Sunday, April 23, 2017

On Black And White And Everything In Between

Dr Oz had an interesting story 4/20.  Oprah's made a movie called "The Legacy of Henrietta Lacks' , here's an article about it.
I like how Oprah talks about how she doesn't have rage in her anymore, and I think she's just about as good a role model as there is.  And I'm not talking about for the black community, but for all of us, regardless of our race.  Really, what is race, anyway?  A great majority of what the culture calls "black people" really have sufficient "white" ancestors that they could go either way. 

I have grandsons whose father is "black".  Clay was a handsome young man, with coffee-with-cream skin and green eyes.  (He had a white grandfather, and who knows how many 'white folks' came into his genealogy prior to that.)  I have to admit I never liked him much, but it wasn't because he was "black".  His mother, Dorothy, was a fine, hard-working woman who loved her children and she accepted my daughter, who, according to Clay, was "the whitest white woman he'd ever known", into their family and loved the children that her son produced with my daughter.  Clay was Dorothy's youngest, and her only son.  I can attest to the fact that a male child being raised with lots of sisters is used to being doted on.  I had three sisters and only one brother.  Hubs has eight sisters.  'Nuff said?  Dorothy already had quite a few grandchildren, So JR and JC were just faces in the crowd.  But they were and are my only grandchildren, and to me, they were and are special.  They were often with Hubs and me for extended periods of time, due to their parents' rocky relationship, and when they were in the 5th grade, we adopted them legally so they could have health insurance through me and so that I could be their advocate when that was needed.  I was candid with these boys because I knew they deserved nothing less.  The oldest, JC, looked like his daddy, he was a beautiful baby and little boy who grew into a handsome young "blackish" man.  He took on the mannerisms of young black men, and I wasn't very happy about that.  JC could've easily passed for white, and I told him that I thought he could decide to be whichever race he wanted to be, and that it would probably be easier if he chose to be white.  JC was offended by this and went around saying that I asked him not to tell people he was black, and this is not what I said nor what I meant.  I was just giving him the facts as I saw them.  So JC wore his blackness like a badge of honor.  He was bullied in the middle-class, almost totally non-black school, and the few times he threatened retaliation, the police were called to the school.  When he got old enough to drive, he was pulled over for one nonsensical and/or fictitious reason or another.  Usually they told him that they wouldn't give him a ticket (which they probably didn't have grounds for, anyway) if he'd allow them to let the drug dogs do a "sweep" of his pick-up.  And he would sit there on the curb and wait for the van containing the dogs to get there, while people drove by and gaped at him.  Then he waited for them to "sweep" his pick-up and find nothing.  To make it seem worthwhile, sometimes the officer that pulled him over would tell him they detected "a faint scent" and said maybe he had had someone in his truck at some point that had some on their person.  They even pulled him over on the night of his high school graduation when he was on his way home to change out of his cap and gown before the class party was to start.  I told JC back then, to call the officer "sir", to act friendly, and by all means, not to try to run away because someone might decide to shoot.  Many years later, when things went bad for Trayvon Martin, Aaron Campbell, Victor Steen, Steven Eugene Washington, Oscar Grant, and others, I felt keenly the anguish of their parents, and I saw the wisdom in giving JC the advice I had given.  Even after he was out of school, and we had moved from Dewey to Bartlesville, which has more experience in interacting with races other than white, a highway patrolman pulled him over because he was "swerving", made him park his truck and told him that, though he detected no alcohol or drugs, JC should "sleep it off", and said he would arrest him if he saw his truck back out on the road.  So JC, not wanting to awaken us, decided to walk home, about a mile along a busy, unlit highway.  Someone saw him in their headlights, pulled over, and offered him a ride.  JC, not knowing the man, accepted the ride, and was brought home safely.  There were so many frightening scenarios for the way that night could've turned out, but God had His hand on JC.  Hubs drove him to where his truck was parked and they were able to bring it home before a tow-truck could be sent to get it, eliminating the risk of towing and impounding charges. 

JR's race never really came up, because he just naturally looked, talked, and acted like a little white boy.  The only clue that he had any genealogy in the black race was that his hair was thick and curly.  Now that he's an adult, I look at him sometimes and think he looks like Hubs.  Other times, I think how much he looks like my dad and/or my dad's brother, uncle Chuck. 

And here's the thing I don't understand.  Why is it so wrong to choose to be white if more than 50% of your heritage IS white?  Here I got this withering look from my neighbor when he told me JC had told him I wanted him to tell people he was white as if he's denying his heritage or trying to be something he isn't.  What the hell difference does it make?  Wasn't JC, in fact, denying his white heritage?  All those French, German, English and maybe a few American Indians that came to him through me and the Welsh and Scottish and English and American Indians that came through Hubs? 

