Today I’m hosting a post from a new internet friend, blogger, Only-Mama. She reached out to me after my post in Brain, Child, intrigued at the thought of writing about racial topics as a white woman. Having written about race/racism once on BlogHer, this brilliant piece, A White Girl’s Thoughts on White Girls Acting White, Only-Mama said she wanted to give another try on my blog.
Her blog, while funny, irreverent and chock full of details about single parenting, doesn’t typically focus on such heavier topics. I liked the idea of working with someone who wants to explore her thoughts on race, culture, and racism, from a perspective of someone whose life doesn’t have the daily undercurrent of thinking about the racial divides.
So, here you go. A post about how a white woman came to realize early on in life that she was not colorblind, although, at the time, probably didn’t realize what she was learning. If you’re a blogger and also would like to explore this kind of topic, see the bottom of the post for more details.
When I was 14, one of my best friends was a 6’2″ black guy named Ty. He gave me piggy back rides around school and I ran to his house in tears whenever I got into fights with my father, which was often. We became friends for the simple reason that we lived next door to each other and were the only two people at our bus stop. We both lived with our fathers, we both went to the same school. At that age, that was enough common ground to form a friendship, particularly when you add in that indescribable something that makes certain people click.
Ty dated a friend of mine for awhile and took another to prom, but mostly he and I had different social groups. We rode the bus to and from school together everyday, and if I saw him in the halls, I’d hurl myself at him and give him a flying bear hug. I wasn’t exactly shy about being friends with Ty But I never met any of his friends, and I was aware that the black girls at school didn’t like me hanging around him. We didn’t talk about it – it was just the way things were. I wasn’t welcome in his social circle.
I moved away, and later on in high school I had a few black friends, but no one I connected with enough to hang out with outside of school. We might sit next to each other on the bus or talk during class, but we never acknowledged that we were different colors. We all pretended to be colorblind.
I tried, once, to bring up race with a black girl I was assigned to mentor during my college internship. I worried that she wouldn’t be able to relate to me, or that inherent prejudice all Americans are raised with would would create a stumbling block. I brought it up with all the finesse of a college student not even old enough to drink.
I think I said something along the lines of, “Look, I’m white, in case you didn’t notice. Is that gonna make you uncomfortable?” She said that she was colorblind, but never came back to talk to me again.
When I was in my 20s, I met a girl named Jo through some mutual friends. Both of us were in a lull between best friends and hit it off right away. We hung out constantly, occasionally even sleeping at one another’s houses after a late night out. She was the first black person I ever met that would admit that she was black and I wasn’t.
Maybe it was because Jo was from the Caribbean and didn’t grow up in the U.S., maybe it was because she was just really comfortable with who she was, or maybe it was just because she found it interesting to talk about. At any rate, she didn’t shy away from her natural curiosity.
“Why do white girls always…?” Was a common question, and “black people don’t …” her ready excuse for not going along with my plans for swimming, rollerblading, or windsurfing. We knew we were talking about our own experiences, though, and not asking each other to be a poster child for an entire race. It was just a way to talk about our own experiences. When she said, “black people don’t swim,” I knew she meant that she didn’t swim, and that conversation became the interesting one, not any greater discussions on racial opinions of water sports. (And she did wind up swimming.)
She tried to set me up with a friend of a guy she was dating once so we could go on a double date. When I asked her what my blind date was like all she would say was, “I don’t know, he’s white.” Jo and I laughed about it a lot later, as it turned out that just being white wasn’t enough to make a good date, not by a long shot.
We talked clothes, makeup, boys, and how black people and white people treated each other here, and how we our groups differed in humor, eye contact, and religion. We talked about how we felt when we were the only one of our color in social settings, though when we went out she was far more likely to be the minority than I was.
She was always laughing at me and making fun of me in a good-natured way, but it was nearly a year before Jo would let me see her at night with her hair wrap on. Hair was the last area of racial divide. Eventually, though, I convinced her to just do what she needed to do to be comfortable. From then on we were just friends without any areas of forbidden conversation. We even squished each other’s noses and compared how much cartilage we each had.
Our differences didn’t seem like that big of a deal anymore, but we weren’t color blind. Part of who she was was a young black woman, and part of who I was was a young white woman. Pretending that didn’t affect how we grew up, what opportunities we had, or how people treated us would never have allowed us to reach that deeper level of friendship.
Of course we notice what color people are. We also notice if their ears are pierced and how tall they are. When we can finally trust each other to talk about that, then color really ceases to matter.
Only-Mama is primarily a single parenting blog where I try to examine my moments of failure as well as my successes and don’t talk about being single as much as I intended. I am occasionally deep and insightful, more often light-hearted and irrelevant, and I have a propensity to discuss my underwear more than is appropriate. Thanks to Momsoap for allowing me an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone.
If you’re a blogger and would also like to step out of your comfort zone and write a piece on thoughts about race, racism, and culture in America, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org All posts will be thoroughly edited for potentially offensive language and final edits will be discussed with the author. This is about allowing everyone to explore thoughts on race. It’s about pushing past the fear of doing it wrong. It’s about just talking and exploring.