Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Racial Stories We Never Tell

Ms Parks courtesy Corbin-Benson@FlickrCC 
I've been thinking about this a lot lately, about how white America has all these stories we never tell, stories that are not in the public canon, human stories about race and relatedness and personal history.

Not all of these stories are unhappy, but many of them are.

Not all of them date back to slavery, but some do.

My belief is that as a culture we keep as many secrets about race as we keep about sex, maybe more. If we stopped doing that, it might open up a space for change.

Junio Diaz was once asked if he thought white people would ever be able to write these stories, and he said no, not in his lifetime. Maybe sometime far, far in the future.

I thought maybe I'd use this blog for awhile to tell some of my stories.

I have more of these stories than I really want to have, and I don't have a good place to put them. Many of them make people of all colors and backgrounds uncomfortable.

They are filed in my head right behind the folder entitled, "Pam You Are Freaking Worthless." I don't open that folder anymore if I can help it, and most of the time I forget about the file behind it.

I often wonder how many white-seeming people have such stories.

No one ever tells me theirs.

Here's a small one:

When I was a kid we used to ride the bus downtown all the time and just wander around, getting kicked out of stores occasionally and sometimes getting a soda. This was before malls, before shopping centers, during the Civil Rights movement of the 60s.

I grew up in the North, in an industrial city south of Detroit. But although my city was on the Underground Railroad, no blacks stopped and stayed until the big factories came in the 40s and 50s, along with a need for lots of factory workers.

I remember black ladies being escorted out of department stores if the tried on hats. Also, if they went in the dressing rooms to try something on, a white saleswoman would go in and ask them not to do that, as if they were somehow dirtier than everyone else.

One day I was riding home on the bus and an elderly white woman got on.

The bus was full, so a black woman seated across from me stood up and offered her seat.

The elderly white woman smiled and then fished around in her purse for a moment, producing one of those flowered cloth handkerchieves. Unfolding it, she daintily spread it across the seat the seat the black woman offered, and then sat down.

The black woman, seeing I had witnessed this sorry scene instead of looking away like the adults did, shook her head sadly. Our eyes met for that moment and I did... nothing.

I was a kid. I probably should have given her my seat, but I got off the bus shortly thereafter.

Now nobody rides the bus in my home city except black people and schizophrenics.

Come back if you want more.

I'll keep going until I run out.