sister had had an absolute fit over the fact Grandpa’s grandson had had the audacity to bring a black man into my parent’s home. My parents weren’t upset over the visit, and the story told in following years centered on my great-aunt’s foolishness and bigotry.

It wasn’t until we moved to Havasu did I have any real exposure to minorities. Before going to that all white school I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I attended the last half of my eight grade, and freshman year, in racially diverse schools.

I only recall witnessing one racially motivated conflict. I was riding home on the bus (it was a considerable drive from Parker, Arizona to Parker Dam, California) when a white girl—who was dating a black student—was being verbally harassed by several white girls on the bus. I remember saying something to the boy I was dating, about how I felt bad I hadn’t spoken up, and that I needed to, if it happened again. He told me to keep my mouth shut, that those girls would kick my ass.

My next encounter with bigotry came at that all-white high school. I can still remember; I was in biology class, when one of my classmates, a boy who was a year or two younger than me, declared his hatred of black people.

He had always seemed like such a nice guy; I found that expression of hate out of place. I asked him why he hated blacks. He didn’t really have a reason, he just did. I then told him I was part black; did he hate me too?

I had lied, but I have very dark brown eyes. I used those eyes to convince him, after he initially laughed off my claim.

“Why do you think I have such black eyes?” I asked him in seriousness.

He looked at me strangely, and then said he was sad, but he couldn’t be my friend anymore. He told me he wished I had never told him. Just like that, in an instant, he disliked me for no reason aside from the fact he believed I had a person of color in my family tree. And he was serious. Oh, he didn’t start yelling obscenities at me, or threaten to burn a cross on my lawn—of course no one had lawns in Havasu—but he was instantly cool toward me.

When he found out I had been pulling his leg, his demeanor once again changed, and he figured we could be friends again. Needless to say, I never looked at him the same way. While he was a classmate, I never again considered him a friend.

So what is my point in all this?

Just because you don’t see racism around you, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.