Day after Day

It’s been about a month since I began writing again. I haven’t started on anything substantial, like a book, or even a short story. For most of my life, I have had this creative need. As a kid, I wrote in journals. I journaled about the food I ate, the mean girls at school, and eventually heartbreak, love, and the journey of life.

Being in COVID quarantine with life not-quite-the-same as before has made me think a lot. I have always been an introspective person and sometimes this is not beneficial. There is a thing called thinking too much. But, being in COVID has also made me reassess my goals and my wants for my life.

Let me start by saying, I’m a hugely privileged person. I grew up in an upper class white WASP family. I was afford the privilege of private high school, and the privilege to change to another private high school when the first one didn’t quite mean my needs. My college experience was paid for completely by my parents, putting me in the position to graduate without debt, and the ability to live on my own and make a living without the burden of cumbersome student loans. I have had the ability to waffle about my career and my life. I have had the ability to give my kids experiences like six years of gymnastics team, ballet, playing the clarinet. I was able to change career paths at 40, to something more in line with my beliefs, where I felt like I could give back.

Not everyone has these privileges. Not everyone wakes up with two parents who care about them every day and a table full of food. In fact, most people in this world don’t.

When I think about my problems and when I get depressed, I tell myself it’s okay not to be okay. But in general, I feel like my issues are first world problems and white people problems. It doesn’t lessen those problems in my eyes, but it is good to realize ones own privilege and see it for what it is. I have the luxury to wallow in my own self-pity. A lot of people don’t.

This week, I watched in horror as a black man was shot seven times in the back. Actually, I decided not to watch the video, because the video of George Floyd’s death which I accidentally clicked on haunts me to this day. And now, as if to justify it news outlets are saying there was a warrant out for his arrest. And even so, does that give the police a right to act as judge and jury and shoot the man in the back in front of his children? In the very same week, we watched as Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17 year old boy, murdered two people and injured another and walked right by police officers carrying a AR-15. Kyle Rittenhouse had the privilege of walking away, simply because of the color of his skin.

Privilege is a funny thing. It can be used for good and for bad. But one thing has become abundantly clear to me in the last few years as I have had the opportunity to educate myself on issues usually swept under the rug: the people and the government of the United States continues to support people of privilege while suppressing people who aren’t born of the same advantage. This can be seen in public policies, news reports, and in the horrible cases we continue to see in the news.

So one question: will you use your privilege to help others? To change the way the world sees all people? To strive to help black people achieve the change and the justice they so badly need? Be an advocate and an ally. Don’t be a white savior. Be a friend and supportive. Talk to your children about race. Talk to your children about privilege. Make sure they are allies too. And if we all do this and we use our privilege to create real and lasting change, then maybe, just maybe, the future will be a better place for all people to live in. One of acceptance and joy. One where a black man can walk on the street without being afraid of being murdered needlessly by a police man. One where prison sentences aren’t decided based on the color of the skin, but based on the actual crime. One where our kids can play together, help one another, hold hands, and create joy and happiness.

Bridge the gap.

Photo by Matheus Viana on Pexels.com

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The Nixon Years Are Still Haunting U.S.

In June of 1971, Richard Nixon started a war on drugs. In July 1973, the DEA was formed.  Also, 1973, the New York governor instituted mandatory minimum sentences for being caught with small amounts of marijuana and cocaine of fifteen years to life, and almost immediately other states adopted the same policy.

The state and the federal prison population grew from 218,466 in 1974 to 1,508,636 in 2014 according to the Sentencing Project.  This is a 600% increase, and the US population has only grown 51% during that time. Out of that number, in 2013 about 58% was black even though black people only make up 30 percent of the total U.S. population.

The U.S. has the unfortunate distinction of having the highest number of its own citizens incarcerated, and having the most minorities imprisoned.

So why and how did this happen?

In the 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement occurred. Integration came. Black people started to have a more equitable existence in the United States. Conservatives were not happy about this. They needed a policy that would target black people so they could put them back in their place.

Nixon started the War on Drugs at a time when crime was unprecedentedly low. There is a conspiracy that the CIA even began planting drugs in Harlem, to then start cracking down on drug use in the black neighborhoods and imprison them.

