This is part of a guest posting series where I’m calling for submissions, asking for bloggers (and anyone else) to write about experiences involving their thoughts on race and racism. I’m specifically targeting white authors, however, one does not need to be white to submit to this series. Blog posts must show thought and growth in attitudes surrounding race, culture, racism, and the racial divide in the United States.
I want to make this a safe place, for white people in particular, to explore their thoughts and attitudes and past experiences with the racial divide. One of the pieces of white privilege is that we don’t think about race or skin color. The criticism is that it is part of our privilege. However, I see it is a deficiency in our character. Thinking about how racism affects our world, and participating in other cultures has increased my view of the world and enriched my life.
So with that, I am looking for most posts like this from people who wish to explore experiences and thoughts relating to their own growth or questions about race, culture, skin color, and racism in the United States.
If you’d like to submit a guest post, please head on over to this page to read more about what I’m looking for. I am looking for posts that show thought and growth. Anyone is welcome to submit, no matter your skin color and you don’t have to be a blogger, either.
My second post is from an anonymous blogger, Suck At Home Mom. I grew up in Dorchester, Massachusetts, a fairly poor neighborhood in Boston. When I was a child, my family was the only white one in the school, but at the time I didn’t pay attention to my whiteness vs the blackness of my neighborhood.
Everyone in my neighborhood was black, and my very Italian family was dark enough that it never occurred to me that I was different. I didn’t spend a lot of time looking in a mirror, but if I had maybe I would have understood a little more some of the looks I would get walking around my block. My coloring came courtesy of my father’s relatives, Scottish immigrants with fair skin and blue eyes. My red hair surely set me apart from the rest of my family as well as the rest of my neighborhood.
We lived next door to a three decker, and in it lived several generations of the same family with kids and parents and grandparents. There was a girl named Tara, who had a crush on one of my brothers. With them lived, a pastor or reverend of some sort, I think.
It was the reverend who was so kind the day I yelled the most common racial epithet (yes, that one) at one of his grandchildren; I had no idea what it meant, but my cousins and I were yelling back and forth, at the grandchildren and when one of my cousins yelled it, I followed suit.
I would find out very clearly from my father both, what it meant and how horrible it was. And when I had to apologize in front of the entire family on a Sunday after they had all returned from church, the reverend, with kind eyes, asked me if I knew what it meant, and more importantly, if I would ever use it again. I never have.
My best friend was Elaine Silverman, whose name I always envied. It wasn’t boring like my name, and she had these cool braids in her hair (what I later would realize were called corn rows.) We were both quiet, and smart, and terribly shy. She was the one thing I would miss about my old school when they moved me over to the advanced classes at the Mather. Well, that and the medal I got every year. The Alice Casey award, that came with a medal and a ribbon, which at the time I wore as proudly as if I had won it in combat. I didn’t realize until I was an adult what the award was actually for:
“Criteria: Elementary students who have demonstrated the highest degree of social and academic growth during the school year and have shown outstanding and positive attitudes toward classmates of all racial and ethnic backgrounds while promoting a positive spirit of integration within their classroom and school community.”
Basically, I won an award for having black friends. Being the only white girl in the school, I no longer think it was that much of an accomplishment.
After the Mather I went to “the King”–short for Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School. I loved my teacher, Mr. Brown–a man with dark brown wrinkly skin and bright blue eyes. I felt like he was as noticeable as me. He instilled in me a love for writing and imagination, and I have never forgotten him for it. On my last day of school there, the teacher had stepped out and I got into an altercation with a boy who kept throwing things at “the white girl.” When he got too close, leaning into my face and demanding what I was going to do about it, I stabbed through his jacket with my pencil, not hurting him but making him think twice. Mr. Brown removed me from the class at that point, and at the time I was just glad he believed me that I was provoked. Over the years I have come to realize that he was actually protecting me and that I was lucky not to have been really hurt.
And then we moved.
It is something I never fully admitted until later, but it’s pretty demoralizing to go from being the only white girl–and therefore different, an outcast, and a target–to an all white suburban school, where being from Dorchester was something to sneer at, and to realize that it was never the color of your skin that made you different, it was being poor AND from Dorchester that made me different. Leaving didn’t change my feelings of being different.
Where I had an incident or two at my previous schools, I had never been emotionally bullied–physically threatened, maybe, but never harassed on a daily basis.
The girls on my new school bus used to tease me so badly about being a “Dot rat” that I would find excuses to miss the bus, thus making my mother, who had to drive all the way into downtown Boston, add twenty minutes to her already two hour commute to drive me to school. I couldn’t escape them on the way home, though, and I would get off the bus stressed every day because they would tell me I must be dirty, or ask one another “did you see a bug in her hair?”, or “what’s that smell? Must be a Dot rat.”
Dot Rat is both a term of pride (by us) and an insult (by others). Dorchester is a very poor neighborhood in Boston with a high crime rate. Drive-by shootings are common. It’s also primarily a black neighborhood, thought “Dot Rat” for some reason seems to refer only to the white residents, though I’m not sure why. I guess it would be similar to “poor white trash, from Dorchester.”
We only lived in the suburbs for one year,but the venom of those girls has stuck with me forever, and I had never been so grateful to move in my life. I wanted to go home, back to Dorchester; but instead we moved to another town, just outside of Dorchester, called North Quincy.
Quincy was the home to two presidents, John Adams and John Quincy Adams, and it was also the place that I could finally call my home. I stayed there through high school, and got to see diversity fill the halls of North Quincy High over the four years I attended. I made life-long friends, and was close enough to Dorchester that being from there was more of a badge of honor than a put-down, even when it became full of drive-by shootings and gang activity.
I now live in another suburb, whose schools are fairly diverse. My kids participate in a program called “Steps to Respect”, which is designed to promote inclusion of all races, genders, backgrounds, and sexual orientations. Every now and then I wonder what they would think if they had grown up differently–or if I had. If I had never been the only white girl or the Dot rat, would I have cared so much that my kids attend a school that was representative of more than one race and more than one economic bracket?