I struggle with racism. I am embarrassed by my past and what I carry forward. I’d like to say I’m not a racist, but having grown up in a racist society, who am I kidding?
I consciously fight racism and try to greet each person or situation with a positive intent, yet there are fleeting thoughts from years of racist programming. Whether it’s memories from a TV comedy skit where the black man answers “yessa massa” to the white man; or of living in New York and having friends’ parents say “lock your doors” as we drove through black neighborhoods; or another parent saying put your hands over your necklaces as we walked the streets; or another telling me I looked like a nigger woman from the fields when I wore a bandanna.
My parents were never overtly racist although it was all around us. Growing up, we lived in a white neighborhood on Long Island and had no black friends. There was one black kid in my middle school and just a hand full in high school. My exposure to people of other races was limited and fear and racism were subtly and not so subtly imposed. We were told the Hispanic families that lived in the next town over were dirty “spics”. I would look at people of color and try to imagine what their lives were like. I was curious, though recognized my people are different than your people.
My father had an employee who was a Chinese immigrant, a widow and single parent. She and her son would join us on holidays and other events; they would always bring exotic foods. We loved them. But again they were different, they looked different, smelled different, cooked different. I wasn’t taught different was bad, but there were subtle social queues that implied different didn’t belong in the same way that our white friends did.
Of course, as I became more independent and explored the world, I could see the limited perspective I had grown up in. If not conscious, we can become victims of our cultures and limit our opportunities for love. And while I now intentionally fight racism, my childhood memories still linger, and I am ashamed of them. I know I am not alone in this.
There is a meme “Never be defined by your past. It was just a lesson, not a life sentence.” Yeah, I’m trying.