During the early 1970’s, approximately at the age of 4 while standing at the bus stop with my mom during a blustery Chicago winter day, I made a new friend. When you are 4 years old it is easy to make friends. My new friend had wispy blond hair and big round blue eyes that were in contrast to my thick black tight curl pattern and big brown eyes. We both wore winter wool coats with a red hat, mittens, and scarves wrapped around our necks covering our mouth and nose for warmth. Her mom was tall and lanky like mine and I recall them talking about the weather, there may have been more to their conversation but I don’t recall. While we stood and waited what seemed like forever for the bus to arrive, my friend and I danced around hugging and jumping to stay warm. It never occurred to her or to me that we were different races, quite simply 4 year olds don’t identify with race. Eventually the bus arrived and later each mother and daughter went our separate ways but not without a big last hug.
When I was 6 years old attending a family cookout in one of the local Chicago Forest Perseveres, I met a new friend who had come to the event with his parents. Like my bus stop friend his name eludes me but he had red hair and greenish/brown eyes. He and I were the closest in age and quickly began to play, run, and jump around the trees. I was truly a tomboy and liked to try to climb trees even though I was not very good at it. We spent most of the day together, since for whatever reason the other boys would not play with him. Just as with my long ago bus stop friend our differences didn’t matter to me. My little friend was someone with whom I could play. Still today, I am teased about my little boyfriend when looking at old home movies, since some of that adventure was captured on 8mm film.
At the age of 8 during a visit to a fairly well off family who lived in the Northern Chicago suburbs, I became aware that to some I was different. My parents were separated for a brief period and on alternate weekends I spent time with my dad. One weekend he took me for a visit to meet his lady friend who worked as a nanny and housekeeper. She was like Alice from ‘The Brady Bunch’ only she looked a lot more like Florida Evans from ‘Good Times’. The family consisted of two boys one my age, one slightly older and a sister a little younger. We played in their very large home even in today’s standards with a front and back staircase from which one of the boys spit into my head. Immediately, I proceeded to go and rat him out but was talked out it. I know that had I done so my dad might be in jail to this day for murder, I later learned he didn’t tolerate spitting especially if it came to his daughter.
We arrived on a Saturday and stayed until Sunday. Early on Sunday morning the little girl and me were playing on the massive front lawn waiting for the children’s grandfather to arrive. Across the street was a church, I don’t recall the denomination. I was busy playing with my doll that was a modern day version of Raggedy Ann, only it was made out of denim for the body with yellow yarn for the hair. Only when the little girl tapped me on the shoulder and said that maybe I should wait inside the house did I notice a group of people across the street. I looked up to see what looked like a sea of pink faces looking at my out of place brown face. At the age of 8, I didn’t understand that people were categorized into races, to me there were pink people, tan people, brown people, etc. Just like when the little boy spit on me, I said, “I will tell my daddy he will get them all for looking mean at me.” Eventually the church bell ringing got their attention and they all went inside the church but that visit is my first introduction to the concept of races and racism.
My associate and me (over the years my mom explained everybody wasn’t necessarily a fast friend) went inside the house. I immediately told my daddy what occurred and said, “I know he would have beat them all up for looking mean at me. ” My dad just gave me a hug and said it would be okay, he didn’t explain why a part of a church congregation stopped in their tracks to stare at me. Quite simply, I was probably one of the few black children they saw having the nerve to play out in the open. Later that morning the grandfather of the family came and took us to breakfast, I initially didn’t think I would be included and went to play by myself. However, the grandfather of the family was a kind person and explained to me about the fact some people saw skin color rather than the heart of a person. I learned that weekend that to the world there are different races but I also learned there are good people who don’t focus on race.
Both of my parents are now decease but they gave me a strong foundation of love that enables me not to focus on the skin tone of others or myself. They taught me that intolerance of others was not acceptable even though from time to time my dad would use the phrase “those people”. I never dated anyone that was non-black, so I didn’t truly test the tolerance of my parents for other races but I am sure if I had they would have been welcomed with open arms. Today looking at the political front it brings questions to my mind if President Obama being bi-racial is cause for some of the extreme hate thrown his way, especially by those from southern states. In addition looking at the struggle to get decent black and other ethnic programming on television makes me believe racism is still very much alive.
In summary, early on I learned that there are people who don’t focus on the color of my skin; however, there is a vast majority that do see a difference based on skin tone. Sadly it took a group of people walking to church to strip away my innocence at 8 years old and introduce me to the concept of racism. Today, I might have different beliefs about racism had the grandfather of the children I visited not been so kind and understanding. He could have easily not taken me to breakfast or treated me differently but he treated me with true Christian and human respect. Sadly there will probably always be some form of racism or sexism in this world; we humans are good at finding some type of ‘ism’ to divide us. Finally, maybe if we remember our humanism we will focus less on the other ‘isms’.