I’ve been called a liar when I explain my childhood and my feelings about race. But it’s just the way it’s always been for me.
I grew up in a Canadian middle class neighborhood in a border town that was very ethnically, racially and culturally diverse. In almost all of the neighboring families, the parents were not born in Canada, like mine were, although I thought most of the kids were born here. Add to this mix, an endless stream of tourists from all over the world and you might have an idea what it was like.
Many of the parents either worked directly in the tourist industry or worked at something closely related.
Our neighborhood was made up of modest but relatively new homes. Behind us, lived a Japanese family; beside them, Bulgarians. Beside us were Irish on the right and Czechoslovakians on the left; and beside them, a black family, then a Scottish family. Across the street, Hungarian, Hispanic, German and Jewish. Oh, and there was a large Italian family with a son who was cool – older than me, so not in my circle of friends – but I always thought he spoke and acted like a girl.
It’s funny that as I write this, my point of reference is the wonderful food the families were able to make. You see, growing up in my world, the only difference I was aware of between families was the smells emanating from homes at meal time.
People were people; the nice one’s were nice and the nasty one’s were nasty. It was that simple to me and still is.
But the thing most unique about that one Italian family was that they seemed to always put ethnicity first. And maybe this is the reason they seemed to be somewhat isolated in the neighborhood.
The reason I’m telling you this now is to try to come to terms with my feelings today. These days, people seem more inclined that ever to want to isolated based on things like race, ethnicity or religion.
Recently, a fabulous blogger I follow on social media, shared a gorgeous photo of a very beautiful woman in fabulous lingerie. It was originally posted by a person or entity who calls themselves”Black Pin-up Models”.
Reading the word “Black” in front of Pin Up Models changed that photo from a beautiful pic of a gorgeous woman into something less.
BLACK Pinup Models? In 2014? Really. An account based on race that’s restricted to black stuff? This still makes me very uncomfortable. I just don’t see why this is necessary nor why it’s accepted and propagated, especially by those who profess to be so inclusive.
In the post-Pearl Harbor decade, I could only have imagined how things would have changed in the old ‘hood if our new Japanese neighbors had felt the need to start a “Japanese whatever Club”or if the black family felt the need to celebrate their race by starting a Black anything organization.
Yes, I’m naive, I suppose. And yes, I suppose many attended gatherings that only included others of the same ethnicity or racial group but in the big melting pot, we melted!
The US has always thought differently than the other cultural melting pot to it’s north. NAACP? Black Entertainment Television? Really?
No matter how much good these entities do, in my heart I honestly believe they isolate. They build a wall.
My childhood friend, Rosemary, was just my friend Rosemary. She was never my black friend Rosemary. Not to me. EVER. And my heart still struggles to go there today, even though society seems determined to draw lines.
And, sadly, the US seems determined, since 2008, the further divide – not only by skin color or ethnicity but by political ideology.
If someone asked me to describe my friend, I would have said she was about my height, pretty, solid build, dimples when she smiled, dark eyes and dark hair that she usually wore in a semi ‘fro and very dark skin.
I know … “bullshit, Seleena” but it’s true! “Very dark skin”.
In my neighborhood, the Japanese family wasn’t held responsible for Pearl Harbor. The German folks weren’t automatically Nazi’s and the Italian’s weren’t fascists. The Jews, the Catholics, the Baptists and the Buddhists were all buds. We went to different places to worship but so what? And we learned about, and helped to celebrate, each other’s holidays.
People are people, or at least they were.
This is why try so hard to avoid exclusionary advocacy groups and have never been able to jump on anyone’s bandwagon.
Black folks, if you need to build exclusionary walls, have fun but this girl can’t join you. Trans people, calling each other “sisters”, is a lame attempt to build a family but it really just advances exclusionary thinking, and this is why I so often struggle with those groups too. Calling me a “sister” probably distanced others within ear shot and sometimes my spouse is that person.
And to that young lady online, as long as you remain unable to understand that the black banner throws race into the face of us who’ve only ever thought of you as a woman, you’re correct – you will be nothing more than “that black girl”.
And please don’t use words like “demoralizing”,”micro-aggressions”, “undervalued” to someone who risks physical harm or worse whenever she steps outside in your country. You’re not making history, lady. Many of us would gladly accept those travesties if we felt it increased our chances of returning home safely.
You’ve tried to make me feel like a bad person and have talked down to me, simply because I struggle with your baggage, and that just doesn’t work.
Tonight, you lost a huge ally, whether you can understand it or not.