War on Drugs–sounds great to the American people. Let’s teach our kids drugs are bad, and let’s sell to the public that drug users are perpetrators of violent crimes, and then let’s lock them all up. However, Nixon’s campaign wanted to target specific people: anti-war protestors and blacks. In a 1994 interview, John Ehrlichman, who served as Nixon’s chief domestic advisor, said the administration launched the war on drugs to go after the “antiwar left and black people.”

It’s been forty-seven years since the War on Drugs began. Perhaps, the War on Drugs real name should be The War on Black People. Nixon’s policy designed to make America more safe, helped set in to motion The New Jim Crow. Nixon’s anti-drug policy began a new way to incorporate a new system of racism in our country that most people have not been consciously aware.

With this system came the idea, again, of the Black man as a savage. According to statistics, more white men sell drugs, but more black men go to prison for selling drugs or being caught with drugs. The mass incarceration has caused huge issues in the achievement gap for black children. Black children are often looked at as “problems” before being given a chance in school, since the idea of the black criminal as been perpetuated in our culture. With so many black men being incarcerated, single mothers are having to raise boys (and girls) without fathers. This also means their ability to earn income is often reduced.

With such an increase in the number of people in prison, overcrowding has become a huge issue, and what’s the resolution? Conservatives say it’s to build private prisons. But I think we all know that’s just a way to continue the status quo of incarceration as we know it today as a way to perpetuate systemic racism.

Will change to this system take another fifty years to come down the line? We need to support policies that make the mass incarceration of black people a thing of the past. Every single person can make a difference in changing this New Jim Crow mentality if they vote, vow to make changes, and do the hard work to change the future for the better for all African Americans.

See my other posts on race in the United States:

No One Wants to Be On The Bottom

Stereotypes and Preconceived Notions About Race

Family Values and Principles

You’ve Got Class

Follow Lauren Greene:

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Home is Where the Pie Is

This week, Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge involved writing about food. He did this as a way to honor Anthony Bourdain. I don’t really know much about Bourdain, but I do know about depression, and I feel like Wendig doing this challenge in his honor can get the word out to more people. If you’re depressed and feel like hurting yourself, please call the Suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

So for this week, I wrote about Mila, and food, and the South, and traveling home. And it’s a little longer at 1997 words.

Home Is Where the Pie Is — 1997 words

Mila bit into a juicy piece of fried chicken. She licked her lips, tasting the grease and the salt. The chicken brought her back to humid nights, fireflies in the backyard, and red and white checkered picnic tables.

“Snap out of it.”

“Huh?”

“You were in another world.”

“Literally, I traveled back to my childhood,” Mila said. She set the half-eaten chicken breast down on the avocado cafeteria tray.

She and Clem had been on the road for days. They took the back road winding their way toward their final destination. In Oxford, they stopped at a little café called Bright’s. Mila ordered fried chicken with fried green tomatoes and pineapple cheese casserole with a glass of sweet tea. She ordered this as naturally as if she ate this food every day, and Clem stared at her.

“You ain’t from around here, are you?” the waitress said, stuffing the order pad into the pocket of her apron.

“I grew up down the road a piece,” Mila said.

“Always good to go home,” the waitress said, wandering back toward the kitchen.

Mila had two cups of sweet tea. Clem thought it too sweet and almost spit it out on first sip. He ordered water instead. Mila could feel the indulgence slipping into her bladder and filling it to the brim.

“I’m gonna run to the bathroom.”

“Want me to ask for the check?”

The waitress popped up beside the table, “What about dessert?”

Mila reluctantly sat down and crossed her legs to keep her bladder from exploding.

“What do you have?”

“The usuals: banana puddin’, blackberry cobbler, punkin pie, oh, and we have homemade peach ice cream.”

Homemade peach ice cream. Mila remembered lazy days on the front porch, escaping the 12 o’clock sun and scorching heat of the summer. She remembered her dad’s old brown bucket ice cream machine, the blue box of Morton’s salt, complete with little girl holding an umbrella, and the fresh peaches and cream.

