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  • Seema

unconditional love and tremendous sadness

Words from an interviewee:

I'm 65. I grew up as a child in the 60s... the city I grew up in was interesting because I never saw any Colored Only signs or Black or White Only signs, yet I was fully aware of where I could walk and where I should be careful not to walk because if I went to a certain side of town... On the "West Side" was working class White people, and the "East Side" predominantly African Americans. There was a "sweet spot." It bordered the two and it was a melting pot...There was a Chinatown, there was an area where the Latino families lived, all in that sweet spot...

So much of what I treasure about growing up where I did is that there were so many people who lived by that universal truth of do unto others as you would have done unto you...I had teachers who were White and African American yet there was this real sense of people wanting to embrace you for you and encourage you for you. There was a wonderful center called the Supplementary Educational Center. It was an arts creative center. This was the place where students from all over could go there for music and art and history classes for free...

My mother was a domestic worker and one of her clients was the curator of the art museum. When it became clear that I was interested in the flute, before I went to college I wanted to get a more professional level flute. Mrs. Lee loaned me the money to buy the flute and she said, "When you can, you can give me the money to pay me back." Long story short, it took some years, I paid her back, and what did she do? She sent it all back. She said, "I just wanted to help you and I'm proud of you for following through." There was all this kind of support where people who were different on the outside wanted to embrace me for who I was and encourage me for who I was...

When I think about the negative experiences I had growing up, they weren't the kind that left scars because they didn't happen on a regular basis. I was in the state boys band. There were 300 and only six Black guys. One day we walked to the McDonald's and out of no where we heard the n-word. We all ran in opposite directions with the intent to get back to the safe space, back on the fairgrounds. Everyone made it back safely. We all seemed to know to run in different directions instinctually. The boys chased us, but we all made it safely back...

My first teaching job, I taught on the West Side of town... on the corner was a White People Socialist Party Storefront. I was the only African American teacher. I would walk down the halls between classes and I'd hear the n-word. I'd turn around and I don't know who said it. It was all junior high kids....

There was one time in my college I was walking around campus and the sun had just gone down. I was walking through parking lot to visit a friend. These young white people in a car chased me in the parking lot in their car. But I got away. Those things happened.

I knew racism was present growing up - oh I knew it...yet because I experienced that unconditional love and support not only from my own community of African Americans but also from others of different backgrounds, I just went, "yeah, this exists, but this exists, too, and these are the people who got my back."

Today, my experiences with racism are far more subtle...Being for so many years at the college, until this year, the only fulltime professor in the department who is African American, there have been times when I subtly - not often -- I wondered if the negative energy I was getting from a student in a particular conversation was because I was Black and they didn't want to feel they had to in any way honor my position of power or authority.

With my friends who are Black -- You're probably aware of this, Black people talk to each other in a way that they may not talk to other people that aren't Black...When I talk to my Black friends, we've lately been really saddened by a sense that our ancestors it's as if their graves are being stomped on a bit. So much of what they did for us, they wanted to make a better way for us...So many of them fought politically, socially... and here we are seeing a flip all over the country. One of the most basic rights, voting rights, they found a way around it to get at limiting the accessibility and ease so the conversation we're having is that we feel...highly concerned...That conversation has made us tremendously sad.

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