Z., sorry to be so long in responding - my life has been crazy lately. My upbringing was vastly different from yours. In all my schools (in southwest Dallas) the students were either Caucasian or Hispanic. The first black student enrolled in my high school in 1969, my senior year. It's not that my parents were trying to keep my siblings and me from knowing people of other races, but there weren't any other races in our part of town, there really weren't. After our public schools were desegregated (by court order), many more black families began moving to other parts of town (previously they'd mostly lived in far South Dallas), and in the late 70s and early 80s we had an influx of newcomers from Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia, and so on, so our Asian population began to grow. When I met my future husband in 1968, I think he was the first person I'd ever actually met who was a first-generation foreigner (he was born in Holland). So I really grew up in a narrow world in that regard, but I didn't realize it because that was all I knew. I have lived in Dallas most of my life. There have always been very definite boundaries between the races here. I worked with a lady who used to be a realtor, and she said for many years there had been an unwritten policy on the part of the major real estate firms to steer any black clients to South Dallas; they pretty much wouldn't even show them property in north Dallas. So north Dallas was for a very long time solidly white, and the northern suburbs as well. Even now, in the 21st century, the Dallas Morning News is running a project called Bridging the North-South Divide that has been pointing out the numerous ways in which the southern sector has been neglected in terms of infrastructure and investments. And of course the southern sector is predominantly black. My southern suburb is (by last census) 48.8% white, 45.5% African-American, and the remainder divided between latino & other races. I know lots of people of other races now, but not to the point where we sit down and have serious discussions about their racial experiences and history - but neither do we sit down and talk about my experiences with a father who disappeared from his kids' lives...what I mean is, unless you know someone really well, it's likely to seem contrived or forced to just bring up such topics of conversation. I think I agree with your statement about retiring the words diversity and multiculturalism. In using them so glibly, don't we in a way dismiss the real essence of a person and forcus solely on the exterior, the color of skin? In Dallas we have had city councils that constantly fell into bickering because they always divided along racial lines, always looking just at "our kind" rather than at what is best for the entire citizenry. It has caused me sometimes to almost despair of there ever really being racial harmony. I have a question for you. I believe that using the term "African American" to describe every black person in this country is absurd. As my husband points out, he was born in Holland and is a naturalized citizen, but he doesn't describe himself as a "Dutch American," just as an American. My ancestors came from England, Scotland, Ireland & Germany - I guess I should label myself as English-Scots-Irish-German American. Doesn't it seem that using the African-American terminology indiscriminately is yet another way that we put a wedge between our races? Thank you for your post. I really appreciated it.
Peggy, I do understand your circumstances. I am sorry if it sounded as if I was indicting people for not reaching out to others who look different. However, in general, there needs to be more consciousness on how we interact with each other. I agree with you Peggy about identity; I am from Jamaica and I find it kind of "weak" when I am called African American because my ancestry is obvious but I was not born in Africa. It would be also weak to call me Jamaican American. I will always be Jamaican by birth and I have chosen to be a citizen of this country so I am therefore a naturalized American. Put simply, I am an American. Guess what Peggy, My great grandparents came from Scotland and my mother has a Scottish ancestry. Should I call myself Scottish-Jamaican-American? I hate labels and I hate issues that are ridiculous. Thank you for sharing your experience. I really like it when I get background information even on a forum such as this it makes a difference to me. When I talk with people who later become friends I like to learn about their experiences as humans. I do not seek out white black or any other group to be friends with. I just reach out and things fall into place. When I met my boyfriend recently I did not care that he was white. We just starting laughing from the beginning and we still find things to laugh about. If we approach each person as a human with flaws and foibles and forget that they have a hue, it makes it easier for us to have a genuine conversation. Here in New York City, you are likely to bump into celebrities from time to time. I do not care who they are. I walk by them and I do not even try to say hello. They do not mean anything special to me. I may like what they do on screen or with their voice but they are just people to me. In a different setting I may try to engage them as just another person I come across. My point is, people are just people and sometimes that's all you need to know. You and I are the ones who let politicians get away with segregating us. We buy into their biases by believing what they tell us. It works for them. Thanks again for your post. You are a conscientious American!
You stated: "I believe that using the term 'African American' to describe every black person in this country is absurd."