“Can I pour in the salt, Daddy?”

She could all but taste her childhood.

“Homemade peach ice cream,” Mila said, and she rushed to the bathroom.

***

Mila met Clem on a blind date. They went to Meskerem, a favorite of Mila’s, but Clem had not been a huge fan. Mila had started her second job since college, was trying to write a book, and had just finished nursing a broken heart when her friend Ted said, “Hey, I think you should meet this guy Clem I work with. You two would hit it off.”

When she met Clem, she had been surprised, but she rolled with it not letting on. She hadn’t laughed so hard in years, maybe since the first time she’d smoked pot with her high school friends behind the gym. Clem made her cheeks red, her heart flutter, and he provided something she needed direly in her own life: humor. She watched him as he pretended to like the injera with shiro de kibbe. He made faces when he thought she wasn’t looking.

“Maybe Ethiopian food isn’t my cup of tea,” Clem finally admitted, “Next time, want to go to Dave and Buster’s?”

That night, securely outfitted in her grey lounge pants and striped shirt she confided to Ted who had stopped by for a night cap and some gossip.

“I really like him. I just don’t know whether I can date him.”

“Not a good kisser? I dated a guy like that once; let me tell you, it took all I could for me not to toss my cookies right into his mouth whenever he’d pucker up. Girl, you need to drop him like a fly if that’s what’s up.”

“No, I mean, he’s a great kisser.”

Mila thought back to the few hours before, when Clem had been such a gentleman. He opened the door for her. She started to walk in, then turned around, skipped down the step, and she, Mila, had made the first move, planting her lips on his. He tasted vaguely like Ethiopian food, gin and tonic which they had enjoyed at the bar afterwards, and cinnamon gum. When his tongue slid into her mouth, her heart beat fast, and she felt the spark—that elusive spark she had never felt before—and she knew this man who made her laugh so hard was the one for her.

“So what’s the problem?” Ted asked, sighing.

Mila hesitated a moment and then said, “He’s black.”

“And that’s a problem, why?”

“My parents would never approve.”

“Mila, dear, sometimes you just have to let go of your past. Things change”

Oh, how Mila hoped things had changed.

Six months later, Clem had proposed and Mila had accepted. And because of this, she felt they should go meet her family, the prospect scarier than anything Mila had ever faced before.

***

Mila and Clem both had the peach ice cream with real chunks of peach. A little taste of childhood. After they licked their bowls clean, they paid, stood up, and Clem took Mila’s hand as they walked toward the door. Old men in overalls and blue haired ladies stared at them. Mila and Clem walked through the spotlight pretending not to notice.

“We stick out here,” Clem said when they were out the door.

“Clem, we’re not in D.C. anymore,” Mila said, with a laugh, as she gripped his hand a little tighter and gave it a squeeze.

The road trip had been a successful one. They stopped in Memphis on the way down and had barbeque at Central. Clem declared it the best piece of meat he’d ever eaten in his life. They stayed at a hotel called The Royal, which sounded nice, but consisted of a sagging bag, carpet that felt covered in lotion, and mice or some other rodent skittering in the walls all night long. Mila said it was the same old adage: can’t trust a book by its cover. Clem nodded in agreement. Mila hoped her parents felt the same way about Clem. She wasn’t so sure. She’d never mentioned to them Clem’s cover.

Mila’s childhood home sat in a bed of green. Cows chewed up the lawn. Her father had acquired them recently. “You father thinks he’s a farmer in his old age,” her mother had said over the phone.

“A real farm,” Clem said.

“Not really. A hobby,” Mila said.

Mila’s heart raced. She did not know what her mother and father would do or say when she saw Clem. She felt like she had prepared Clem, but she knew she had not prepared her parents. She was just glad her brother, Bobby, had left town. She didn’t need his racist ass making any comments that might hurt Clem’s feelings.

Clem turned down the circular drive. The front porch greeted them warmly and the rockers gently rocked in the wind as if waving hello to old friends. The second step creaked as they walked up it. As a little girl she always tried to make it creak, and as a teenager she always feared the creak as she snuck in from late drunken nights out with friends.

