I recently had a conversation with my mother about my spouse. I married my hubby in the early 80’s when interracial marriage was not seen in the best light. My mother at the time had expressed strong opposition to my choice of a mate. She loved my boyfriend as a person but not as a husband for me. Fast forward 30 or so years later she confided her reason for not being a more jubilant future mother in law. She told me of her fear. She feared society and how we would be viewed as a couple. She feared hate crimes and other retributions for my refusal to march like a good little soldier and marry a man of my color. She spoke not only of her fear for me but fear for my husband who by the way she views as her own son. Her fear is understandable as my mother had grown up in a time when bad things happened to folks based on the color of their skin. She had been raised to know where to sit on the bus and what water fountain to drink from. She once told me a story of how they were not allowed to stop at restrooms during long cross country trips and would often go into the woods to relieve themselves. She recounted tales of trying on hats but only after being given a hair net by the white store clerk, a rule for black customers. She spoke of having to enter through back doors and having to be seen last by white doctors if seen at all. In my town of birth there was a hospital for blacks and one for whites. She laughed as she retold a story of a relative who was so light skinned he passed for white and had been admitted into the white hospital. When his darker skinned wife went to visit she was referred to the colored hospital as they had no “niggras” there. Spying her husband sitting in the ward she immediately pointed exclaiming “there he is.” Needless to say he was transferred out.
I am a black child of the 60s born and raised in the South. We were raised in the shadow of fear. We were taught where we belonged and where we did not. I was a child in a segregated school where deep friendships blossomed. My parents taught me the value of education and hard work and instilled in me that being black in this society meant I had to work harder to stay on level ground. I am an adult now and my world has grown. All of my adult life I have heard blacks and whites bemoaning affirmative action, black identity, BET, Black history month, MLK day, mixed ancestry, on and on. I have had black friends tell me they did not identify with the “black experience.” I have had friends of all colors tell me and others to “stop living in the past.” They speak of a color blind society and call us “post racial.” They proclaim us all equal as “now we have a black president.” What I hear is an edict to “forget my past, move on, its a new day.” In my opinion, I am my past; I am also my future. My past has shaped me into who I am. In this year of 2015, I still give thanks when I sit in a restaurant to eat a burger or travel the globe or sit anywhere I want in a theatre. I give thanks for those that marched and died so I could reap the benefits. Being raised in the South may not be one’s experience but being born black remains a concious experience believe it or not.