SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch Fall 2011 Personal Memory Ethnographies
Ignorance Was Bliss
I am an Arizona native, but my entire blood family comes from the south, mainly from Tennessee. We are predominately white. I do have my faults when it comes to being culturally sensitive, but at the same time, I’m not completely ignorant either. Through my family and close friendships, I have been exposed to several multicultural relationships and I myself still have many diverse relationships to this day.
My mother is now married to a black gentleman name Michael and we get along great. They have a beautiful daughter named Michaela. My father married a Korean woman and as far as I know, they haven’t had any children of their own, although I haven’t seen or heard of them in years. My best friend of over ten years is black and his father emigrated here from Nigeria. Other close friends range from Japanese to Spanish descent.
I’ve lived with bottled emotions for years now. Call it “daddy issues” if you will. I call it misplaced confusion. One day, around 7 or 8 years ago, I came home and Michael and my mother were pretty upset. Michael had been walking around our neighborhood, which was predominately white, and somebody called him a “nigger.” I was deeply hurt and infuriated when I heard about this and it really hit on a personal level. I remember wanting to find the person and confront his outright racism.
The biggest issue was the relationship between my mother and her mother. My grandmother was raised in the south, born in 1922. Like many whites in that time and particular place, she grew into racism. She grew up in segregation and hatred for anyone not white like her. 70 years later my mother started dating Michael and her mother was not thrilled.
I remember having a sense of uncomfortable feelings when my mother and grandmother got together. I remember snide comments coming from my grandmother periodically, when she didn’t realize I was listening. I was utterly unaware of why, at the time. I liked Michael a lot and wondered why my own grandmother talked ill about him so much behind his back. Why was she speaking poorly about her own daughter?
I could sense my mother’s thoughts screaming sometimes. “I only hope Michael doesn’t ever feel your negative thought piercing his heart from your mind, mother.” I felt so ignorantly sad when I sensed these thoughts howling from my own mother. “He cares about you, not only because he thinks I want him to, but because that’s just who he is.”
My grandmother lived with my aunt and I would spend the night every weekend. My aunt didn’t seem too thrilled about my mother and Michael at first but came around and more so when Michaela was born. My grandmother was excited about the new addition to the family but little by little became less happy. My grandmother would say something like “Michaela likes everyone else” or “she just won’t have nothin’ to do with me.” Being so naïve, I would think “I feel so bad for grandma, Michaela loves her. Why does she think Michaela doesn’t love her?” Now I wonder if my grandmother wasn’t just looking for excuses for not liking Michaela herself and that’s what makes me hurt the most. I can only imagine what my mother must have felt.
Again I sense my mother thinking. “Mother always says nonsense like ‘Michaela hates me,’ or ‘I’ll just let Michaela be, she would rather play with someone else’.” At least my aunt understood what my mother was going through. My aunt was a good venting input for my mother since she couldn’t talk to Michael about her mother’s racism towards him. My aunt understood, yet she was caught in the middle of the two sides. It makes me feel good to know whose side she was on as I would hear her defend my mother when my grandmother wanted to say something negative. This much I could understand back then.
My mother would go for weeks without talking to her mother. Even a child can feel uncomfortable in a room full of tension regardless of whether or not the child knows the circumstance. For a while I felt awkward or funny when I would stay over at my aunt’s house. The uncomfortable feeling didn’t stop at home, I really would get looks when the family would go out and about in public. People might stare when a black man was picking up his white son from school. Ignorance was bliss at that age. Had I known why people were staring, I can only imagine how shameful and disgusted I might’ve felt.
My parents had divorced when I was in kindergarten and the relationship with my blood father dwindled more and more. By the age of 14, I would see him every few months or so therefore it was my mother that would primarily raise me. In the absence of my blood father, it felt comfortable to have Michael around when I was growing up. It felt safe having both a mother and a father figure in the home. It never felt like”I’m living with a black man.” In fact, it was more of a felling like “there’s a guy looking out for me now like my mom has been.” Our family felt much more stable to say the least.
I will never have the experience of walking around in a black man’s skin, but I would like to argue that perhaps I can have the slightest of ideas. I have never felt nor can I imagine the fear and skepticism Michael must feel on a daily basis. Upset is a feeling that doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling I get when I hear stories from my family and friends when it comes to deliberate racism. I am extremely fortunate for having them in my life and for the knowledge and experience they have given to me. I am still so young and have many life lessons coming my way. I can only hope to become more aware and raise awareness in honor of my family and friends.
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