Night before last, while I was sleeping (pain pills knock me out but good), I received an email from someone who had read one of my author interviews on my blogger blog. He thanked me for interviewing a black author, saying that it was about time black authors were getting noticed.
Well, the email sort of blew me away. Never would I have considered NOT interviewing a black author. But when I responded to him and told him so, he said I would be surprised at how difficult it is for black authors to get the same exposure.
Interesting. Sad if it’s true too. A good writer is a good writer, and race or ethnicity just shouldn’t matter if the writing is good.
Another man I know, a very successful internet marketer, is a black man who will not put his picture up on his websites, because he believes he would not achieve as many sales if people thought he was black and saw the picture, and he told me that includes other black people. He said, and I quote, “Seems that even black folks seem to think that white folks are better at business.”
I’m not so simplistic and naive as to believe there is no racism in the world. I know there is, but I guess that for the most part, I’ve been blind to it. That probably shouldn’t be the case, but I’m just being honest here – it didn’t directly affect me, so I didn’t notice it as much, you know?
When I was much younger, working as an assistant manager in a retailer store, young and still wet behind the ears in many ways, my manager, a white man, called me and said a store down the street had a group of kids run off for lurking around and attempting to shoplift, and when this happens, we would typically call other stores to let them know to watch out in case they move down to another store.
I was in a big city, Dallas area, and these particular stores were a dime a dozen all over town.
So when my manager called me, he described the suspects, and told me to let the clerks know. So I did. In fact, I repeated out loud exactly what he had said to me, “Three men, about 20-22 years old, two black, one with Buckwheat type hair, and a white boy with dirty blond hair and an earring.”
A few seconds later, an older black woman came to the counter and put her purchases on it, looked directly at me and said, “You could have said he had nappy hair. You didn’t have to say it that way.”
She then walked out of the store without making her purchase and she called and reported me to the main office.
I was mortified. I had never meant to be offensive. To me, what I repeated, would have been no different than saying that the girl at the counter had Jennifer Aniston hair. If you know Jennifer Aniston, you probably know the style hair I mean. I had no clue that saying he had Buckwheat hair would have been offensive at the time. I additionally couldn’t have told you at the time what ‘nappy’ hair meant either.
Yes, that is how naive I was.
I felt really bad about this incident for a long time. I had never meant to offend anyone, and I really do feel badly when I have and can’t fix it, and I also hate when someone has a preconceived notion of me that I believe incorrect where I have no ability to change their perception.
But I learned a valuable lesson – what is an innocent comment by one may not be so innocent to another and we should all try to respect others when possible. There is a limit to political correctness though where it starts to get ridiculous.
Anyway, years later, my daughter was in the third grade, and I got my first personal brush with racism. My daughter’s father is Hispanic. My daughter looks Hispanic. Actually, when she braids her hair, people think she’s Native American, but most of the time she looks Hispanic enough that people will speak Spanish to her and be surprised when she doesn’t understand.
In a way, I’ve always noted the looks when they see my fair skin, light freckles and red hair, and then see my dark skinned, brown eyed and black haired daughter. I find amusement in the strangest of places though.
Still, we had never really had a brush with an issue until she was in the third grade and an elderly teacher there decided one day to line the children in the class up from darkest to lightest.
I kid you not.
Darkest skin to lightest skin.
OMG, parents were infuriated!
This is how these little third grade kids went to lunch, to the bathroom, everything. The white kids went first, and then the kids of colors went in order of lightest to darkest.
How pathetic is that?
I was outraged. She also once took my daughter’s desk, because it was messy, and dumped it out on the floor, opening her notebooks and unzipping her zippie pouch and dumping everything on the floor, and told her to get down on her hands and knees and clean it up.
Well, enough was enough, and I went to the school to complain. I mean, I had not just my daughter’s word, but lots of children and parents feeling the same way.
The principal, an Hispanic man, told us that it was that teacher’s last year and she would be retiring and couldn’t we just let her retire with dignity?
I was outraged. Think of that little black boy or the young hispanic girl at the end of the line that year who, at a formative time, was being taught by a person in a position of authority of them that they are ‘less than’ others, not worthy of going in line first, or to the bathroom faster.
I simply couldn’t believe that things like this still happened.
But they do.
A few years back, gosh, almost a lifetime ago, it seems, I was business partners with a black woman and she and I together owned a childcare center, when my son was still very small. There were people who would come to meet with me about signing their children up for the center, but when they met my partner, would change their mind. I asked her about it once, not understanding it at all, and she said, “Some people just have small minds.”
She never got angry. She never let it get to her. In fact, it bothered me more than it did her. She was a fantastic lady, and it was from her that I learned NOT to say African-American. She hated that term. I realize some people don’t–so as you read ‘black’ here on the blog, I do that because of what she once said to me. She said she had never been to Africa, probably never would go, and that she was just as American as anyone else. Maybe not all black people feel that way, but she did, and I respected her.
Learned a whole lot about the ugly face of racism the two years she and I owned that daycare though, before it burned down and we decided not to rebuild.
And so, last night, because things like this happen still, I received an email thanking me for interviewing and reviewing a black author.
So am I still very naive here to say that I don’t understand why racism exists?
Am I really naive to think that it should be such a simple thing to understand that human beings, regardless of skin color or ethnicity, should only be valued by their actions and not something over which they have no control?
Mostly I’m rambling, but I do wonder – can there BE such a thing as a civil discussion on racism? I have read articles that had comments under them that get very heated. I have read blog posts with hundreds of comments, where they degrade to name-calling.
What is it particularly about race that gets people so worked up to resort to that kind of behavior?
What is it that I’m missing here? Does anyone know?
Just my musings for the morning. Would love to hear your respectful thoughts.
Love and stuff,