There is a historical context to why the term African American is used. In America, African Americans were first called "negroes" and "colored". But because those terms were used during slavery and segregation, black Americans looked for other terms that were not considered derogatory. During the black pride movement (late 60s- early 70s), many college students and recognized leaders in the black community first used the word "black" and then began the use of the word African American (or the shorter verison, Afro-American, since many sported Afro hairstyles). African is used to signify the heritage of Africa proudly. American because we are also American. It's no different than Italian Americans, Mexican Americans, etc. But it was a term that at the time, many vocal black leaders decided was more acceptable than being called "colored" and gave the black culture control over what they wished to be called. Many times people will switch between black and African American and over the years those terms have stuck. But I cringe when I hear or read "colored" because many people, especially older Americans don't seem to realize that term is considered offensive to many African Americans, because of how it was used during segregation. From my research, here's what African Americans have been called through the years: Negro, then Colored, then Black, Afro American and now African American or black American, it's the individual's personal choice to use either or.
Z.Rose, I never for a moment thought you were indicting people for not reaching out to others who look different. I agree with what you wrote. I wish that we could all see each other simply as humans, not as people of a particular race or ethnicity. I guess it's human nature to want to use labels to identify others, but if we can't see past that label it's too easy to fall into the trap of stereotyping or assuming something that may not be true, and thus shutting ourselves off from the possibililty of connecting with another person. I feel that I was very lucky in being raised in the south but coming from a family that never ever ever spoke derogatorily about other races. So I have always been willing to take people at face value. But at the same time, I must be honest and share a memory I have of listening to the radio one night and hearing a preacher who spoke in a really corn-pone voice, bad grammar, and thinking to myself "how can they put someone like that on the air!" and then immediately feeling ashamed of myself for being so judgmental. It's easy to find ways in which to judge each other, and harder to admit that we do it. I wish more people could have your attitude of reaching out in willingness to be friends.
Onyx, I do understand the historical context of the changing terminology, the importance of taking ownership rather than letting others define you. I find the term "colored" offensive, but have to admit that I remember older members of my family using it when I was young. I can well remember the Black Pride movement, and it really did make sense to teach upcoming generations to be proud of their heritage, because for so many generations blacks had been told, both blatantly and insidiously, that black meant inferior. I guess what confuses me is the lack of parallel: if I am referred to as 'white,' denoting skin color, it makes sense to refer to you as 'black' if that is your skin color. But if we're talking about ethnic background and you are "African American," then I might similarly be called "Caucasian" because I'm of European descent. But that really can become silly. An example: a recent news story talked about our city council's vote on a particular issue, and it referred to the "white" member Mr. Doe and the "African American" member Mr. Smith. You would never read "Mr. Doe, a Caucasian" but it's not at all unusual to read "Mr. Smith, an African-American..." I think I'm doing a terrible job of saying what I mean! but it just seems to me that sometimes such labels are unnecessary and that those of us who are white/Anglo/Caucasian/whatever use them without really knowing why!
I went to college in Austin, in the 60's. My badminton partner was one of the few black in the school. We pretty much upset most of the staff at the time, as we didn't see colour at all. We were well matched in height, ability, and "bad" sense of humor. We yelled at each other for missing things that were clearly our own fault, we fussed about the hole in the other's racket etc etc etc. Until I saw the reaction it hadn't really occurred to me that other thought we were different --- we saw the similarities in abilities, as stated above. To us it, colour, didn't seem to identify who either one of us was.
I had the advantage of moving around enough that that was considered a negative when I was looking for a rooming house. I was told that "oil people" tended to be more something .... I don't even remember because I wasn't "oil people", I just want a reasonable place to live and a quiet place to study and a rooming house that might be open during the holidays.
As for the labels, I have to admit that they have confused me. Onyx, my mother would not let me use the word Negro, because my diction wasn't all that great, and I had heard the other N word from some of those around me and Negro often sounded too close for her own liking. At the time coloured was my only choice. I wasn't delighted with the word "black" because I didn't think the label was necessary but I could finally dump the word I hated "coloured". Even after I was taught to use coloured for Negro, I was pre-teen at the time, I really didn't understand even what a coloured bathroom or water fountain was ... much less why they were!!! If anything, I thought I was just as important.
I certainly understood and experienced some of the atrocities of the times, I just didn't understand why we were different. Basically, why some of my friend couldn't go with me, do with me, etc. etc. In fact, for me I was Caucasian so when asked what race I was I wrote C, I didn't know what the W stood for!!!!
As an aside, I have Native American heritage, but because I haven't experiences or really lived in an area where I could have learned what the my own "culture". Because of that I rarely identify myself as a Native American. If my family had been identified by skin colour, my Dad and I were "red" most of the time because of sunburn. My mother, through whom my Native American heritage is traced, was olive skinned as was my brother. And, if my brother spent too much time in the sun in the summer, he got questions about his "race"!!!!