Clem took her hand in his, giving her courage, as their black and white fingers intertwined, and Mila rang the doorbell.

Mila’s mom answered. She wore a rooster-covered apron splattered in some sort of food. She had her reading glasses perched on her nose. She beamed when she saw Mila, averted her eyes to Clem, and then looked back at Mila.

“Mila,” she said wrapping her in her arms. Mila’s mother smelled like her youth: warm baked biscuits, bacon and eggs, and homemade chocolate chip cookies.

“And you must be Clem. I’m Rhonda,” her mother said, putting out a hand to him. Clem shook it and beamed back. Then Mila’s mother pulled him into a hug. “No handshakes here, just warm hugs.”

The house smelled like collards and bacon grease.

“I’m making a meat and three tonight,” Rhonda said.

“What’s that?” Clem whispered to Mila.

“A meat and three veggies. It’s a Southern staple. Is Daddy home?” Mila asked.

“He went up to Garrett’s. I plum ran out of flour, and I’m making a cherry pie.”

“I wish you hadn’t cooked so much. We stopped at Bright’s and had a big lunch.”

“I hope you said hi to Howie.”

“I asked the waitress, and he wasn’t there.”

Howie was one of Mila’s numerous cousins. Mila couldn’t go anywhere in the Oxford area without running into someone she was related to. In high school it had been a joke for her to ask boys what their family lineage was, and then ask her mom, “Is third cousin distant enough?” People always said folks in Mississippi like to marry their cousins, but that was just because everyone was related.

Clem and Mila set their stuff down in Mila’s childhood room. Clem pressed his lips to Mila’s, and they hugged and kissed.

“That went well,” he said, still embracing Mila.

“Daddy might be different. I want to nap, you?”

“Sure.”

They lay in the queen size bed staring up at the ceiling. Mila could hear her heart beating in her ears, the way it did sometimes in the eerie silence of a quiet room. She looked over at Clem, and saw he was sound asleep. After awhile, she got up and walked down the stairs in her stocking feet.

The house smelled of pie. When she and Bobby had been little, their mother had taught them how to make the dough. Mila loved to take the fork and make little indents into the flour. She thought of it as artwork. She loved the way the house smelled with a pie baking in the oven, and even loved her momma when she would smack her hand when Mila tried to get into it before dessert.

Mila’s mother and father stood in the kitchen. Her father’s face had brand new wrinkles above the brow and Mila could barely believe how much older he looked.

“Baby,” he said.

“Daddy.”

“Maybe you ought to wake up Clem. Dinner will be ready in about five minutes,” Mila’s mother said.

Mila walked back up the stairs and woke Clem with a kiss.

“Dinner time. My dad’s here.”

Clem rubbed the sleep out of his eyes then followed Mila down the stairs.

Mila’s mother sat facing them and smiled warmly as they walked into the formal dining room. Steam arose from the rosebud platters that held enough veggies and meat to feed the world. Mila slid into her seat, and Clem sat across from her. Her father walked into the room, after washing his hands, and stopped suddenly.

“He’s black.”

The words hung in the air. Mila tensed. She looked at Clem. He burst out laughing, and soon everyone at the table was laughing.

“I’m sorry,” Mila’s dad said. “I just—”

“It’s quite alright,” Clem said, waving him off.

“I’m Paul,” Mila’s dad introduced himself, awkwardly patting Clem on the shoulder before taking his seat at the head of the table.

They passed around the chicken fried steak, collards, green beans with bit of bacon fat, and homemade macaroni and cheese, and everyone began to eat. When dinner was over, they sat with hands on their stomachs. Clem let a notch out of his belt.

“I’m always telling Rhonda that if she keeps cooking like this I won’t have a notch left to let out,” Paul said, winking at Mila’s mother.

“Well, it’s time for pie, so I hope you still have a little room left, Clem,” Rhonda said, walking out of the room.

She returned with plates of homemade cherry pie and one scoop of ice cream on the side for everyone. When Clem bit into his pie his eyes shone in ecstasy. He gobbled it all up in no time flat.

“This is the best pie I’ve ever had in my life,” Clem announced to the table.

