Black History Month

Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month, but the history behind this month is much more than that. It dates way back to a much more complicated time. My job is not to educate you on black History month Facts. Clearly, I am not the person for that. Black History month is not about me, but it isn’t an excuse to do nothing. I used to feel uneducated and I just felt so much guilt because I didn’t know how to make anything better for people of color. Then a good friend told me that doing nothing/ saying nothing was a part of the problem. 

What I can lay testament to and share is how I learned about racism and the fact racism forms sometimes without realizing it is ever there… maybe that is also a form of White Supremacy (just not knowing/overlooking). 

Not really racist, right 

I was raised in a southern white family. No one was “really racist” or at least that was what I thought. My grandfather worked with black men, my mom taught black students, the family had black friends. It was not till I was about 13 when I realized that having black people in our lives did not mean there weren’t issues of racism.  

Naming those of color {why can I do this}

I had always had black friends at school, and black friends in girl scouts. The older girls my mom taught would spend hours braiding my hair for school when I was in elementary. I had so much love for our school janitor who was also my mom’s friend, and who worked with my grandfather some. I shared hugs and laughs, and he favored me at school. He also whipped his grandson into submission for grabbing my butt, making fun of me, and then making me cry.  My girl scout leaders, teachers, my high school principal – all people of color in my life then. This sounds stupid for me to list or maybe even so because I can list… However, it is a huge part of my revelation. These people that I loved so dearly meant a lot to me. 

The racism I overlooked

When I asked for my best friend to spend the night, I was told no. When I asked for my friends to come over to play, I was told no. When a girl from girl scouts had a sleepover, I was told no. When I asked why, my grandparents, great aunts and uncles would use the N word as a descriptor for someone of color. When I would voice concern about it, I got answers like, “They’re from another time” (referring to my grandparents and great aunts/uncles). When I began to demand to know who I could not have my black friends over and I got answers like, “We don’t do that” or “their parents would not let them come here either”, I began to realize maybe this was racism rearing it’s ugly head in my family. 

The KKK is real ?

I recall sitting in the living room at age 15 with girls from my school. I did not want to be there but was drug along by my mother. I remembered I was trying to fade out the conversation the girl’s grandfather and my mom were having. Then I heard ”KKK” mentioned and, “We ran those N… Out of town – who do they think they are trying to live on our road.” I was dumb founded. What I knew of the KKK then was that it did horrible things to people of color. I watched movies about the KKK, calling it my self-informed way to learn about the struggle that black people faced. I watched black historical movies as well. Yet in that one moment listening to that conversation, I realized I had no idea. This really still happens? Does it really still exist? Once I was out of that place I never went back and I stayed as far away from that man as possible when our paths crossed. 

I remember laying in my bed that night and I began to cry. I felt fear knowing that man was in the KKK. I remember I did not feel safe and I just wanted to be out of there. As I laid in bed that night, I realized this must be how people of color felt all the time. That fact made me sad and made me feel a deep kind of fear. If people are living in fear they will always be on edge, they will always be trying to defend themselves and this thought stuck with me. 

Teen life & the invisible boyfriend

Life would turn semi humorous in the later years of my teen life as it was found that the answer to why my aunt stopped researching our family tree was because of the black people that were found to be blood relatives. I roll my eyes writing this because if you’re from Louisiana there is a high chance you’re not 100% white. 

After all those things, I still did not fully understand the scope of it all till my favorite person in the entire world (who had only ever once hurt my feelings) rocked me to my very core by showing just how racist he acted one day. I had my very gay and proud friend living with me and my roommate. He was white and my grandparents never had any problem with it. Then my very white friend started dating a black guy, who I fastly became good friends with. It was not too long after we invited him to move in and live with us. I had not told my grandfather anything other than my friend’s boyfriend had moved in.  Well, the day came that he would be over to my house fixing one of the many things we had him fix on the regular and when introduced my grandfather acted like he didn’t even see my friend’s boyfriend. He would later speak right to my grandfather and my grandfather totally ignored him. I had never seen my grandfather act that way. I have never seen him be rude or unkind to anyone for that matter. As it appears, everyone and anyone can be racist. Even people presumed to be good people. And I’m not saying my grandfather was a bad man, quite the opposite. He was a good man and I saw him interact with black people my entire life. When asked about the rudeness, he said he was trying to make the situation the best he could because he was so angry that I was living with a black man. It was just like the relationship with my friend in grade school. I could have her as a friend, I could give her presents and interact with her outside of my home, but don’t ask to bring her home. I never understood, although we did talk about it once. He told me he wished he had handled it better but was in shock and it threw him off. It was not an excuse but a reason. 

There are just things you accept, and after some time you forget you’re accepting them and it just becomes a part of life. I was young and I didn’t realize what I was doing for sure. Once I moved to New York I realized just how small my world was and how I too had a lot of work to do as well on what was normal and not normal in my line of thinking and actions.  

Changing my way of thinking

I learned that I needed to stop saying my family wasn’t racist because they were. I needed to stop thinking like I did because of where I lived. I remember asking when I went to New York and had lived there for a bit, I asked my boyfriend at the time where did the black people live. Needleless to say he didn’t know what I was talking about. I had not seen a lot of black people on Long Island and just wondered where they were. I had to explain that where I was from, the black folks live in certain areas and the white people live in certain areas for the most part. He just rolled his eyes and said, “It is not like that here Evie”. 

My views evolved more when I married a man of color, which was eye opening. I never even thought of us as an interracial couple till one day we were referred to as interracial one. There were some examples of discrimination, such as being seated last instead of according to the number we had, being pulled over and borderline harassed. Then the day came where my heart was held in fear because of the complete hate the entire world was displaying for my husband’s people.  My husband was not black and he was from a good family. None of that mattered when pulled over on the side of the road feeling like your life was in danger. In NYC I actually really didn’t want to leave. In NYC everyone is so diverse. There is so much more ability to be lost in a rainbow of white, black, Asian, etc. The colors of skin just blend together. It’s where you can be you without any of the oppression. 

White privilege and teachable moments

Racism, oppression, and injustice hides within our white privilege even when we don’t mean it to. I never realized what white privilege was. Which was part of white privilege. The way I was raised and the things that flew under the radar for so many years are what kept me from seeing the truth. I now understand through my experiences – my interracial marriage, the realization I wasn’t stopped at the door every time I left a store, and even the interaction with the guy on the train. Let me tell you about that one.  

That moment on the train would forever change me.  It was late at night, and I was on the train early, more than ready to be home. The train soon gets pretty packed and I’m not paying attention or worried for that matter except in my head I am always hoping that if someone sits by me, let them be clean (on the train you can never know). So this guy, probably 20-26 years of age looks down at me from the aisle and asks if he can sit by me. I was like, sure.  He looked clean, that was all that mattered to me. He sits down and after the train starts moving, he tells me thanks for letting him sit. I go, why would I not, the train is public domain. He started to tell me about the other five ladies that turned him down. I was like, are you kidding me about this? He told me every one of them ignored him or flat out said no. I said to him, “I’m so sorry – were they all white?”. Of course they were. 

Be a part of the movement

We can’t change the past or everyone’s thinking, but we can be part of a movement. The movement of accepting what we think or do/did, and changing those things to be better humans. One person showing love can change a man’s day entirely. Just think if everyone showed love and compassion what a movement that could be. Happy Black History month. I am going to be showing love in my stories for the Black people in my life that I appreciate and who inspires me. Comment below those who inspire you!

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