Civil Rights Fraud

It's always sunny in Austin, Tx.

Yesterday, being Martin Luther King Jr’s day and all, I felt like I should post something. Being the mama of a child who is essentially “African American” I think that it’s expected or something. It’s kind of silly, these expectations I put on myself, because in all reality, I don’t think anyone is really looking around wondering what I have to say about MLK that any other white American woman might say.

Yada, yada, yada, MLK was awesome. He wanted peace. He would be proud of us today for electing a black man as president.

Sometimes I feel like I’m hiding behind this mask that I’m somehow more enlightened or open-minded or something or other because I have family who doesn’t have the same skin color as my own. People give me acknowledged smiles or say vague things about race that I’m not always sure I understand. The longer Annika has been alive, the less I think about the differences about our skin color. And when it happens, I’m jolted back into the reality about how others view us, especially me, from both sides of the racial divide.

I often feel like a fraud when it comes to issues surrounding race. Just because my daughter is black, doesn’t make me an expert. Nor do I feel any closer to the black community because of her race.

Honestly, I felt closer to the issues surrounding racial tension when I lived in Detroit and worked as a reporter (even though I didn’t cover racial topics, necessarily.)

As a mom to a child of color, living in largely white Austin, Texas, I don’t feel as connected to the black community in the way I did when I lived next door to, worked with and befriended a wide swath a people with skin tones darker than my own.

It wasn’t just that I was near them, but I heard them. I heard their complaints. I saw the injustices piled upon a city left ravaged from historic racism and white flight. Detroit is still fighting for its life. And the city is losing.

But here in Austin, I don’t really have many black friends. And the friends I do know, I rarely see. And black folks are seemingly different here, than in Detroit, anyway.

The racial divide is unspoken in Austin, where I’m surrounded by white liberals who talk the talk. We are open-minded and we love Obama. We actively seek out diversity in our schools. We welcome people of color into our inner circles. And amongst my white liberal friends, you will never, ever hear something about a black person that you wouldn’t hear if one was nearby.

After living in Detroit and hearing racial epithets tossed about casually when white was the only skin color around, it’s refreshing.

We white liberals use lots of subtext when we talk about race. We don’t say “those people.” We talk about being proud to live in this day and age. We make casual references glossing over racial discussions. The vague, but strictly pointed subtext lies below. We are open-minded. We are not racists.

But I’m a civil rights fraud. I don’t actively work toward a better future for the racial divide. Other than being open-minded enough to screw outside my race, I haven’t really ever stepped outside my comfort zone to work toward equality.

I know there is still work to be done. Perhaps I could write my senators about laws that need to be passed. The DREAM Act, would be one such law I could support. I could join in the voices complaining about how black men are disproportionately jailed vs white men in the United States.

I could find some displaced youths to attend to. I could join local groups and write letters. I could actively work toward inclusion in our schools and community groups. I could be a mentor. I could point out that white Americans have it better because of history and that the same hard work doesn’t always spell out the same success. It also depends on where you started. White Americans have had a leg up for years. We don’t understand because we didn’t start in the same place.

I could spend more time writing rants about the ridiculous stereotypes I’ve encountered. I’ve only learned about some since Annika was born. One such is the notion that black women are less attractive than other races. This one pains me because Annika is already questioning her looks because of her skin color.

But I don’t. I don’t do these things because, well, because we live in a really nice world. I don’t see the injustices day-to-day. I do think that our country is moving forward. But I think we still have a lot of work to do.

But it’s really hard to do it when I’m surrounded by summer sun, nine months out of the year, public pools, margaritas and breakfast tacos.

We live a good life here in Austin, Texas. While the city is still divided along many racial lines, the intentions are good. It’s hard to remember that in other parts of the world, it’s not so great. I live in my bubble.

So I’m a civil rights fraud, with my biracial baby living in my mostly white world.


  1. says:

    January 23, 2013 at 9:40 am

    Wow, Martha, what a great post! It’s funny, I was thinking the same thing yesterday, “I SHOULD write a post about MLK Day”…but I really didn’t have new or unique anything to say. I’ve had sort of the opposite experience, but probably because I grew up in a very white community and now, through my husband and boys, racial issues have become a much more salient part of my day to day life. But that’s not to say I am DOING anything proactive about the racial disparities that continue to exist.

    Although you may not be doing all of the things you listed to further civil rights (I’m not either – I wish I could say I was!), there ARE things you are doing every day – raising your daughter to have a healthy identity, serving as a living example that love is so much bigger than color, writing thought-provoking posts about race when the inspiration strikes. All of those things matter, too! I think you and I and other families like ours are part of the change that needs to happen – we’re not the whole solution, but we are an important part.

    I’ve toyed with the idea of getting involved with our local NAACP chapter but of course haven’t done it. Your post has inspired me to take a second look at doing that! btw, under the NAACP’s current petitions on their website there is one for Texas Textbooks – apparently there is a law proposed to remove large parts of African American history from the books being used?

    • Martha says:

      January 23, 2013 at 12:05 pm

      Thank you for your kind words Ellie. My post reflects a lot of the feelings I’ve had since moving to Austin and having Annika. I used to be more vocal about racism and I could talk to my black friends (and white too) about racism and all the potential for change. But here in Austin, it’s all so dang white-washed (pun intended).

      I think it’s a great idea to look into the local NAACP and see what kinds of work I could do. Thank you for inspiring ME! 🙂

      • Martha says:

        January 23, 2013 at 12:05 pm

        Oh, and I have a vague recollection about the history books, but I will definitely look into it!

  2. says:

    January 23, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    Thank you for your honesty Martha.
    Civil Rights, Human Rights & Migrant Rights work is emotionally draining and time consuming (and time also equates to money). Our time (and money) is limited, and it’s a very personal choice for us on how we spend our time (and money). When anyone recognizes injustice (which there is much of in our world), we can hope and pray that those who can will contribute some time (or money) to fix the injustices that they find.

    • Martha says:

      January 23, 2013 at 12:35 pm

      I totally agree Glenn. It’s becoming apparent to me that I am needing to find some meaningful volunteer work to get involved with.

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