Thursday, July 1, 2010

Are They Called Negroes?


She was by far the oldest person at the family reunion. She shuffled around and everyone stooped down to explain, help, and give reverence to the reigning matriarch of the occasion. I’m not really sure how we are related, great aunt, great cousin in-law, I have never been all that close with this side of the family.

I found myself sitting next to her at a banquet table one evening. “what nationality is she?” she asked me, referring to my daughter, who was sitting near us.

“Her Mom is African-American.”

“Afro what? African? Amrination?” she struggled.

“Her Mom, my wife, is black,” I simplified.

“Oh. Well ya never know. Sometimes they adopt ya know. Now where exactly is Philadelphia? What is it near?”

I thought about how to answer her question and took the easy way out. “Its near New York.” I was not prepared for what she asked next.

“Now, there’s lots of Negroes in New York right?”

I don’t recall exactly how I answered. I think I stammered some sort of affirmation trying to be respectful to both an old lady and a whole race of people.

“Nancy says I’m not supposed to say Negro. Is it Colored? I just don’t know what to say. What was it you said earlier? AfreeMerin?”

She doesn’t hear all that well, so I thought it best to just stay simple, “just say black.”

“They used to be really mean to them I think. Wouldn’t let them sit on the busses, go to school. I just don’t know, but I think that wasn’t right. I just think it was mean. But it’s better now, right? That’s all done now isn’t it.”

I could have answered her a million ways. I could have been upset, could have just dismissed her entirely, or climbed high up on my horse and lectured my senior. I imagined what my wife’s face would have looked like had she been here to hear the whole exchange; mouth open, one eyebrow arched higher than the other, head slightly to the side.

“It was worse than mean. It was more than wrong. Things can still get better.” Is all I said.

I should explain something about this woman.
Earlier that same day the whole family had taken a trip to not only where this woman grew up, but where she has spent nearly all her life; Lyman Wyoming. I stood in front of a small wood home, looked right, looked left, turned all the way around and saw nothing but that house. Not a tree, not a building, nothing. Nothing all the way to the horizon in all directions. For most of her life she had to travel just to see another person. I think she may have met a total of 2.5 black people in her whole life. It has been a long life. Lest one think this isolation would amplify the affects of media, I should mention that for most of this woman’s life, they had no power. They had no power, as in influence, but mostly just in that they had no electricity. They lived “off the grid” as the hipsters would say today, but they did it in the 60’s.

What should I expect from a woman who lived in Wyoming with no TV during the 60’s? She is the equivalent of the average American today and our awareness of the state of indigenous tribes in Central America.

She is the generation of my grandmother. What should I expect her to have taught her children about race? Should I have expected her to address such an abstract in her world at all? We learn what we know through teaching and experience. On this subject she neither had, nor could give either.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this one. -Kim

Anonymous said...

First, it would be presumptuous of us to refer to any black person as african american. Their bloodline may not be african and they might not be american.

Second, I do agree that things could be better for their race, but not at the cost of losing our own heritage as society seems to be turning towards. It is almost shameful to be white and proud of it. You get called a nationalist or racist.

Third, Changes should occur on the black race more than it should be on any other. Their race needs some major improvement and it needs to start within. ie lose the thugs

brohammas said...

Anon, nothing is wrong with white eprson being proud of your heritage but your third point is what is most likekly to get you called out as racist or nationalist.
To say black people have a need to change their society, due to thugs and whatnot, more than the rest of us, shows your bias.
EVERY race has their "thug" element, and if this is bad, all should change. Thugs are no more representative of black people than the Klan is representative of white people.
Saying another group needs to change, while not pointing out your own, and basing that group on race, does in fact smack of racism.

How in heavens name is "white culture" at risk of being lost? What is "white" culture? I am an American and I see nothing in what has always made one an American that should have anything to do with race.

Yes, there is a historical precident in American culture that sought to exclude people of color.... but the faster that part of my culture can be lost, the better.

brohammas said...

Should I aslo mention that by your logic it would be presumtuous to call any white person American or European?
They may not be of European descent and might not be American?

You are missing the point.

BigmacInPittsburgh said...

I don't believe most white americans are intersted in real change.
The only change that I see coming from white america is change demanded by laws.
And then most white americans seem to fight those laws tooth and nail.
We can hope and strive for change but honestly I don't see it coming.

brohammas said...

BiginPitt, I can understand why it would look that way to you. A sad reality is that you are right but I would say it is not for the reasons you think.
In my experience, coming from the whiteset of worlds and still having deep connections with that world, white people do not seek change because they do not realize it is needed.
As the woman in the post demonstrates, albeit at an exaggerated level, most white people in reality have little to no contact with actual black people or understanding of the reality of black life in America.
Most white people are good at heart, at least as good at heart as any other group, we simply don't get it.
What many see as subtle racism is really just overt ignorance.

Anonymous said...

BiginPitt,
What "change" can you possibly be waiting for in 2010, that needs to be legislated? Your comment is confusing if not antiqated.
Anonymous, I'm glad Brohammas replied to your comment so I don't have to.
Let's not make excuses for this woman-ignorance is not bliss. It is shameful. It speaks to the neccessity in our day of being aware and proactive, lest we years from now be seen as ignorant and old.
-Kay

uglyblackjohn said...

@ Brohammas and Misshammas - I'm sure you've both noticed by reading the posts of many other bloggers that an effort has to be made to gain a better understanding of other groups.
If one has never had the opportunity to make a change, no one should expect that person to have changed.
My only issue is with people who chose to be ignorant - not with those who have never had the chance to grow.

Corbie said...

Beautifully written, Dalyn.

Mr. Noface said...

I agree with UBJ, there is a difference between ignorance (not knowing a thing) and stupidity (knowing that you don't know a thing yet refusing to get informed).

For people, change doesn't happen in a vacuum. New people, cultures, situations, experiences, ideologies, perspectives, etc are all the catalysts for change in people. If a person has never had a catalyst, you can not fault her for not changing (growing).

That is contrasted however, by someone encountering all those catalysts, yet refusing to allow them to help her grow. This is when one goes from ignorance to stupidity (which is the mother of racism, sexism, and most other isms).

Daij said...

You're a good writer. I enjoyed reading this piece