My Race ‘Lessons’

Two very important things have happened in my life which helped me clarify the difference  between race and behavior and how behavior can indeed be related to a race by ‘their’ choice, not by my observation.  Fortunately for me I was raised in what now seems an idealized heterogeneous world………meaning every possible combination of race, religion, disability, sexuality and all the other isms.  Currently I live in what has to be the Craig Venter lab for heterogeneity – N. California bay area -if you can not find it here, it plain does not exist.

My parents raised me in such a way as I did not understand people were different other than good or bad. You were either a good person (however you qualify that) or a bad person, again how you qualify the description. I don’t remember my family using race as a qualifier – it had to do with being involved in the community, being a nice person just because you were and equally, if you were bad, you were bad at the bone, not at the skin. I had a father who made sure I saw the inside of every possible organized religious center (except Mormon, for obvious reasons) and was told he did not care what I grew up to believe as I long as I respected everyone elses views which were sure to be in some ways different from mine.

In addition, I was pretty convinced at a young age I was ‘African’ because we all came out of Africa and I just happened to be lighter skinned (obviously this will upset some one and I am sorry, but I have read the anthropology).  By time I was 10 years old, I knew I was going to the continent of Africa (and I knew it was a continent with very different people as I had met Africans- Muslims, Christians and Animists) and ultimately I did with Peace Corps. My Peace Corps grandmothers looked like me – skin color and nappy hair. They were more surprised their Peace Corps Volunteer was not white and did not have a red one piece Speedo (all the re-runs sold to various African countries of Baywatch). I was ecstatic they looked like me – it was confirmation I was from Africa.

None of this prepared me for two major events which helped me understand behavior.

In graduate school I developed  great friendships with two very important women. One was a light-skinned black women who was a naturalized Jamaican. Her mother had been a maid for white families. When she was 10, she came to America. She gave nobody any excuses for not getting educated and held herself to high standards.  She taught me poverty was a circumstance; being educated was a choice.  I consider this woman my ‘twin’ separated at birth and it is unfortunate we are a few shades off in skin color or we could pass this way!

The other friend was an American/Kenyan.  She was born here to parents who were Kenyan and studied at Cornell University during the time the U.S. wanted to help educate people from Third World Countries.   She grew up in Kenya and came to the U.S. only for graduate school and was going back to Kenya, to improve Kenya.  What I learned from this young woman was that black Americans act in a way that is uncomfortable for black people from other parts of the world.  I learned this when a black man asked her for some change on Broadway in NYC and she said, “You need to get a job and earn your money” and I was upset with her statement. I asked her how she could be that way and that became one of the best discussions of my life in understanding race versus behavior.

I taught for Aspire Public Schools in Oakland, CA when the principal(s) decided to use Your Black Muslim Bakery and affiliated organizations as our security guards.  Other than buying great sweet potato pies at the bakery, I was from S. California so did not know the ‘local’ history.  What I knew for certain was the men who were our guards, who dressed in suits with bow ties, acted oddly and made me more uncomfortable than the neighborhood.  (By this point in my life I had taught middle school in Compton, CA and lived/worked in Harlem, NY, lived in the burbs of Los Angeles and regularly was ‘around during various riots.)  I could not understand what made me uncomfortable – many of the men were attractive, they were somewhat polite but in an abstract way, they did not have Qurans….. So, during a staff meeting, I addressed my concerns in an open forum.  Another staff member supported me. I was later counseled privately  by my principal that I needed to ‘value the community I served’ as in, “You, young lady are racist and can not admit it.”  I was shocked that he was insinuating I was racist, so I went home and contacted my friends of the ‘United Nations’ (what I call my group of everyone from everywhere) and asked them to help me understand what I did that was racist. I told them I was going to make an appointment to see a psychologist to start working on this.   The next day I made the appointment.  I went to counseling. My friends could not give me any pointers then nor now as to what was wrong with me and they really did not think I was racist.  My psychologist felt I was pretty balanced, open-minded, willing to think through issues and did not fall under the typical classification of racist. This does not mean I am perfect, it means I took the situation seriously as I find racism offensive.

Later, over about 10 months, I came to find out who/what The Black Muslim Bakery and subsidiaries was about.  In the 11th month, I learned they were part of the people responsible for murdering Chauncey Bailey. I realized what made me feel ‘ishy’.  I was not used to being around ex-cons.

The one thing my parents failed at was integrating me into a world where I would interact with cons/felons.   I was not too angry though – my dad actually taught classes at the State of CA Women’s Prison in Southern CA and talked about it, but always made it such that society had let these people down, not that they had done something wrong so how could I blame him?  He wanted me to understand it was up to me to shape my community, not that people were inherently bad (except for sociopaths, which was ‘organic’ brain disease).

I know what it means to be the hated/despised one as I have been to South Africa. Many of the white people there dislike Jews as much as they dislike black people.  When I was there, I was a bit scared due to the fact that almost every 7-11 equivalent openly sells neo-nazi propaganda magazines and it is nothing to see swastikas in the ‘ghetto’ and nice areas.  I understand hate as there are people right now running to lead my government in America who believe I am inherently bad because I believe in Buddhism, Judaism and Animism.

I hear elderly people say (parents, parents friends, people here in the bay area of all colors) they do not like when the youth is out and menacing.  It is awkward for the elderly to not feel uncomfortable when people run around with their hoodies up…..do they have something to hide?  Are we kind of living a bit of Clockwork Orange?  I am not old enough to be though of as elderly so I can only go by what I hear.  I do know that a ‘normal’ person feels at a minimum ‘awkward’ (if they are being honest with themselves) when they are in downtown Oakland, at night and see people with hoodies up, pants sagging, etc.  According to what I heard on Michael Krasney today (NPR) when he was talking with people from Castlemont High School in Oakland Unified SD, there are kids which are afraid of the people in their environment.

So, all of this being stated, when some one decides to play the race card(s) as has been done lately (Trayvon Martin), I want to hear what the other side is saying/thinking.  I did not say what the other side is saying or thinking is correct, I want to hear it so I can make a proper judgement call based on my experiences.

I encourage others to ‘hear out’ the other side in the form of what is being called ‘restorative justice’ and then be critical.   In order to address the problem, we really do need to know is it race or is it behavior.  Calling it ‘race’ makes it easier to deal with immediately but dampens the overall issue, clouds up judgement and prevents people from sorting through the layers.

In my opinion, we have more of a problem in this country based on people’s BEHAVIOR and self-respect than we do about color. Heck, we managed to elect a black President.

26 March 2012  Forum with Michael Krasney

http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201203260900

Interview included:  Jabari Gray, James Taylor

And more has been revealed:

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2012/03/26/national/a142150D15.DTL

Particularly of interest is the fact the parents took out rights to trademarks involving their sons name…….

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