Who I am not

Posts like Lloyd’s previous one get to me, which I guess is a good thing because they get me thinking, but…they remind me of being accused as a young child of being racist. You know, I don’t know any young children that are racist, but I’ve never forgotten being accused of it. One incident changed my entire life, and not in a good way either.

I think I was six, seven at the most. I’m white, which I’m saying because it is relevant to my story. I lived in Nebraska at the time, and had never seen a person who was any thing but white til some kids moved in next door to us. I ran next door, excited that they were putting a swing set up, and stopped short because I was fascinated. I wanted to play with them, but I guess I was too busy staring to get “Can I play?” out, because they yelled at me and their dad came out and scooped them up and yelled at me too. At a six or seven year old, who’d done nothing but stare curiously. I don’t even remember what they yelled, but it had to do with me thinking a bunch of stuff that hadn’t even crossed my mind and being someone I was not. I don’t think I ever did play with those kids, but I remember sometimes sneaking over and using their swing when they weren’t home. I hate that this happened, but it did teach me several lessons.

One of which carried over when I moved to Arizona at age 9. My idea of Arizona prior to moving here was that it would be nothing but sand dunes like the movies about Arabia. Once I got here and gave up on the idea of sand dunes, I switched to the idea of Westerns. You know, cowboys and indians. More crap. So I was a little nervous when I got to school and realized that over half of my classmates were people who lived on the Pima Indian Reservation. I’d remembered what happened the last time I so rudely stared at people that looked different from me, so instead I just avoided looking at or talking to them, until the day I was assigned to share desks with them. Then I tried to talk to them, but they avoided me. Maybe they’d never seen a girl with stringy hair and glasses from the midwest before. Maybe they’d heard about those cowboys who shot indians. Maybe they’d had personal experience with discrimination. In retrospect I think we were all just shy.

But again, when I was 18, I got another personal reminder of what people sometimes think. Someone asked me, in front of about 20 other people, “What do you think of when you see a black woman?”

“Nothing,” I said, while thinking to myself “what a stupid question, that’s like asking ‘what do you think of when you see a white woman?’ Why would I think anything in particular?”

I got screamed at. “NOTHING!? You mean black people are NOTHING to you?!”

“Uh, no, I meant I probably wouldn’t think anything in particular.”

Things deteriorated from there, and I left in tears.

Well, I guarantee you that this conversation flashes thru my head now when I see a black woman. Now I NOTICE, and I wonder, is this person going to yell at me too? Is that what that lady intended? Somehow I doubt it. It’s all about assumptions. I get angry too. And sad.

I wish that people would take me for me, not for their idea of me. And I imagine that’s what most people want too.

Maybe we ALL don’t give each other enough of the benefit of the doubt. THAT is what I have really learned.

For the record, my family immigrated to America. They were so afraid of potential persecution and backlash during two wars that they stopped speaking their native language or spoke it only in secret. (I’ve since learned it again.) They were afraid of being rounded up along with the people who were or looked Japanese. They worked as farmers and maids. I’ve cleaned houses and office buildings, cleaned food off stranger’s plates, and swept the floors of a restaurant. I’ve worked for less than minimum wage. I’ve been taken advantage of by someone who knew the laws better than me. I’ve ridden buses in the early morning hours, standing in the cold and sweating in the heat. I’ve even worked illegally in a foreign country for months, although it was certainly not intentional. (Totally a paperwork mixup.) I’ve been told by people that the chances of me ever working legally in the E.U. are small. I vote in every election. I CAN indeed pass the citizenship test. I know my representatives and the names of my kid’s teachers. I don’t fudge on my taxes or intentionally break the law. (But yes, I have sped, although I try not to.) I try to help the less fortunate. I don’t believe that war is the way.

And my family has been here for approximately 146 years.

We’re all of us a little defensive sometimes. I’m just doing it publicly.

Please vote in all future elections, and continue to vote if you already do.

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