2008. It’s actually the year 2008 (Makes me think of a teammate’s elderly mom who once said, “Yogi…it’s 2002! Who would have ever thought I’d live to see the year 2002?” in her deep Creole accent). After the happenings of this weekend it’s interesting to think about how far we have…or haven’t…come in the last 50 years. To attempt to summarize: I was told on Friday by the founder of HerShe (the organization for girls in foster care I am involved with) that there were “trust issues” in the relationship with my mentee, Rosalyn, and myself according to Rosalyn’s grandmother. At the time, this news throws me in a tizzy: I cry, I over-analyze, I call friends, discuss my concerns, speculate what could have caused this comment, etc. I have been called some things in my life, but I don’t think untrustworthy is one of them.
The next day I find out from Rosalyn (through many tears) the reason is that her grandma has a problem with me because I am white. White. Not much I can do about that, so secretly it makes me feel better that it’s not something I said or did, or something I didn’t say or do. But, six months into our relationship, this is not what I expected. After emotions, frustrations, successes, and celebrations have been shared, this is not what I could have predicted. I have had one other encounter with racism in my life. A teammate of mine’s mom was a Black Panther and when I dropped my teammate off one day, she suggested I drop her off around the corner so that her mom wouldn’t see her with a white girl. Well, I guess one other occassion too. I was never encouraged to meet one of Kisha’s aunt’s since I was white. Three times in my life that I’ve encountered racism because I am white. Not too often, but often enough.
I went to dinner last night with two other mentors right after I’d received the news regarding Rosalyn’s grandma’s concern. This led to a very interesting conversation, one I do not think that we as Americans have often enough being in such a diverse country. One mentor is a very light-skinned black woman who was raised in all-white Catholic schools growing up. The other is also a black woman, but she was born and raised in L.A. and surrounded by only black people as she grew up. And, of course there was me. Born and raised in all upper-middle class white suburban neighborhoods. Not really many encounters with people other than whites until college, and it’s obviously taken a turn from there! The three of us were able to openly discuss our perspectives, prejudices, thoughts, reactions, and ideas feely. It really was an enlightening experience that I wish more people could share.
We are so afraid of hurting people’s feelings and of getting hurt. But until something is said about this and we are able to come together and discuss things that are uncomfortable, not much is going to change. Sure, schools claim not to be segregated any longer. So how do you explain my school? Absolutely no white kids in the middle of South Central Los Angeles. I think that’s pretty much the definiteion of segregation. I’m glad so many people (i.e. politicians) feel better about themselves since they can live in far off places and pretend schools are integrated models representing society as a whole. Not so. Not so at all.
Had Gompers Middle School been the feature of a 20/20 expose while I was in college, I would have had a hard time believing the story that was being told. I would not believe that for nine years the school had not been meeting any standards and had not received any sort of intervention. That the school was infested with roaches, seagulls (and their poop), swarms of bees and other unsanitary and dangerous living creatures. That middle school students were actually getting arrested on campus in front of their peers. That students in the 8th grade were unable to read at a kindergarten level while having an average IQ. These things boggle my mind. How does this continue to happen?
Because we do not talk about it. How can we change that? I respect Rosalyn’s Grandmother for never treating me differently throughout the course of knowing her, although I’m left perplexed at this point as to how the racism has seemingly re-arisen out of nowhere. I respect the fact she is older and from the south and definitely had more than her fair share of racist remarks and experiences. But, can we talk about it? Can I try to more clearly understand why I am perceived as somebody unworthy to be in her granddaughter’s life because I am white. I want to have those uncomfortable conversations in attempt to learn more, teach more, broaden horizons, and shatter misconceptions. While we might have different cultures (as evidence in church today), we each have something to offer, something to bring to the table, and many things to learn.
Any other suggestions?