Racism and Race Relations – A Jaxs Throwback Thursday
Racism and Race Relations – In My Relationship
With the passing of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday and the release of the new movie Selma, thoughts of race relations and how they’ve played a part in my life and relationship thus far have bubbled up to the surface. I felt the need to write about it to release it from my baggage.
I happen to be in a mixed relationship: I’m black, he’s white. It reminds me of that old song:
She was black as the night
Louie was whiter than white
Danger, danger when you taste brown sugar
Louie fell in love over night
Hey man, what’s wrong with that?
Nothing bad, it was good
Louie had the best girl he could
When she took him home to meet her mama and papa
Louie knew just where he stood
Both sets of parents may not have agreed with our choices for themselves, but thankfully, they were completely supportive of our decision to make it in this world together. I’ve experienced racism in my younger years, but to a child sometimes it goes unnoticed. You better believe hindsight is 20/20. Thanks to my parents for taking us places and showing us different sides of life. I was fortunate, and presently I stand truly grateful for the experiences. I’m happy that hate never had the chance to shape who I am today.
Hubs and I have had the privilege of living in several different locales during our relationship. Our first place of residence was in the state of Florida. I was fresh out of college, young, wild and free, taking on my first real adventure. I was working in theater in what I deemed the retirement capital of the nation, St Petersburg which is where I met Hubs who happens to be a Florida native.
Being a (proud) native New Yorker, I’ve greatly benefitted from experiencing many racially diverse situations, learning how to get along with different kinds of people. Nonetheless, after being there a while I could sense a hint of bias lurking underneath the top layer.
Turns out I was right, because this would be the first place I would ever experience unequivocal racism as an adult. One day I was walking to the theater, when a group of white guys (Hubs called them rednecks) came riding by in a truck with a gun rack visible in the back, yelling out “go back where you came from n____”.
I was more than taken aback, but what I really wanted to say was “uh, did you mean go back to New York, because that’s the only place I’m from!” I had an arsenal of choice words I could have spewed in retaliation. In spite of my thoughts, I knew it best not to engage. Hey, I was not trying to get hurt, or killed for that matter.
Did the experience bother me? Yes indeed it did. Here I am 1000 miles away from my family and the first time away on my own at 19 years old. Yes, it worried me, not knowing if it would happen again or, heaven forbid, get worse during my stay. Keeping in mind that I was in a place with an overwhelming elderly population prone to having different views on race relations, I kept my head up and continued to go and do what I wanted to do. This turned out to be an isolated incident, but I never let my guard down after that happened.
Hubs got a job offer which then led us north to Connecticut. This was probably the worst place I’ve ever lived. Connecticut please don’t be upset with me, because I thought you were beautiful and a nice place to live, but some of your people – some. . .well that’s a different story.
Overall, Nutmeggers or Connecticutians (your preference) were generally nice, but there was just this air of “stuffiness” for lack of a better word. Saabs reigned supreme, parked next to their large homes and manicured lawns. However, stuffiness was nothing worthy of our concern.
Why was this the worst place I’ve ever lived? One day Hubs and I took a trip to a town called Meriden to do a little shopping. We did our shopping, had some fun, and decided it was time to get on back home. We packed our bags in the car and proceeded towards the parking lot exit. As were driving towards the exit, to both of our disbelief and absolute horror, we saw about 20-30 men standing around the exit – dressed in WHITE ROBES and HOODS – full regalia! There was a rally going on. I couldn’t even tell you if the cops were present, because my gaze was locked in another time.
We got stopped by the light at the exit, about 2-3 cars back. Even though we were in public with cars and people all around, somewhat safe in the car, I think it was the most frightened I had ever felt in my life. I looked at Hubs and the look on his face mirrored my own. The tension in the car was so thick I could hardly breath. It felt like a vacuum had sucked all of the air out of the vehicle. I just couldn’t breath.
A situation similar to that of passing a very bad accident on the highway: you don’t want to stop and look, but you are simply compelled to do so. Now, I’ve heard stories from my elder family members about the KKK, and learned about them in school, movies and television, but never did I EVER think I would come face to face with hatred in the flesh. It was like seeing a truly frightening ghost. . .but this was REAL!