I tell you all this because I want you to know that I know that racism is not dead.  In fact, it is not even wounded.  The racists have just become quieter about it, that's all.  In my generation, we were privately instilled with the racial opinions that our parents had, though many of us were rebellious enough to know that our elders could be, and often were, wrong.  We grew up and tried to raise our own children such that race was not "a thing".  But because we were caught in the middle, when our children started being friends with all races, we silently hoped that they wouldn't choose anyone outside their race to have children with.  We knew our parents and siblings wouldn't willingly accept mixed-race children into the family, and it would complicate things for those children.  I wouldn't be at all surprised to know that it's the same on the other side.  But if you truly raise color-blind children, they don't understand that, and so they write you off as being a racist, too.  I was the only member of my immediate family to end up being the grandmother of bi-racial children, and in my family, that was a scandal they whispered about behind my back.  My parents referred to them using the "N Word", openly, as if it was "funny" or "cute", without even a clue how wrong that was.  Or, in fact, without even caring whether that offended me.  So they drove a wedge between themselves and me, right there.  I loved my grandsons and I was and am proud of them.  Any embarrassment I felt was more about the opinions that my birth family had than it was about the heritage of my grandsons.  The reasons why I was not a fan of their father had to do with the way he treated my daughter, how he wouldn't hold down a steady job, how he was smart-mouthed, spoiled, opportunistic, selfish and entitled, how he already had created several other children that he didn't support, and how he clearly felt that no matter where he was or who he was with, he should get the lions' share of attention.  In short, he rather proudly and defiantly reinforced the stereotypical beliefs about black people that many white people have.  One night he beat our daughter and tried to push her over the railing of their upstairs apartment.  JC was a baby and she was already pregnant with JR.  She sought shelter with a neighbor, called the police and then called me, and Hubs and I took out in the wee hours of the morning, frantic to get to her and JC before he did.  Clay would float in and out of their lives after that, never living up to any of his responsibilities towards his sons, and not even that interested in them until JC was of legal age.  Then he contacted him through FaceBook and they met up a few times.  I think JR got involved through JC.  They were reintroduced to two of Clay's sons by the woman he took up with towards the end of his relationship with JR and JC's mother.  Dorothy had died.  Clay was then in a wheelchair due to the loss of his legs as a result of having diabetes, and then he told JR and JC that he had end-stage cancer.  He died in 2012 at the age of 46.  He never made any apologies for the things that he had done (or not done), just expected to be forgiven and JC and JR pretty much did that.  I felt like it was good for them, not to have anger towards their father, because they did when they were children, JC a lot more than JR, to the point where I felt the need to get counseling for both of them.  So I didn't try to interfere in any way, though I did worry that he would take advantage of them.  He brought a certain measure of sadness into their lives, to get acquainted with their father only to watch him die, but maybe they needed the closure, I don't know.  I hope he told them that he loved them and whether he said it in so many words or not, I think they understood that he did love them, as much as he was able to love anyone, so there was at least that, and I saw it bring a lot of peace to JC that he hadn't had before.  So even though I was alarmed, aggravated and annoyed when he first contacted JC, I came to see that it was a blessing for JC and JR and I was grateful for it.

An old picture of JC and JR.  They were about 15 and 14 here.

This is the thing about anger, hatred, rage:  It eats up the person who harbors it.  And another thing: most of the time, what looks like a bad thing, can turn into a good thing.  Being angry and bitter can get in the way of that. 

Yeah, Oprah has it all figured out.  It's What She Knows For Sure.  It's What I Know For Sure, too.  Heh.

May all your bad things turn into good things.  Hugs   xoxoxo


  1. Great commentary on the race issue. God bless those grandchildren. I hope their lives are beautiful despite some trials during their youth.

  2. Our first grandson was born out of wedlock, so I know about whispers and being looked down on. He's never met his birth father, nor have we, and his stepfather was so harsh with him it broke my heart. But, in spite of it all, he has turned out to be the most loving young man and always tells us he loves us. We kept him so much when he was a little fella, that it's hard not to show more attention to him than the other grandchildren.

    1. Kids can be pretty resilient as long as they know they are loved. This is where grandparents bridge the gap. In fact, according to the 2010 census, 14 million children are being raised by their grandparents in the US. I met grandparents when JR and JC were little who raised their grandchildren and now they are raising their great-grandchildren. I feel so blessed that it is not necessary for us to do that, raising kids is a big job and I'm not sure we could do it at our ages now. Raising your grandchildren turns you into a parent and you miss out on getting to be a grandparent. But I feel like we made a difference in their lives and we were able to expose them to positive male role models in their scout leaders and church youth group leaders, their Grandpa and Uncle Spike. I know from experience that the bad stuff in your childhood can make you a stronger adult, or it can leave scars you will carry for your whole life. What makes the difference is whether there is someone who cares about what happens to you, who will do whatever they can to make your life better, stand up and fight on your behalf, if necessary. Many tears, many sleepless nights, many prayers, many hugs.


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