Monday, January 18, 2010

~Dear Martin Luther King Jr.,

I was born the summer after you will murdered. I imagine my life is in some ways vastly different than how things were when you left. In other ways, things remain uncomfortably, and sadly, status quo.

I should start by letting you know that my experiences are a tad different than perhaps the "average" white or black person.

More and more people are being born these days who find themselves, like me, a hodge podge of ethnic mixes. My ancestors are black, white, German and Native American. I mention this because, due to it, it makes my viewpoint different, because that ethnic makeup alone- my look, often skews how the other people perceive and treat me. I have caucasian-ish features and hair texture and the look of someone merely well tanned. Most people have no inkling at initial glance "what" I am. While I never think of myself as black or white, in fact, I tend to use "tawny" as a descriptor, as it's always seemed more appropriate to me, if I must be categorized by my skin color. I feel like I shouldn't be reduced to having to claim one or the other, when I am both. How can you deny any of the things that make me, me? I can't. I won't. I don't.

I share this because, obviously, there are extenuating reasons why I don't experience the world as many blacks or whites. Oh, Dr. King, that's soooo not a complaint. No woe-is-me going on here. On the contrary, I've always felt it gave me an extra special view of life as I'm able to see it from the perspective of both sides of the table. Not just an experience from one side of the table, or the other.

I like to think I represent some of your dream in that regard. In part due to happenstance, because it is impossible to be prejudice or bigoted about something that you are. In much larger part, attributable to how I was raised. Which did not include slurs or the mindset that it was acceptable, or appropriate to judge any one by their skin color (nor religion, sexual orientation, economic status, etc.). A quote by our Vice President's mother-- "You're no better than anyone, but no one is better than you", sums up my raising perfectly. I think it's a mindset you would be wholeheartedly for.

This ambiguity of the perception of my race has allowed me entree into a lot of situations where I've seen the best and worst of people.

Although, clearly I had nuthin' to do with it, it's worked to my advantage, like the time I went to the restricted country club down the road. I didn't know. I was 11. My friends were going swimming. They invited me along. I went. I had fun. I had probably never heard the term 'restricted' before in that connotation. It wasn't until I came home and told my Nana where I had been that I began to understand that my looks shelter me from some of the more nasty things that go on in life. Read: had I appeared more black, and less interestingly tawny to others, my lil' swimming excursion may have indeed ended in some sort of less pleasant way. Just this past summer there was some big dust up over some youth group who rented out a private pool, only to be turned away when the youth group showed up comprised of lil' black kids...and that was 2009. My heart went out to those kids, learning such an hate-filled lesson about their world.

My "fortunate" experiences, as the byproduct of ambiguous looks, isn't to say I've been spared my share of ugly incidents.

In ways the world hasn't changed enough, I've both had the n word hurled at me and cavalierly tossed out in my presence. I was once called the n word in church. IN church. During mass. Yep. Some folks still hold pretty strange ideas of acting "Christ like"...and isn't that what Christian's are supposed to be doin'? Many people who hold such divisive views honestly consider themselves to be brothers in Christ. ...Just not brothers with anyone who's skin is a different shade, I guess. There must be some sorta intolerant loophole that I am unaware of.

Unfortunately, I still find myself hearing the n word, by people who would never in a million years consider themselves racist. Yet, they hold such words in their mind and I've always felt if you can hold it in your mind and have it pop out of your hold it in your heart. This still has the ability to both sadden and anger me to my core.

In some ways, it's kinda an odd time in America. On one hand we've managed to vote a man into the White House who like me has the benefit of being made of multiple races. He was elected based on the content of his character, and of course his promise to manage our country better. While this demonstrates a sizable shift in the state of acceptance and perceptions of minorities in our society, I almost feel odd and errie, as if we're on the brink of seeing some awful things from some of our countrymen.

We're in the midst of hard economic times. People are afraid. Fear of change and the unknown has historically been the catalyst for fervent and more demonstrative outburst of racial biased behaviors and actions in our country. The klan didn't start when Africans were brought to our shores, it started after the Civil War when so many white Southerners were frightened by what free blacks might do, how former slaves freedom might change their way of life, and when they were left in terrible economic straights as consequence to the devastation of the war. It was the easily plyable and those with overwhelming fear who took to the klan's message. The klan positions itself as an organization rooted in Christian ideals, making it's message more palatable and "acceptable" to the target audience.

