Racism. Sexism. The Sixties. The breakthroughs. I was a young woman when people of color and women marched mostly peacefully for equal rights and equal pay. For the right to NOT be segregated in neighborhoods, workplaces, restaurants, on public transportation—everywhere, really. For the right to be counted as a whole person instead of—what was it—3/8ths of a person, or was it 5/8ths? Maybe that ‘wholeness’ had been acknowledged earlier; I can’t remember. I do remember thinking, ‘Why does this happen?’ Even before I heard in the Bible, “All men are created equal,’ I knew separating people by race was wrong.
I remember the sacrifices made by the women who gained the right to the female vote—to be counted as equal to men, one vote per person. I tried once to point out to my daughter how significant this was, but she just said, “Oh, mom…” and went into her room. I didn’t understand, though, why women were burning their bras. I guess it was symbolic: ‘If I burn my bra, I’m bare-chested and equal to a man.’ Part of it was, of course, about sexual liberation. (I have raised two wonderful sons and one wonderful daughter and though I tried not to see her differently when it came to sexual expression, I couldn’t do it. Apparently, there are innate differences that we sense with our daughters.) And, as hard as it is to believe, women are, until this day, making about 75% of what men make for the same work. For most women, it’s not about throwing our weight around—we just want to be acknowledged and respected for who we are, for doing a good job, and for, in some cases, our need to survive.
I live in a mixed-race apartment complex and have witnessed hostility and racism. One time I was walking my dog, Max, toward a black man. He walked quickly away and I called out, “He won’t bite you.” The man said, “Lady, when we see a white person with a dog, we know to get out of the way.” Several days ago, I went to my nephew’s sixth grade basketball game, and I said, “Excuse me,” to a couple of Hispanic kids. They froze. “Could you tell me where the gym is?” “Oh,” the tallest kid answered with a smile, and he gave me directions.
It’s like there is a veil between the races. The brown people in these apartments find other brown people, blacks find blacks, whites find whites. (Sometimes the kids will mix it up.) It’s safer, I guess, to stay with your ‘own kind,’ as my father called it. White people tend to judge Hispanics and Blacks as criminals (or potential criminals, anyway). If you’re a white person reading this, who would you be without your education and upbringing? How many Hispanics and Blacks even get through high school? Fifty percent? It drops way off for college. People are expected to live within the law, but would you obey the laws of a society in which you’re disrespected (or worse), in which you have a very small chance of finding your calling, or at least some kind of success as measured by successful others?
As I passed two kids this morning, one white, one black, I said, “Good morning.” The white kid said, “Morning.” Did the black kid think I wasn’t talking to him?