Detroit, 1967. #HandsUpDontShoot
Most of my life I’ve considered myself an optimist. I’ve used this faith in myself, and my fellow human beings to get me through many a hard time. Keep this in mind, I will be coming back to it.
I am what some people call a white, black man (not always in such nice terms, but you get the drift). My mother was a black woman, sorry I should probably say African American Woman, but I am from another time. A time when we referred to African American people as black, so for this story please indulge me. When people realize I am from a mixed race couple they usually say “oh but your mother was not fully black?”. Yes, yes she was. Not half black, not mixed black, she was a black woman, period. She once told me a story about how the nurse in the hospital stood at the foot of her bed holding this blond, blue eyed child. The nurse kept looking from the white baby to the black mother until my mother said “Yes, he’s mine give him to me!”
My hair and my skin have gotten a little darker over the years but for the most part I am mistaken for a ‘white man’, if I may use that term. This had always posed a bit of a dilemma for me as to where I fit in. My Grandmother was fond of saying to me “You’re a little black boy Gus, don’t you be trying to pass.” I did not understand what she meant then, I found out.
I remember once, over 20 years ago in a very white neighborhood in Langley, British Columbia, a black woman came up to me in a grocery store and whispered “I know what you are”. She had a sly look on her face like we had a secret between us that only we knew. I was just try to buy some milk.
Now this works both ways. There is nothing worst than having to tell a group of people who are in the middle of a good old fashion ‘nigger joke’ (I was hoping to get through this without using that word, but I have a point to make) that I am a black man. It sort of puts a damper on the punch line. Once again, you get the point I am trying to make I hope.
Have I known racism and bigotry? Yes. Have I known it as much as someone with much darker skin than I have? No. But for as long as I can remember I have been aware of it. They have been constant companions of mine. I accepted a long time ago that there is bigotry in this world and there is nothing that I can do about it. I simply understand there are people in this world that are very ignorant and I live with it. My Grandfather would say to me “you can’t change their minds Gus, you can only change yours”. So I took this wisdom as the gospel and dealt with it the best I could.
Going back to being am optimist, I honestly believe that there are more good than bad people in the world. I turn a blind eye to the bad and concentrate on the good. Did I stand up for injustice at every chance I could? Have I ‘passed’ now and again when it suited my needs? I wish I could say no. On the other hand, as I grow older I find myself picking up the torch again and again. Standing up to make sure the right thing is done.
I went to an open house at my son’s school not long ago and made a very important discovery about myself. I am not the optimist that I thought I was. I watched children at the school interact with each other, children of all different colors and backgrounds. I witnessed something that astounded me, something that I honestly do not think existed when I was a child. Many, if not most, of these children seemed oblivious to color, race, nationality (call it whatever you like). They just all existed together, they were just kids. I asked my son after the open house, in a round about way, about one of his friends who is of indian decent, to see if he saw any difference between him and his buddy. He said his buddy was older than him, taller than him, a bit faster but he was stronger for sure, haha. It was not even on his radar that his color, or racial background made him different.
So I am not the optimist I thought I was, unfortunately for me there will always be black people, and white people, and Asian people, so on and so on. I cannot undo a lifetime of what I knew. But I can try to let my kids know a world where there are only people. Good people and bad people, but just people.