Do I anticipate a cross burning in my yard anytime soon? No. But, I'm seeing a surge in a more subtle and subversive racially based tone happening in our nation. Some talking heads are busily making up all kinds of new buzz words and catch phrases under the guise of commentating on current events, that are just veiled racist rhetoric. Some times not veiled at all. I find it scary, because it to positioned as "acceptable" and many followers don't view it as anything other than that. I fear that too many good men (and chicks) will do nothing and let evil and hate gain a larger foothold in our society.

I'm not an alarmist. I think I'm fairly pragmatic in my assessment of race. I've always said, black people need to look for racism less. Every time something doesn't go your way doesn't mean it's racially motivated. Some times life just isn't fair. On the converse, I believe white folks need to look for racism more. Just because it's not directed at you or you didn't notice it in the course of your everyday doin's, doesn't mean it's not happening. Because, guess isn't fair. You may not experience discrimination (see how the "not fair" thing is working to your advantage), but it is indeed out there. I'm hoping that as we continue to work to make your dream of true equality for everyone, that everyone starts to acknowledge these truths as being self evident.

Before you think we're going backwards, there are so many positive things to take note of. Just last night, the news told me about the U.S. families in the process of adopting Haitian children, and how so many of them couldn't connect with their to-be kids due to the lack of communication. Nine hundred families, many white couples, trying to adopt these little loveable, orphaned black kids. On the eve of your special day, to see so many who Americans who see a child to love and are bringing them into their families despite of the differences in their melanoma, I think would be very pleasing to you.

Interracial couples are also on the rise in America. I'm part of one. I like that the statistics show that when you have a loving heart-- a heart without prejudice, and an open mind, that people are less and less bound by constraints of something as trivial as skin shade as they look for their happiness. Recent Census info reports a rise in interracial marriages to 422,000 in '05, from a reported 65,000 in 1970. To me it just proves that the heart is color blind, but it's the mind that must allow it to be so. It's mind over what matters.

For all of the things we still need to work on to fulfill your dream, I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you that we are a better nation, a better people for your work. I enjoy a life full of opportunities. Opportunities that would not have been available to a lil' brown girl in your time. I realize that my experience is only slightly removed, time-wise, from the nation as you knew it. Race- including relations, perceptions and treatment continue to be a somewhat awkward dance. We're getting better at it. But we don't all of the steps down pat yet. I hope there will come a time when we can report that race, for all, has truly become a non-issue and we are all in sync with one another, for that is when we will shine.

Love & Gratitude,



jamiessmiles said...

What a great post. I'm mixed race myself, but look black and would never "pass" as anything else or ever had a desire too. When I read these things it really makes me glad I live in Canada. I think as a nation we are a little closer to the dream as a whole. Although my mother says that how gays are treated now is how biracial couples were treated when she was my age (and pregnant with me). So I guess it does give hope that we, as human beings DO grow and accept.
We're not there yet, but hey... So much closer than we were. One day I hope everyone will judge a person who they are rather than what they are.

BigBrownGirl said...

Thanks Jamie, I appreciate it.

Not that I've spent a ton of time in Canada, but I've always sensed that you are right about the people being a bit more progressive and evolved in their race dance.

I hate that so many people (everywhere) choose to think that our differences, whatever they may be; skin color, who someone else is sleeping with, religion, etc. are *good* reasons to treat someone else badly. It just seems stupid to me.

All one has to do is look at history to see that things like that, that people have railed against with such vitriol and intolerance such as those issues are always proven wrong and eventually accepted into the societal norm, because yes, even if you don't believe in Darwin, we DO evolve.

I don't know why so many people fight and hang on so tightly to feelings of days are past (or at least passing by). ...Just because you don't wanna be on the bus, and you don't want to open your eyes to the fact that the bus is coming, doesn't mean you aren't about to get run over by it.

But who am I in charge of? Me and Uncle John and even that I only have a tenuous hold over... ;D

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