As a multiracial American, I have decided it’s time to reexamine my own racial biases. Biases that have been shaped by my environment and experiences over my lifetime. For instance, I prefer to not acknowledge that my great grandparents on my father’s side were half white. At least that’s what Mama and Papa Cousins told us. And that Papa was very biased against his own dark-skinned black people.
One of my great grandmothers on my mother’s side was a Native American slave owned by a French Canadian plantation owner in Louisiana, and they had children together. We doubt having those children was her choice, however. My grandfather carried a picture of his mother, who was adorned in her indigenous tribal attire.
I was raised during the end of the first Jim Crow era. I remember not being able to use the “white” toilets in the public bathrooms. I remember my grandmother’s embarrassment when I would refuse to use the facilities that had not been cleaned, and with toilets that didn’t flush. I remember my indignation when I had to succumb to her demands that I use the “colored” facilities. And, I remember the annoyed look on the face of the white women. As if they wanted to say, “Better teach that child her place in this country.”
I vaguely recall the march on Selma, and our lessons during social studies class on how the Fourteenth Amendment would improve race relations in this country by guaranteeing that all have equal access to the same rights and freedoms. I remember marching with my parents for school integration and equal access to quality education for all. As a teacher, I can say with certainty that we are no closer to achieving that goal than we were in the sixties. I clearly remember the day Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated.
On the other hand, I supported the black power movement. I watched the Black Panthers, the Honorable Elijah Mohammed, the rise of the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X. I applauded the efforts of the SNCC. I watched the riots in Watts in the sixties on the news. And, I witnessed the riots during a long hot summer in Detroit when we saw the tanks rolling down my aunt’s block late at night, headed off to quell another disturbance blocks from her house.
My views about race are conflicted because the nuns in the Catholic schools taught us that we are all created equal in the eyes of God. If that is true, why are so many black men unjustifiably imprisoned for nonviolent crimes? Worse, how can our nation continue to justify police shooting and killing unarmed black men? Why do I have to wake up to another picture of a seventeen year old black boy beaten so badly by the police during an arrest that his own mom didn’t recognize him?
Why do blacks have a higher rate of unemployment than Hispanics? Even though we have a higher rate of college educated individuals than Hispanics? Especially considering that, like Hispanics, we tend to be employed in jobs others choose not to consider. These are all reasons why the black community believes we were living Jim Crow 2.0.
So, yes, I have my own personal biases that are hard to let go of when we have a president that continues to denigrate and castigate the black communities. A president who refuses to acknowledge the voice of the Native Americans who do not want a pipeline built on their land. A man who called Mexicans rapists and murderers. A president who supported a Congressional candidate who believes that the best time our country ever had was when my ancestors were enslaved. A candidate who was accused of sexual assault against young girls.
Even though I accept individuals into my life based on their values, faith in God, and morals, I have a hard time trusting those who continue to undermine the freedoms we fought so vehemently for as a nation. My distrust results in implicit biases that I have difficulty reconciling because, in my eyes, we are moving backwards as a nation instead of moving forward.
But, I had to reconcile my distrust and feelings of betrayal by whites before I could accept my Czech son-in-law into our family. I had to learn to trust that he did not carry the same racist baggage our country was built on. I had to learn to trust that he would treat my daughter with the dignity, respect, and love she deserves.
Now, I am learning to trust that the majority of Americans will not allow our country to sink further into the Jim Crow 2.0 quagmire. We will all continue to stand together against social injustices, genocide, biases against those with different sexual preferences, and racial divisiveness. We are America. As individuals, we are judged on our merits. It is my hope that, as a people, we will continue to resist the divisiveness that plagues our country, so the world will continue to see us as the great nation that we are.