Tuesday, April 1, 2008

How it feels

More Oregonian newspaper reactions, this time to an opinion piece published by a black woman living in Oregon and feeling alone and misunderstood. It was called 'What it feels like to be Black in Oregon".

Race is on my mind with Obama's race speech so recently given.

I was hoping that her words would give me some insight but instead they reminding me, yet again, that its all so particular and subject to the 'eyes of the beholder'.

It didn't help that the piece was all about feeling and not hung on specific details. However, I do admire the writer for giving voice to her reactions to us white Oregonians.

We white Oregonians have to be odd to watch. When I was growing up, Oregon had very few African Americans, I remember when my entirely white, and fairly upper-income, high school was integrated. The black kids that were bused to our school where very different then I was expecting. I was expecting white people with black skin. I though the only difference would be the skin color.

Well they were quite different at least in the superficial ways that high schoolers notice. They were poorer and tougher than we were. I can't say I connected with any of them and it was a shock. Now looking back, I can't imagine what a shock it must have been to them.

I am a little more sophisticated now. I live in a multicultural neighborhood and for a while I flirted with the idea that racism was basically over. I saw how common and matter of fact my kids were around people of other ethnic backgrounds. They didn't ignore race but it was no big deal. Racism is over, the kids will make it go away, I thought. Plus the sheer number of different races was diluting the intensity of Black and White interaction. It isn't all about that old history of slavery I thought.

But I had an epiphany at church brought on by a story from an older white woman. She stood up and told about getting on a bus in Washington DC during world war II and having the bus driver order some black kids off the bus. They wouldn't sit in the back.

It hit my liberal phantasy about the end of racism, pretty hard. This woman is still alive and she has this memory of active institutional racism. These stories are still in peoples heads, in their memories. Even the young ones have heard the stories. And unfortunately, they probably have a few of their own.

I do believe it is better. I do believe that the young ones are the way. But it isn't going away in a generation. Maybe not in two, three or four. Racism is real if you have seen it or your father or grandfather have felt it. Its not a paranoid fantasy of black people. It should not be treated as such.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Katie, I love this blog.
I grew up with a few people who practiced a sort of reverse racism. They were way nicer to people of other colors than they were to whites.
Thanks for giving the perspective of someone with kids. I need to hang out with more kids.