We kept our gaze forward and drove through when the light finally changed. As we did, they spewed their hatred and rhetoric. We tried to remain calm and drove out of there as fast as hell. We were not looking for trouble or confrontation that day. Looking back, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced those feelings in my life, either before or after this incident. I will never forget staring racism right in the face.
Finally, it was time for Hubs and I to return to New York, and I was more than happy to be back home again. Hubs had no problem living uptown in Harlem. This was during the time when Harlem was probably 95% black. It was still a time when most whites would exit the #3 train between 96 and 100th streets. Almost everyone treated him fine. However here is where the tables turned and it was his time to experience a form of racism.
I asked him one day “how do you really feel about living here?” “Great” he said. Although, he then relayed a story to me about the times when he would walk home from the train station and black guys would spit across his path. They would never say a word, but he knew exactly what it meant. He would continue on about his business and keep it moving.
The discrimination did not end with him. I received my share as well. There was an occasion where we were standing, holding hands waiting to cross the street. A car full of black males made a left turn off the foot of the 138th street bridge in front of us. As they turned, they asked me “what’re you doing with a white man, sister”. Hell, I am no SISTER of yours, because my BROTHER would stand in support of whatever I choose to do. I don’t question my brothers when they choose to engage with white women. Why the double standard?
At this stage of the game and with growth in my life, I chalked it up to ignorance and refused to let it bother me. I don’t have time to be bothered by ignorance.
In our current residence which happens to be in Upstate New York, I’m surprised at how many of my neighbors up here don’t even travel down to the city often, or ever! It is definitely a different mindset. Most people I encounter are really very nice, but sometimes I feel like I’m back in Florida. I get the stares and the looks, especially when I’m performing in a club and I come walking in solo. I see it and I feel it.
I had an incident at a bar where the owner hired my band to work the night. When I walked in, he immediately had a problem. He moved me and my friend (who also happens to be white) from one table to another, and another still, claiming he needed them for his customers. My telling him that I was part of the band did not ease up his attitude.
By the third table I was DONE! This time I decided I had to say something. I told him I did not appreciate him treating me in such a manner when all I was there to do was make him some coin for his bar! I went up to my band members and told them I was seconds from walking out of the door. I knew this man was doing this solely based on the color of my skin. There were other (white) people in the bar sitting at tables, but my friend and I were the only ones “in the way”.
My band brothers went and had words with him, and I felt satisfied enough to go and make MY money. If I had left, it would have been what he wanted, but now he was not only going to have to deal with me, he was going to have to PAY me too.
Not tooting my own horn, but when he heard how good the band played, and how I worked that crowd into a drinking frenzy, he came with a bull-ish offer of a free dessert. I (not so politely) declined, spun on my heels and walked away thinking “you’ll never have the chance to pull a Kizzy on me! Later that night I found out that one of my brothers also received the same treatment from this guy. This is how I knew it was racial, because this band mate, although Italian, he works in the sun a great deal and he is just about as dark as me. The rest of the members are white and they were treated well. No matter, they stood up for me and were ready to leave if I decided to go.
We did get a little poetic justice that night, because the same band mate the owner mistreated helped himself to a little treat on the house. Let’s just say a bottle of Jack after a gig is not a bad thing – and that’s all I will say on that subject. Wrong or not, it felt good.
Through all of this, I have learned that forgiveness is key to maintaining who I am and what I believe. Hate breads hate. Conflict causes conflict. Attacks attract attacks. In myself, love breathes and is alive in my heart. A personal attack is not worth dying over. I thank God for the life I have lived and continue to live, and for the knowledge, love and understanding in my heart. My goal now in life is to reach one and teach one, and break down the walls of ignorance.
As I close out this week, planning to go see the movie Selma in the very near future, I am reminded of the words. . .
Race relations in my relationship have always been great and have never been better. I thank each and everyone who came before me and paved the way, making it possible for me and my husband to take this journey together. I will always remember my story and where I came from. I will always stand proud in my blackness, never compromising my beliefs, and never judging others by the color of their skin, but rather the content of their character.
When you choose love over hate, nothing else matters.