by: cathy foreman
Coming off the cuffs of Monday’s Red Table Talk about race and how it affects black and white women, I decided to talk about my experiences with racism.
From kindergarten on up, I’ve always had a penchant for white guys. Living in a rural and predominantly black area, white boys were few and far between. As a teenager, I’m not sure if it was the fact that they were “outside the norm,” or if it was something about them that truly appealed to me. You see I’m known to go against the grain. Whatever it was, I dated my share and didn’t think twice about it.
As far as I can remember I never encountered any direct, in my face, racism until I was an adult with a child. I’ll tell you about that a little later. Right now I want to talk about a couple of things said to me as a teenager, by adults, that I couldn’t understand.
Dating White Guys
One time I went on a date with a white guy and I can remember my grandmother having a pure fit. Back then pay phones were a thing and I distinctly recall her handing me quarter to call her if I needed her. She even went-so-far-as-to mention the possibility of me being lynched. Now this was in the mid-80s. Like I’m sure this was 1987 or ’88. The idea of being lynched was so far removed from my thoughts; It was unfathomable.
But then there was a time when my boyfriend was white and after meeting him, my grandmother seemed fine with him. This was interesting. Why was she not okay with the one I went on a few dates with but fine with the one who became my boyfriend? It wasn’t until Monday night, when watching RTT and hearing Adrienne Banfield Norris (Gammy) talk about the acceptance of her white nephew as opposed to the non-acceptance of her white niece that it came together for me. Gammy said the reason she accepted the white nephew was because he had some “swag about him” and he “acted more black.” Making him, in her opinion, more relatable and by extension, positioned him to be better received.
all the girls say I’m pretty fly (for a white guy)
Then I thought back to that particular boyfriend and how he had that same certain “swag about himself”; listening to black music, talking more like a black guy and things like that. Was this why she, my grandmother, accepted him? Or was it that she saw I wasn’t going to change so she might as well just accept it? Sadly, I’ll never know the answer to that.
On another occasion as a pre-teen, I vividly remember riding in the backseat of a car and having a conversation with an elder family member about my dating white guys. I was told I “better not ever” bring one home. What I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out is how can you tell me I can’t bring a white guy home when you have white people in and out of your house. It just made no sense to me and I wasn’t going to let them dictate who I dated. As a result, that relationship pretty much ended.
This entire issue between the races, whether Black to White, White to Hispanic, light-skinned to dark-skinned, etc. is daunting to say the least. Feeling as if you have to justify who you are at every turn, or you have to prove your worth, or explain how you acquired xyz or always having to hold your tongue for fear of being deemed the “angry black wo/man”. It’s tiring … it’s downright exhausting. And, I agree with Jada when she says that “as women, we should be understanding of each other’s plight.” I mean at some point, all of us have gone through or are going through something similar. You or I may not have walked a mile in each other’s proverbial shoes, but if there is even an ounce of humanity in you, you should be able to imagine yourself in my shoes.
That brings me to something I mentioned earlier, facing racism head on. It was the first time I was called the n-word. I remember it like it was yesterday; I think once you’ve been called this in such a hateful manner, you never forget it. It stays with you … and when it happens on multiple occasions, I can certainly understand how it could be crippling and mentally debilitating to the point of PTSD as Gammy mentioned regarding her experiences growing up in the midst of it.
You Never Forget The First Time
The first time it happened; the mere fact that I have to say “the first time” is really bothering me right now. Yet I was protecting my son from a white woman who put her hands on him after thinking he had harmed her son. First of all, as a mother, you know dat blame well you better not be putting your hands on anyone’s child because you know what you would do if it were your child. Anytime someone puts their hands on your child all sensibility is out the window; there literally is no reasoning with you. Couple that with threats being hurled at your child, you’re damned lucky you don’t get a hand laid on you. When I went to approach the mom about the situation, she called me a “Nigger Bitch”, all the while making sure to stay on the inside of her home, almost daring me to cross her threshold. Cooler heads prevailed thankfully, and I was able to keep my composure long enough to not cross that threshold. What I was not going to do was give her the power to take me away from my son. But I’m here to tell you, had she stepped one foot outside her door … over that threshold … I’d be telling you an entirely different story.
Here We Go Again
The next time this happened I was at work, at a call center doing some benefits work. This white woman called in, from somewhere out mid-west and wanted to take a hardship loan on her 401k. After going through the requirements with her, she didn’t qualify. Long story short, she wasn’t happy with me or my services. While I tried to maintain control of the call, all that went to hell when she said to me “die you nigger bitch.” It’s ironic to me how I’m always a nigger and a bitch, but I digress. I don’t exactly remember what happened or what I said but I do remember my supervisor, who screened calls, came running to my desk. By this time, I had snatched my headset off my head and swiped the phone off my desk. They tried to reel me in and calm me down. The last thing I wanted to hear was “I’m so sorry. I know how you feel.” To which I vaguely remember telling them “Go to Hell.” I had to leave for the rest of my shift. Thankfully I had a day off to collect myself and my thoughts before returning to work.
Being honest, I have to tell you…
I remembered that woman’s name and when I got back to work …
I look at her record and …
I took down her address.
I didn’t know how, but for the next few days, I was determined I was going to go after her.
These are my experiences and I’m truly blessed I can only count them on one hand. But how many countless others are there; I’m more than certain everyone has at least one story. And how many more will there be, especially considering the divisiveness we face with this current administration. I believe in what Jada is doing with the Red Table Talk and truly inspired by some of the conversations. I do, however feel that this specific topic deserved a two or maybe three-part session. BUT SHE GOT PEOPLE AND WOMEN, MORE IMPORTANTLY…. TALKING. It’s a hard conversation and one that warrants self-examination. Can we move forward and work past our differences with skin tone and color to see that on a granular level, we all face the same issues … that we are all One Race … THE HUMAN RACE. I know…. it’s hard.