SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2015       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Crystal Scott


Life is what we make it. You have to take the good with the bad, weigh the two, then fight for what is right.

Once upon a time, America was new to the European man; as they saw how fruitful the land was they assertively took it over, forever setting into motion an array of socioeconomic, political, ideological and personal phenomena.  These laws, perspectives and effects have shaped every aspect of life in America.

It’s terrifying to know that before I was born racism and miscegenation was legal. Even the job opportunities were limited due to racial discrimination, therefore, people of color with skin so fair it could pass for white skin, found a way to sneak into a job meant only for white people.  It sounded ridiculous the first time I heard of it, until I learned that the experience of “passing” was deep rooted in my own family.

Firstly, I was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1980; my mom was newly divorced.  I was an 80’s baby, it was the best decade. I was a very happy kid, very optimistic.  I’m not sure if it was the unlimited amount of Fruit Loops I attempted to eat, the amazing birthday parties or the incredible dance music by Michael and Janet Jackson but it was amazing being a kid when I was a kid.  My mother would say,

Crystal is my world and I am hers, we were so very close, the more I loved her and taught her, the more she loved back and inquired more.  I taught Crystal to be strong and aware of certain evils and dangers out there in the world, like most mothers teach their child but with slightly different contexts.  It was important for me to make sure she learned how to be respectful of herself and others, to be kind, selfless and faithful. These were attributes of a shining star!” 

Next, when I was three, we moved from Oregon to California to gain the support of my extended family, my mother’s sisters and brothers and my cousins.  It was my first time meeting everyone, it was the new part of my life.  I learned how to play games like hop scotch, four square, ding-dong ditch and other.  I joined the Brownies there, which was the scouting level achieved before being a Girl Scout.  I have the fondest memories.  I had a chance to be really close with my family and learn more about my roots, my mother’s childhood, my grandparent’s migration and about being a family.  Some of my favorite memories are the ones where we’d all meet up at church, attend a mid-day service and then go to lunch.  Moreover, in the evening we would meet back up and all the kids would get together and play the Soul Train game or we’d sit around in grandma’s living room, listening to Motown artists, watching movies or looking at photo albums with the redundant, who is that?  I loved the photo albums, they were like time machines, to me, the way they took me thru different times.  It was my favorite, to see my mother back in the day, she was so beautiful and young.

One day I was looking through photo albums and came across and old picture that was very different in its appearance, it was barely a picture anymore, it was so old.  It was black and white with two women in the picture.  The peculiar thing was not the picture being old but who was in the picture.  It was the only picture in the album of these two white women.  I asked my mom, “Who are they?”  Mom explained that one lady was my grandma and the other woman was my Great Aunt.  My mother was eager to explain, she proclaimed, “grandma and your great Aunt passed for white, back in their time because it’s what they needed to do to survive. Passing helped them obtain career employment and benefits as opposed to a cleaning job without benefits; it gave them a middle-class lifestyle.  Hearing this was kind of confusing for me at the age of 10 but as I learned more about America’s history, my family secret became the great motivator for my curiosity and journey towards the Golden Rule.

         The next year, we moved to Phoenix, AZ. My mother sought after better job opportunities.  I was going to be a fifth grader in a new city which meant new friends.  Arizona school systems were teaching a slightly different history curriculum than in California but nonetheless, I learned about Samuel De Champlain, Mexican-American War and the Colonial settlement and colonialism.  The history lessons seemed to be like Swiss cheese, in which the context seemed to be riddled with holes, as if pieces were missing.  As my mother would say,

It was always an education about people that we could not identify with or see our own reflections in. 

Markedly, the day I saw Martin Luther King Jr. and heard his speech, it was like a light bulb went off.  It was the first time, I heard about love as a resolution to the American Race problem. He was such an empowering magnet. Slowly but surely, I was recognizing racism and seeing how white children in Arizona reacted towards me in their predominately white schools. Their reactions toward me definitely imposed a sense of otherness, which made me, a few times, claim to be mixed race.

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