Thursday, August 7, 2008

The other side of the tracks...

Stereotypes are funny things sometimes. They often prevent us from seeing the truth. Growing up, I was a host of stereotypes all by myself. You might say that I was the golden retriever of the human race--never met a person I didn't like--and they were always the wrong people. I didn't know that there were wrong people and right people until my mother died and we moved from Arizona to Gary, Indiana. Then I learned that there were a lot of wrong people. My friend Bobbie Jo, didn't just live on the other side of the tracks. Her family lived between the tracks. We lived in a small town outside of Gary where twenty railroad tracks crossed at one spot. I thought that Bobbie Jo was a fine friend. Her mama had a baby and when she came home from the hospital, I was allowed to hold the baby. I had never held a baby other than my brothers (and they don't count!) I was devastated when I was informed that I couldn't be friends with Bobbie Jo anymore because... she was the wrong color.

No doubt some of my readers will be appalled. But this was before desegregation. And feelings in the small church where my father was a minister ran high. The deacons collared him after Sunday services and informed him point blank that the pastor's daughter couldn't be running around with any of them. Their kind wasn't welcome at our lily white church.

I remember lying in my bed in the dark, weeping because I wasn't allowed to spend time at Bobbie Jo's house anymore. Then, abruptly, we were moved out to the country, several miles away and Bobbie Jo's house was too far for me to walk.

My children suffered somewhat the same type of thing growing up because we lived in a trailer park. Interesting... because our mortgage/lot rent was more money than most of their friends' parents paid for a regular house, but that didn't matter. My children were still trailer trash because we didn't live in a standard house. They had friends that weren't allowed to visit us because we lived in a mobile home--and never mind dressing it up with fancy names--it was still a trailer.

When I was growing up out in Arizona, it was not a safe thing to admit that you were part Indian. There were signs in the windows of stores and restaurants, No Indians Allowed. Being Indian wasn't always a cool thing to be.

What is it about those that are different from us? What do we fear? I think it's kind of funny that I've come full circle. My daughter was married to a Puerto Rican. They had a daughter. Now she's with a man who is half-Italian, half-Black. They have a daughter. My other daughter's significant other is so dark that when you take a picture all you see is eyes and teeth. They have a son. My son is with a wonderful woman from Arkansas that could be the model for that song, Redneck Woman. When we get together, it's rainbow city.

Yet, I am not so blind that I don't see the prejudice that still oozes out of the dark corners. My children have faced intolerance and bigotry because of their choices in mates. We still have a long way to go before we are truly an equal society where stereotypes no longer rule.



  1. Sad isn't it? The stupidity and prejudices of people? I recall similar things. THe only cafe in our little town had a whites only sign in the window yet they were tolerant and accepting of Native Americans because most of us WERE at least part Indian. There were no African Americans but I remember one day seeing a black family walk around to the back of the cafe. I asked her why and she said it was because they were black. I recall thinking, even at a young age, how awful that was.

  2. I wonder who Bobbie Jo grew up to be? I hope she did well.

  3. And this is one of the many reasons I love you, Anny. You see everyone in the best light and without a preconception.

  4. Chew on this:

    I grew up in semi-rural Kentucky. There was *one* girl in my high school (1200 students) who was half Black, half white, and she was only around for a couple years.

    Now I live in suburban New York, and work in Manhattan, constantly surrounded by people of all races, colors, sizes, shapes, incomes, etc.

    I think that I have become *less* tolerant of people different from me in the years since I moved here than I was in my monotone childhood and subsequent, only slightly less monotone, years. It's certainly nothing I'm proud of. I chastise myself every time I wonder what that tough-looking Black guy with his stereotypically aggressive attitude coming toward me on the street is thinking. Most likely, just like me, he's wondering what's for supper.

    Someone did a study a few years back about prejudice and environment. Here were the surprising results: The more surrounded you are by people who are different from you, the more likely you are to be prejudiced or cling to your own "type." Whether it goes back to our prehistoric, caveman instincts or is a function of modern society, or just the need, in a crowded environment, to be among the familiar, or what, I don't know. But it's an interesting peek into the human psyche.

  5. As long as their mate of choice treats them well and makes them smile it shouldn't matter what their skin tone or origin is. I admire your children as I do you.