I just told a story to my sister from a long time ago which I have clung to as an example of being mistreated and patronized. But listening to her reaction I realize I may misjudged the person who I thought was misusing me. I have learned over the years that my memories are often faulty and I erased certain things that did not fit my perspective. For example I tell people that we moved from an all black neighborhood to an all white one just 8 blocks away. In reality our next door neighbors were a white couple including a man who drove a truck for the bakery around the corner. My sister, who is six years older than me, remembers that I broke a window in our neighbor’s house and mom made me go over and apologize. Mom paid for the window and after that we had a wonderful relationship.
However things did not go as smoothly with me. Perhaps it was due my personality as I was introverted and I would sometimes lash out at people. One of my hobbies was playing baseball and listening to the games on the radio. The top player at that time was Willie Mays. Well, as luck would have it, our neighbor would ask me about Willie Mays whenever he saw me. One day I told him that there was more to me than Willie Mays. I don’t recall that the man said another word to me. Looking at it from the man’s perspective, Chris that that was how men related to other people. Especially boys. I could have told him a little bit more about me that he could use to talk about. Instead I shut off communication.
This brief story suggests that there might be a value in looking at a situation from the standpoint of the other person and wonder what they are thinking of me as we interact. Am I communicating what I hope to be saying or are they hearing something very different from me? What do you think?
Debby Irving traveled a path from isolated childhood to involved and doing good work in the inner city during her adulthood as she explained in Waking Up White. She raised money, taught school, attended diversity workshops and generally was a good person. But it seemed that her experiences were h0llow. The hollowness resulted from the fact she had not confronted her whiteness. She had grown up thinking that childhood was like every else’s. The baby boom men came home from the war, got married, went to school on the GI Bill and bought a house financed with government assistance. But her aha moment arrived when she enrolled in a course at Wheelock College in Cambridge, Massachusetts on racial identity.
She saw a move Race-the Power of an Illusion that uncovered the history of government enforced discrimination in housing, education and almost every area of life. We have been running in an uneven race. In the white privilege workshop, Dr. Eddie Moore illustrated the concept of white privilege by using a movie that showed a white person at the starting line several steps of the black runner. As history progresses from the 1600s until the 1960s the black man finds himself slipping further and further behind. Finally in the last 20 years, the black man begins to break new ground only to be struck down by shortened life spans. African Americans die much earlier than white people in America. The black man in he race was Patricia Raybon’s father and the white runner was Debby Irving’s father with generations of privilege.
We must do what we can to help remain in the race. The picture above is the famous jazz musician John Coltrane who died at age 40 after a life struggling with heroin addiction and alcoholism. So, this blog entry has many purposes. One is to tell of the racial awakening of Debby Irving as she understood the various advantages she had enjoyed and was unable to see for so many years. But another purpose is to encourage African-Americans, including me, to live healthier lifestyles. My mother is 92 so I have a long way to go before I sleep.
Well, my faithful reader no doubt remembers the story I told a few weeks ago about mom’s struggle to corner the market on walnuts. Apparently this is a lifelong obsession as a small woman barely 5 feet tall in her old hometown looking for walnuts and walnut trees. When she moved into the big city she was able to continue her habit and even having a truck full of squirrels who had cleared out her pickup bed could not deter her.
Apparently I was unaware of this walnut collecting when I was growing up. Surely I would have run away instead of hanging around after the squirrel story. Well I am visiting mom for thanksgiving and my older sister Chris was fussing with mom about the walnuts. Mom was excited telling about the two bushels of these things she has squirreled away in the basement. Well after Chris went to the store, Mom brought me down to the basement to show me she even has a secret stash that even Chris didn’t know about. It is hard to deter a woman who is obsessed with collecting things.
You more or less have to pick your battles If you see a story of an airline passenger being caught smuggling walnuts, you’ll probably make the connection that it was me. Every family has a few nuts and mine has more than its share.