Hi Peggy, I know you were not saying that. I do understood your point. I wish you were living in NYC. Maybe we could go to the museum together and sit in Central Park and chat and laugh about anything and nothing. If you ever come to NYC, send me a post and I will meet up with you and have lunch or dinner. How about that? Take care and keep on writing and reaching out.
Reed, My son-in-law who is 1/4 Italian is dark skinned and has black hair, and he has often been mistaken for Hispanic and even middle Eastern (and since he travels a lot, after 9-11 he was ALWAYS pulled aside in airports...) When I worked a summer job as a clerk typist after high school, there were lots of black employees and I became friends with a couple of girls in the typing pool. They were the first blacks I had ever met, but we hit it off, and race was irrelevant, just as with your badminton partner. I just wish it could always be that way.
I'm English, and the book was an eye-opener for me, but I accept reading some of the above (not all - I'm too busy!) that it is flawed in many ways. I was shocked to realise that American citizens were treating fellow Americans that way in my own lifetime. I guess I already knew it, but this book, with its emphasis on the domestic, made it all much more real on a day to day level than, say, the excellent Mississipi Burning.
What I really wanted to say is how impressed I am by the level of discussion here. OK, I only read the first 2-3 pages, but there's a complete absence of that stupid, abusive routine that internet forums usually fall into. It's so refreshing, and I wish you all well!
BTW, did people really have names like 'Mae Mobley'?? How is the poor child expected to get through life without a mother's life AND with a name like that?
Welcome! and thanks for posting. It amazes me when I see American reviewers (the ones giving reviews on the book and stars) who state they didn't know anything about segregation. How is it that worldwide, people know about the Holocaust and Apartheid, but Segregation is rarely brought up.
It's a testament to the human spirit that many races worked together to have laws passed so not just African Americans would be treated equal, but also that women were included in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Later on ammendments including the physically challenged were included, so I think this is such a milestone in US history, it begs the question, Why don't more Americans know or even care about segregation?
And about the names. I've never heard of anyone called Treelore, or Plaintain Fedella or Pascagoula (a favorite of mine and Julia's :), and I think names like Shinelle and Kindra may be names used more today than in the 1960s.
Hi Onyx, I wondered about that also. I think segregation is rarely brought up because it is also happening in their countries and they want to pretend that it is not happening there also. I have friends who lived in England for years and they have many tales to tell about segregation. It may not have been on the same scale as the US because of the size of the population but nevertheless, it was happening and is still happening in other countries around the world. I think more Americans don't care about segregation because they do not think it affects them at all. The ones who do not know or pretend that they do not know like to be blissfully ignorant.
It is so strange to me that any American wouldn't know about segregation. Part of that disbelief is that I can't wrap my head around the idea of being so ignorant of such recent past. We're not talking about hundreds of years ago, y'know? But another part of my disbelief comes from my experience reading placement essays at my college. One of the prompts that students can choose from asks them to describe a person in history that he/she would like to meet. I can't tell you how many students have written about Martin Luther King Jr or Rosa Parks. Sure, sometimes they spell the names wrong (my favorite misspelling was "Ross Park") or get a few minor details of their lives wrong, and the essays are not usually, uh, shall we say riveting?...but they all understand the context and what the Civil Rights movement was about. And these are students coming from a huge range of academic backgrounds, from private and Catholic schools, to rich suburban public districts, to poor, struggling public schools or inner-city Bronx. How on earth is segregation a surprise to anyone in this country? I know that sounds flippant but I do wonder if there is an answer to that question.
Re names, Onyx maybe you and some of your readers do not know that Pascagoula is a small town in southern Mississippi so that name does not surprise me. I personally have known black women with the following names: California, Magnolia, Arizona, Blossom, Peaches, and a very handsome young man named Chocolate. Yes those are their real names and were supposedly named by black adults (and not K. Scokett)! California and Magnolia are dead now but I still keep in touch with Arizona. And a true story from a friend who works for Children's Services , a mother came in with her twin sons named LeMONgelo and ORONgelo; when asked about their unusual names she replied her family loved lemon jello and orange jello. That is a true story. People in every culture in the world name their children unusual names.
