In this final to our three-part series, Dawn describes her personal journey and asks the question of Ahmed what now?
When I was in elementary and middle school I lived in Indianapolis, Indiana. During the years that spanned Kindergarten through 6th grade I only remember one black student. There may have been others, but they didn’t live in my neighborhood and I didn’t interact with them. After my parents divorced I moved to Florida and briefly attended the very small private school associated with my grandparents church. There were no black students there either. About the time I was starting high school my grandparents bought a farm in the rural areas of Tallahassee. The middle school bus that picked up my brother drove toward town and the more affluent neighborhoods. The bus that transported me headed the other direction toward the poorer mostly black community.
There were only three white students on my bus. I was the first picked up and so had the longest ride every day. Next was my best friend who lived in the middle of that small community and whose mother owned a store where most all the residents had credit accounts. The last girl was a very cute, quiet student who got on as the last pick up of the route only a few blocks from the school.
Because I was on the bus the longest I had the most opportunity to get to know the other passengers. If you were to meet me today you would likely have a difficult time pegging me as timid, or shrinking. But even now confrontation is not my first line of defense and one that raises my blood pressure. However, back then was a different story. A few of the guys I rode the bus with took a shine to me and would often make verbal advances and plead their case for why I should hang out with them. That alone was uncomfortable for me. But the really difficult part was that their attention made me a further target for the girls.
On one day in particular I sat in complete terror during the bulk of the trip while one of the girls continued to flick pennies at the back of my head. As my first significant exposure to members of the African-American race this was not a positive experience for me. As I got older I found myself attracted to black men on more than one occasion. However, while there had never been any discussion about it I’m sure I would never have taken one of them home to my family or even have been seen regularly in public with them. I couldn’t have explained it I just somehow knew it wasn’t acceptable and not a battle I had the strength to wage.
When I joined the Marine Corps in my mid 20’s there was an admin clerk who worked in my office. She was white, but only dated black men. The other Marines in my shop referred to her as a mudshark. The significant difference with this young woman was that her entire personae changed when her love interests were around. Suddenly her actions and speech changed completely and she became very “ghetto” an act that disappeared when she was among her primarily white coworkers.
As an unrelenting observer of human behavior always in search of answers about my motivation and that of others I’ve long been bothered by a strange tendency I see in our conversations. How many times a day do we hear someone tell a story and point out the ethnicity of the parties involved even when that fact has no relevance to the story at all? It said to me that despite what we tell ourselves or want to believe, most of us still see skin color in a very distinct and not always positive manner. I myself used to be content with the idea that as long as I only judged people based on their actions it wasn’t really racism. My dating profiles claimed I simply wasn’t attracted to anyone not of my ethnicity.
But I knew that wasn’t true. For me attraction is every bit as much about the mind as it is the body and I’ve found myself drawn to men of all different genetic makeup over the years. I just wasn’t confident enough to stand up to anyone else’s bias and therefore remained unwilling to make changes in my life more inline with my happiness. However, about six months ago I met someone who seems to have been the catalyst for that change. The man himself is a bit of a tool. From meeting one I knew we weren’t relationship material. But something about that 6’7″ of sexy Texan cowboy combined with all the personal epiphanies I’d had over the last couple years turned the tables for me. And it was the most liberating realization and experience ever. To be able to enjoy someone’s company, hold their hand across a dinner table and see them simply as a human being for which I have great affection irrespective of their skin color is way more comfortable for me than the lies I told myself before.
For the first time in my life I feel the freedom to make my choices completely unhindered by what criticism I might face. I know with complete confidence that I’m willing to challenge and even welcome anyone who sees me or my choices as wrong simply because of their own unacknowledged insecurities.
If you missed the show notes for Part 2 of the Racism series, Dawn talked to Tom DeWolf, about his book Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History, in which he traces his ancestor’s involvement in the slave trade, and comes to terms with his past.
You can learn more about Tom at his website. He is also involved in Coming to the Table, a non-profit dedicated to provides leadership, resources, and a supportive environment for all who wish to acknowledge and heal wounds from racism that is rooted in the United States’ history of slavery.
He also co-wrote Gather at the Table:: The Healing Journey of a Daughter of Slavery and a Son of the Slave Trade with Sharon Morgan. Sharon, who is the descendant of slaves, and Tom met through their work with Coming to The Table. The book chronicles their journey together and they investigate their shared, although vastly different, histories, and discuss the last legacy that slavery has left in this country.