Last week at my book group, we discussed our experiences with racism as children . I had never really thought about it much before, but said then that I have absolutely no remembrance of my parents ever once having made any differentiation between myself and people of color. Our subdivision was close to the THE subdivision of the first suburban blacks in my town. We rode the same school bus, even passing the house each day of a young Cassius Clay. I went all the way through 12th grade with those kids. We attended the same birthday parties and Girl Scout troop meetings. And this was 1962, only two years past the day that Ruby Bridges stepped into a school in New Orleans and went one whole year of school in a classroom of one. We lived, or at least I did, in some sort of bubble where I just did not really know that there was any other way. When my favorite local amusement park began allowing blacks, some of our close neighbor children weren’t allowed to go with us any more and my parents said that that was silly, and we went on. My only remembrance of Dr. King’s assassination was that school was closed, and only years later did I learn that that was not out of respect, but out of fear that there would be trouble.
I think it’s fairly notable that the only conversations I can actually remember were when my mother told me that “colored people” preferred to be called Negroes. Years later, the tables turned and it was I telling my mother that Negroes preferred to be called Blacks. What makes this all notable is that my parents were both raised in families where racisim was a part of their southern upbringing. I don’t know that their families held any great hatred of blacks, but they did still buy into the predominant southern culture of names and assumptions that continue to perpetuate racism.
I’m not sure how it is that my parents, steeped in their family traditions, made the decision to walk a new path. Whatever it was, I wonder now if even then God had already begun to weave a beautiful chord into the fabric of who we were, knowing that in a twinkling of God’s eye, they would have three black grandchildren; I would have three black children. We never know what we might be blessed with, if our hearts are open. I’m grateful for my parents for many things, but their open hearts and minds opened doors for all of us.