Hi Leonore, I came here in 1990 and in 1993 when Amadou Diallo was gunned down by police as he was opening up his door to get inside his apartment, they pumped 19 bullets into his body. A year later I was asked to repeat the story because one New Yorker who likes to be like an ostrich, said she had not heard anything. I could forgive you if you lived in Pascagoula Mississippi. People like to revel in their ignorance because it makes them feel innocent and therefore not responsible for being socially aware. :)
Thanks so much for the information! I love info like this. I'd like to quote you on my blog, because I think more people should know. The other names you listened, yeah, I realize many of those names were readily given to children. I'm mindful of a song by the late great Nina Simone where she sings about her skin color as she portrays a number of women and none of the names match with the person. I recall seeing a tape of her live performance of the song and it seemed to always bring an audience to their feet. I'm sure there's got to be a YouTube clip of her song.
And Julia, I hope a poster named Nadia comes here. I invited her over because she was over on another blog really saying her piece on the book and what her family went through during that time period. There's actually two women, one named Corey and Nadia who've been very blunt with their assessment of the novel. I hope they join in on our conversation.
I recall that tragic case. It was almost covered as much as the Rodney King beating. I can't answer why some people don't know about events occuring in their own country. Whenever a child goes missing, I'm usually praying and hoping they are found. When there's a earthquake of even the loss of life overseas (especially American Servicemen and innocent civilians) I try to keep track of it. I don't know. Maybe there's a de-sensitization of some people at work here. Or maybe for some people to make it through each day, tragedy isn't something they can handle well. Then there are people who say they're so busy they really don't know. I think that can happen when you're experiencing the illness of a loved one and you're the one taking care of them. It can be very draining, and sometimes you just can only focus on their illness and nothing else.
I think it is hard to fully understand "segregation" until that moment that YOU are the minority! Then, depending upon the experience and the degree of "segregation", racial bias etc., and the length of time it is experience one come to the response "oh, my God!".
For me a lot of my life I was the outsider, but I was still an equal. One of my enlighten moments came when I didn't realize I was being discriminated against but let someone who had an issue with me know that we were equals. You would have thought I had said something derogatory about her heritage based on the response I got. She was speechless ---- I was really too ---- I couldn't imagine that we weren't equal. I didn't have particularly high self-esteem; in fact most would have called it fairly low. I had, however, not met anyone, before, that was so convinced I was "inferior". It was a short encounter, but I remember even then thinking I couldn't imagine having everyone around me believing as she did! Had me have been different races, or sexes, it probably would not have had such an affect ....................... or maybe it was just that I needed to know that message more intimately at that time. (The time period, is late 50's - early 60's!)
I'm so gonna get that book! The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson Thanks for the heads up on this novel.
When I was looking on Amazon for the book, I found this one also: The Eyes of Willie McGee: A Tragedy of Race, Sex, and Secrets in the Jim Crow South by Alex Heard I understand this real life story was the basis for the book "To Kill a Mockingbird" and the case had people as far away as Russia involved.
To Reed, I'd heard about a test study developed by an educator who separated a class by eye color. Those with brown eyes were separated from those with blue eyes so that grammar school students got to experience what it felt like when someone decided you were "different" and were either treated better or quite unfairly. I've also seen a few movies like "Gentlemen's Agreement" with the late great Gregory Peck and one called "School Ties" with a much younger Matt Damon and Brendan Fraiser.
I mention this because it seems no matter what race or religion there seem to be some people intent on playing king of the hill. Your personal account made me think to how even when one feels their the "same" some people still want to negatively show that you're really not.
I never understood why Jews as well as Italians and Polish and even the Irish were mocked and there was intolerance toward them also. I understand with imigrants coming over that Americans who were already established might feel resentment, but its been a bit disheartening to read non-fiction on how those who weren't considered the same in class or "wasp" enough were treated.
Wonderful, truly. Now I'm going to try to find some Mari Evans publications! ADDED LATER - I was responding to the post containing the poem When in Rome by Mari Evans. I didn't realize it was going to be added to the whole thread. I'm kind of new at this, sorry about that.
Hello Friends... Michelle Norris (All Things Considered)..."The Grace of Silence"...memoir of her family's experience through the Civil Rights movement in America-somehow I'm thinking it's going to be more 'authentic' and 'pitch perfect'....I share because of our earlier discussion on the caricatures of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben. One issue Ms. Norris explores is limited opportunity vs her mother's embarrassment regarding her grandmother's job as a 'Traveling Aunt Jemima' to sell pancake mix...Based on my impression of Ms. Norris as a reporter, I believe this this book will be well written and thoroughly researched. Maybe I'll see some of you on this book's reviews :) and I think I have a few other books to pick up based on the last few posts!! Thanks everybody for enriching my life experience :)