Rhonda flushed with pride.

“Welcome to the family, son,” Mila’s mom and dad said in unison.

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You’ve Got Class

This is the third installment in my series about race from the book Waking Up White: and Finding Myself in the Store of Race by Debby Irving. At the end of this chapter, she poses a question about race. People often state that there are “class” issues in America and not “race” issues. Irving believes, as well as I do, that the two issues are intertwined and not mutually exclusive.

Money

Question: Class is determined by income, wealth (assets), education, and profession. Betsy Leondar-Wright, program director at Class Action, suggests these categories as a way of thinking about class:

  • Poverty
  • Working Class
  • Lower-Middle Class
  • Professional Middle Class
  • Upper-Middle Class
  • Owning Class

How would you characterize your parents’ class? Your grandparents’ class? Your class as a child? Your class now? What messages did you get about race in each?

I’m not sure if I’d ever label my parents as owning class, or anyone for that matter, but let’s explore the meaning (intention) of this label. Does the owning class own American society? Well, yes, in a way they do. The richest of the rich can afford to throw money behind their political wants and needs. They are raised with contacts and taught how to be rich and how to keep as many of their dollars as they can. Rich people can buy politicians to do what they want for the benefit of themselves or the companies they run (yes, I think we need campaign finance reform—funny you should ask). Our government is not so much a democracy as a system set up where the very few control the very many through political means, systemic racism, classism without the very many really knowing it’s happening. I digress—

As a young child, I remember asking my parents if we were rich. No, they said. We lived in a big house. We had two cars. My mom bought us Guess jeans and swatch watches. I had an allowance. I had a car at 16, albeit it a hand-me-down. At one point, I had a Limited Too card which I was only supposed to use to buy dresses. I was a tomboy and liked to live in jeans and baggy shirts, which my mom hated seeing me in. As a kid I would have characterized my parents as upper-middle class, but realistically they’re more toward owning class. My dad is a doctor (now retired) and my mom stayed home with us. We had a blessed existence, because my parents could afford to give us one. They paid for private school for us. They also encouraged us to help others, less fortunate, and they encouraged us to work hard. My dad was a spendthrift in a lot of ways, teaching us that saving is important.

My dad grew up in a middle class family. More toward professional middle class, I’m assuming. His dad worked. And my dad had a stellar work ethic, which allowed him to achieve a lot in his professional career as a surgeon. Sure, some of that comes with the fact that he was a white man growing up in the right time for surgeons to make a mint. We all benefit (or not) from our circumstances.

My mom’s childhood finances seem more complicated to me. She is the daughter of a doctor. But there seemed to be a lot of ups and downs as far as finances in her family. Some failed business ventures by my grandfather left them bad off at some points. I’m sure this affected my mother’s well-being and her relationship with money.

However, when I was growing up money seemed to be somewhat of a taboo subject, so a lot of my guesses about my parents’ class growing up is just conjecture. People did not talk about money—it was considered impolite.

So where do I fit on the class scale? My husband and I both work. We have three children and a big house. We fit along the upper-middle class line (or maybe right below it because of the adjustment for the number of people in our family). We are comfortable. We take vacations, don’t have debt, and life is pretty easy for us. We can give our kids what they need and generally what they want. We aren’t as well off as my parents were growing up. My parents told me that each parent wants their kids to do better than them. That’s the natural progression of things. But that’s not the case with us. Certainly, Rob is probably better off than his mom was, simply from the fact that we have two-income earning adults in our home. But we won’t be able to match my parents’ earning power.

In my childhood, my parents emphasized material success. Money, education, and a good job allow one to be successful. My dad modeled hard work, and my mom did too. She went back to school when I was a teenager and showed me it’s never too late to live your dreams. She also showed me hard work and persistence lead to success. For a long time, I equated money with success. When I went to college, the need to be seen as successful in my parents’ eyes prohibited me from making the creative jump into a writing-related field, because writers don’t earn money (or very much of it). Therefore being a writer would lead to a lack of success, since money equaled success. Because of the world and the class I grew up in shaped my beliefs about success, I lied to myself for a long time about what I needed in order to see myself as successful. I put behind my writer dreams for a long time and lived a life without a creative flow. Until I felt like it was falling apart (tangents are my favorite, don’t’cha know?).

