As a black woman in a marriage with a white man, Black History Month can feel isolating.
There is nothing in particular that my husband or children do to make me feel this way; rather, it is what they don’t do that makes me feel as though I am on an island alone. I realize there is absolutely nothing intentional here, no malicious attempts from my children to NOT remind me that it’s Black History Month. I hope that made sense.
What I am trying to say is it is the lack of interest in Black History Month and the lack of interest in black history in general that causes a deep sense of discomfort at my core. In today’s climate (I am not getting into anything political here), it would just feel nice to have overt communications and actions that reminds me that those I call my immediate family are indeed allies. Especially when I experience covert and/or overt racist and prejudicial behaviors in my everyday life. I wish I was exaggerating.
Just two days ago I went to my usual chiropractic clinic for an adjustment. It was crowded. After swiping my membership card, I found the sole remaining seat which happened to be nearest to the adjustment tables. I figured it was better to place my butt there then to block the entry door. Upon sitting, the woman who was already seated to my left on the couch stood up suddenly, and announced to the air that she was actually next. I said nothing. Being fully aware that I was the only person of color in the room, I took a moment to notice the others in the waiting area. They all looked at me, mostly without any sort of suspicion, but said nothing. The receptionist behind the counter informed the woman that seating has nothing to do with the order in line, that checking in with your key fob or card is what determines service placement. Without correcting herself, the woman plopped frustratingly back onto the couch, her large purse catching my shoulder as it fell back with her against the armrest of the couch. No “Excuse me”, no apologies, no corrections or even a simple, “Oh, OK”. Just an audible huff of disapproval, then silence. She eventually was called and made it a point to miss eye contact with me upon going back and exiting the waiting area. I couldn’t help but wonder, if I were not black, would that have even occurred?
I will never know.
Sadly, it is similar to another experience I had recently at a supermarket I frequent so much that I know the personal lives of the employees because they seem like they sometimes just need someone to ASK THEM how they are today. Anyway, I was placing my items on the conveyer belt at the register. I was only half way through with my groceries before the woman behind me placed the separator bar behind the toilet paper I had placed on the conveyer belt and began placing her items on the belt. I still had a noticeable, undeniable amount of shit in my cart. Even without my progressive lenses, I would have clearly seen that. I admit, I was in shock. Per usual, I checked my surroundings. I appeared to be the only person of color in the area, at the moment. I turned to face the woman directly, who at this point had placed a third item on the belt. She seemed completely unaware that I still had a cart of items to check out.
I took a deep breath and said, “Ma’am, I am not done placing my items on the belt.”
She gazed at me mindlessly and surprisingly with frustration.
I couldn’t help but to ask, “What made you think that I was done?”
I just wanted to know where her head was. She did not respond, but rather, as the woman from the first experience I just shared, chose to avoid eye contact with me and push her three items onto the part of the register that didn’t move. I continued checking out, only to have her get so close to me while I ran my card that I could smell her perfume. She obviously wanted me out of her way, NOW.
This and other experiences, such as meeting my husband at a local bar and grill and being told “He isn’t here”, without knowing who my husband is, or hell who I am, that make me wonder how do I navigate a world as a minority and still represent kindness and compassion to all, regardless of how I am treated. By the way, the woman who told me that is the same woman that readily seated my husband in a booth upon his arrival before me. It is necessary for me to incorporate black history into my family’s lives, but admit feeling isolated for wanting to incorporate this history because in my opinion, it is American history.
Last week I asked my youngest what the middle school was up to in regard to Black History Month.
She quickly responded, “Nothing.”
I stopped preparing dinner. “Nothing at all, baby girl?”
She tucked her long blond hair behind her ear and shrugged. “I guess it would be part of social studies class, but we’re still on the legislative branch of government.”
“Oh,” I replied. But not to be slammed, I tried again. “So Presidents’ day is coming.”
“Yea! Thankfully, we are out of school.”
“Indeed, you are. Did you also know around the same time, well only a couple or so days later, Frederick Douglass died in the late 1800’s?”
She thought for a moment. Thank goodness she’s been around me enough to know who the man is, but to celebrate him and bring him up? She didn’t seem as interested. I went on to share what I learned about him, which is likely how many of us learned about him: not in school, but through our parents and grandparents. And now with the internet, we really don’t have any excuses.
I guess this is my way of venting. I am seeking a connection to my culture in a world that in my opinion seems to uplift the stereotypes of my culture rather than the intellect. The body shape and curves instead of the mind. The shock provoking behavior instead of kindness and compassion. Now nothing is ever one hundred percent. I am noticing a growing thread of individuals, groups, and discussions on and off the internet that give me hope. Hope that I can be seen as more than a nanny because I raise white children. Hope that the tall white guy accompanying me places is not readily assumed to be my boss, but my husband. Hope that when I open my mouth, I hear less and less about the assumption that I wouldn’t sound the way “that you look” (I am not even going to go there).
Yet, I still experience apprehension upon going to public places with my family. Not because I am ashamed of them, but because of how I have been and continued to be treated by some individuals makes me worry my children may have some shame because of me.
I am grateful to announce that they have never expressed anything like that. My kids refer to my husband and I as “my parents”. My kids’ friends either call me my kids’ mom, or call me their mom after getting to know me. I have actually had my eighteen-year old’s best friend (who is white) yell “Mom!” in the grocery store in front of everyone in an authentic attempt to get my attention. My kids’ friends feel welcomed in my home and know they, like my children, have permission to be themselves. I love that my children (four white and one black) fight and love like siblings, and dare someone to assume that they are anything but sisters and brothers.
I shared with my husband that there is a Negro National Anthem. He had no idea, but did not hesitate to hear more. Originally a poem, the words to this song are so beautiful and powerful to me that it continues to encourage me how to live my everyday life. I am somehow connecting to my ancestors through living kindly even through pain, shame, and discomfort. I hope by sharing only a tiny part of my journey with racism and prejudice gives you strength to keep living as well, regardless of your race or ethnic background. And if you choose to love outside of your race, or what others consider “the norm”, more power to you. It is your life and your heart. You can love unconditionally, maintain your culture, and educate those willing to learn.
Featured Image “Strength” Photo Credit: Gordon Johnson (GDJ), Pixabay