Thursday, March 27, 2008

Thankful Thursday

I am thankful this week to be living in this time in history. The 5th graders that I teach on Wednesday night were discussing, last night, the history of their families. One little girl mentioned that her grandfather had met Rosa Parks. This led to a discussion of civil rights, equal rights, and segregation.
I grew up in a part of this country where segregation was not an issue. It was not an issue because there were no "people of color". I did not meet a black person until I was in high school and we got a new student. It was not a big deal for us - all we cared about at that time and place in our lives were grading curves, SAT scores, and whether or not the new girl was smarter than we were.
It was not until I was around 25 that I actually experienced any discrimination. It was New Year's weekend 1980. My then-husband was a horse-mounted US Park Policeman. The US Park Police are responsible for the security of our country's national monuments and for providing law enforcement services in some of the National Park Service properties. Their horse-mounted division is awesome. That year, they were performing in the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena. I flew down to surprise hubby (and I and then I drove home with him, his partner, his partner's wife, and both horses. The other guys had driven on ahead as we had to stop at the ER for a minor problem (another story, another day).
About 1/2 way home, we stopped to eat, at my recommedation, at a restaurant my family had frequented for years. The four of us walked in and my husband gave our name to the hostess.
We waited. The people who were there before us were seated.
We waited. People who came in after us were seated.
We waited. More people were seated.
I asked if there was a problem. I was informed they were busy. I asked to see a manager. I asked if there was a problem. I was informed that they would seat us soon.
They did. I did not even know there was a table that close to the kitchen. I will admit here to being slow. I, pampered, sheltered, spoiled little girl, had NEVER been treated so shabbily. It took me more than a second or two to figure out what was going on.
My husband's partner and his wife were, I think, more embarrassed for me than for themselves. They had both grown up in the Washington, DC area and were more familiar with this insidious form of discrimination than I could ever be.
I did not react well. I did not react graciously. I did not stop to think about whether or not my friends needed me to turn into some kind of Valkyrie in a public restaurant.
Suffice it to say, we left. We did not eat. We were not served. We bought some junk food at a convenience store and went home.
What does this have to do with being thankful? I am thankful that, in the few short years (and in the grand scheme of things, 53 years is a short time) since Rosa Parks, such HUGE strides have been made in the area of civil rights in this country.
I am thankful that, when my oldest daughter was in kindergarten, that very same year, her best friend was black. Her black friend had a white mother and a hispanic father, along with an oriental brother.
I am thankful that my grandson's friends are just kids. I have NEVER heard this child identify any person by their color.
I am thankful that the kids in my class reminded me to look at the progress we have made instead of focusing on the progress still to be made.
PS: I know that the word hispanic should have been capitalized. I chose not to. I would not capitilize white or black and I do not care to call hispanics brown.


The Rotten Correspondent said...

Very well said, Sandy. I couldn't agree with you more.

tiger lamb girl said...

I love this post, Sandy. It really illustrates how insidious discrimination can be.

I'm so grateful my children lived their formative years in the Middle East and went to school with children of many different backgrounds (and colours).

My children don't see colour. At all. They just see people.

My son's first crush was on a little Arab girl. His second crush was on a little Indian girl. His third crush was on a little white girl.

My daughter's bff is half black/half white. She stayed with us 4 summers ago when we first bought our house (in the English countryside, where hardly anyone of colour lives). I remember being bewildered at how people kept asking us, wherever we went, if 'she' was 'mine'.

My answer? (I was slow the first time I was asked, but then it dawned on me...). "Yes, why do you ask?"

I was pleasantly relieved to find out that most were simply curious.
I don't remember anyone being nasty -- aside from one or two who were 'uncomfortable'. But that's just ignorance on their part.

I understood that by the mere notion of them asking - it could potentially leave a negative effect on her. Hence my reply of 'yes, why do you ask'.

I also looked at it as an opportunity to talk a little bit about racism with the kids - to give them a little history (having grown up in the South). All three of them were astonished to find out that there were people in the world who judge others based on their colour. Thankfully, that is still changing for the better.

bermudabluez said...

This post rocks, Lady!!! I grew up in the same way that you did and it never would have even dawned on me! There was only one black person in my entire high school. I'm so glad that in today's daughter's friends and their kids...color just doesn't matter. As it should be!

Gattina said...

The same could have happened here in Belgium. And today my son is god father of two little half black girls because one friend is black married with a Belgian and the other is white married with a black English.

Sayre said...

This was a great post, Sandy! And I agree with you - I wish the whole world could look through my son's eyes. To him, skin color is just a part of a person - like blue eyes or red hair. It has nothing to do with what's on the inside - where we are ALL red.

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