I don’t feel like we talked about race a lot when I was a child. I felt like anyone who could go to college could get a job and succeed. The equation seemed to be: education leads to money which leads to success. What I didn’t think about was the connections my dad and my mom had. I didn’t think about how my race automatically gave me a head start, not to mention my class. I was given the best of the best which helped lead to material success—the way I thought success is built. Certainly, money makes life easier, but I never thought about it in terms of race until I was much older.

Being from a white upper-middle class or owning class family in the South gave me advantages others don’t have. I’ve always thought hard work leads to success. But what if all the cards are stacked against you from the beginning?  What if you’re born into a lower middle class family? What if your parents can’t afford to send you to private school or even the best public schools? Doesn’t that automatically impact your ability to get further in life? It doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it’s much more difficult because your starting from a more distant line.

What are your thoughts on class? What class were you raised in and what class are you in now? How did it shape your views of success? Do you think the class you were raised in impacted your view on race?

For More Blog Posts in this series, click the links below:

Stereotypes and Preconceived Notions About Race

Family Values and Principles

Follow Lauren Greene:

Facebook: www.facebook.com\laurengreenewrites

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If you liked this post, you may want to read Stereotypes and Preconceived Notions About Race and Family Values and Principles which also explore how our race and class impact our views on the world.

Family Values and Principles

This is the second installment in a series regarding race. Click here to read the first installment: Stereotypes and Preconceived Notions About Race.

The questions I’m posing come from Debby Irving’s book Waking Up White. 

Our families pass on certain values and principles. Today’s question:

What values and admonitions did you learn in your family? Think about education, work, lifestyle, money, expression of emotions, and so forth. Try making a list of ten principles, values, and unspoken beliefs. Consider what conclusions you drew about people who did not appear to follow your family’s belief system.

Oh values. The cornerstone of every American family. Values and principles shape the way you look at the world, and therefore the principles you’re taught as a child shape the way you see other races. This question is hard, because I love my parents dearly, and I’d hate for them to think I’m admonishing the way they raised me. They instilled some great values in me. They are wonderful people and yet flawed as all people are. Going by Irving’s question, I’ll make a list and then expound on the values my family instilled in me.

  1. Independence — My parents instilled in us a sense of indepence, and that we could do anything we wanted with our lives and did not need to depend on other people.
  2. Leadership — We were taught to be leaders and not followers.
  3. Work Ethic — We were taught to work hard in order to achieve.
  4. Intellectual — Being Smart — Perhaps being smart or educated was the value most instilled. My dad is so smart, and I always wanted to be like him. I strived to earn his affection, but I never did that well in school. I was creative and “had potential” but lacked motivation. Because of this, I felt like I could never measure up in Dad’s eyes. It affected my relationship with my middle sister, Ali, too because she always made good grades (which she worked hard to get), and I felt jealous of her. I saw that not being smart meant that you were less than. Going to college was not a choice—we were going to go.
  5. Open Mindedness/Understanding — perhaps one of the best values my parents past onto me. My dad refused to join the local country club because they wouldn’t allow African Americans or Jews become members. My dad taught me to question and to be openminded in regards to knowledge and to people.
  6. Frugality — My dad was frugal. My sisters and I went to an elite private school. The kids drove Lexuses, BMWs, and Mercedes. My dad did not approve of this kind of excess. He gave my oldest sister his ’83 Toyota Supra Celica (fast car, Dad), which then passed down to my middle sister, and finally to me. We looked at the kids at our school as spoiled since they’d been given new cars. We couldn’t understand why a 16 year old would get a new car which in turn they’d wreck. Conversations about the parents being irresponsible often followed. But more, I think we were jealous of their luck at having a parent who wasn’t a spend-thrift.
  7. Importance of Family — Family time was very important. We ate dinner at the table almost every night of the week. This was a time to reconnect.
  8. Positivism with a hint of realism (or catastrophe added) — We were taught to be positive, but to also look at situations realistically. There’s a lot of anxiety in my family, so I also added castatrophic-thinking to this.
  9. Honesty and Trust – honesty was cherished in my family, even if it hurt your feelings!
  10. Adventure – my parents took us SCUBA diving and to Italy. I was sent to Peru to do a Rain-forest expedition at 18. I did a summer study abroad in Salamanca, Spain at 15. My parents had the resources to give us a charmed life. We were taught to seek adventure.

I do think my parents’ values shaped who I am today. I fought against some of their notions regarding wealthy vs. poor. I had a boyfriend who came from a poorer family, and my family did not approve of him. I felt like they were being classist, and I continued to date him despite their disapproval.

Overall, I feel like the values and principles I learned taught me to be an accepting and open-minded person.

What values and principles did you learn from your parents growing up? 

For More Blog Posts in this series, click the links below:

Stereotypes and Preconceived Notions About Race

You’ve Got Class

Follow Lauren Greene:

Facebook: www.facebook.com\laurengreenewrites

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Stereotypes and Preconceived Notions About Race

I’m currently reading a book called Waking Up White: and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving.

Waking Up White

I have written about race a little bit on this blog, but I find I tend to skirt the tough topics. Race is an integral part of the South, and since I write Southern Literature, I thought I would do a series on race on this blog. In her book, Debby Irving poses questions at the end of each chapter. I’m going to use these questions to guide my discussion. I hope you all will leave comments and answer the questions too. I plan to do about two of these a week, but I will skip the week of December 6th-December 12th.

The first question posed in Irving’s book is “What stereotypes about people of another race do you remember hearing and believing as a child? Were you ever encouraged to question stereotypes?”

I had problems with this question. I grew up in Montgomery, Alabama. I went to a public elementary school. I never thought, as a child, that black people were different from me. I knew my neighborhood was vastly white. We lived in a two story house. I walked to school. My school was diverse.

Probably the biggest stereotypes I could think of that were imparted to me, not so much by my parents as my peers, were thinking black people were great dancers and athletes. Then as I got older, I thought the majority of gang members in Montgomery were black. I attributed this to their circumstances. When I grew up in Montgomery, public schools still did well (vastly different from today). But there were a lot of private schools. My parents transferred me to one in the 5th grade. The private school I went to, The Montgomery Academy, was founded in the 1960s in part to keep the white children segregated from the black children – a clear “fuck you” to the Civil Rights Movement.

At my private school, I stereotyped the black kids, assuming they were all there on scholarships. I think this was because I’d been raised to think that African Americans had less than white people did. They lived in West Montgomery. I’d heard rumors they might move into McGehee Estates and that would lower our property value. Later on, there was white flight from West Montgomery to East Montgomery. The city kept trying to move away from “the race problem.”

I’m not sure my parents raised me to question stereotypes. My dad is intellectually minded, and both my parents certainly raised me to question the status quo, but there were certain expectations too, which kept race aligned with little mingling.

I clearly remember at age thirteen attending a Bar Mitzvah (or Bat Mitzvah—can’t remember which friend it was for), and dancing with a friend of mine who happened to be black. I thought nothing of it. He was my friend, and I liked him. When I came home that night, my mom sat me down and told me several parents had called concerned I had danced with a black boy. I was astounded by this, because I couldn’t believe these parents had the audacity to mingle in my life.

I remember saying something like, “Why does it matter?”

“Because they’re a different culture than us,” my mom said something like this.

In my childhood, it was noted that white people date and marry white people, and black people date and marry black people, and that mixing the races was frowned upon. I know this was a holdover from my mom’s childhood and the way she was raised.  My mom has changed so much since then.

And suffice it to say, it damaged my friendship with him. I pulled away, and I stayed pulled away, even after his father died. I did not know how to let myself get close to him, based on other people’s perception of our relationship/friendship. I didn’t want to be the talk of the town. But I also couldn’t understand why who I liked depended on the color of their skin. I had a questioning mind, and I questioned these types of assumptions and racial problems even back then.

What stereotypes do you have about people of another race? 

For More Blog Posts in this Series, click the links below:

Family Values and Principles

You’ve Got Class

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