After reading Jackie Summers’ article, Black Boy in a White Land: Urban Safari & the Elephant in the Room about his experience as a black man in white cultured surroundings, I was inspired to write about my little perspective of black people and my first meeting of a black family.
I grew up in a small, rural town in Newfoundland, an island on the east coast of Canada (translation: I am pretty damn white). I think there were maybe 2* black people in all the 7 adjacent small towns, and I had never seen either of them. I only heard about them (without saying much) from other kids. In sentiments resembling stories of haunted neighborhood houses, without fear or distain involved, just a sort of foreign, intriguing, ghostly concept. Most of us had not yet met a black person— only seen them on TV and in movies.
I don’t remember a lot of racism when I was young—either because there weren’t enough black people around to be the brunt of it or no one was really racist at all. I don’t really know for sure.
But I give full credit to the Cosby Show, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and my mother for developing my love of black people, or any color people! (My mothers saying: “I don’t care if someone is purple!” is one that made me giggle and want to meet purple people!)
The Cosby show was my first experience of black people. Revealing only several aspects of culture: the upper class of NYC to the humorous life of students to glimpses of the culture that stem from the heart of Africa (revealed by colorful, ethnic clothing, and songs, stores, poems and accents)
Also, it showed black and white people interacting and smiling—no sign of hate!
From the show, I may not have learned the full scope of all black cultures but I loved that family (it seemed more functional than mine!). They had a dad (an awesome one, I might add— I still love Bill!), they were funny, loved each other, dealt with stress in a healthy way and were always involved in things— what more could you want from people!?
The Fresh Prince of Bel Air played a huge roll in my love for black people guys. It’s true. I had the hugest crush on Will, he was my first interracial crush. Back then, I would’ve dropped my 11 year old life for him!
These shows did the complete opposite of racism for me. I wanted to BE black. My skin was all pasty, white and boring, or so I thought back then. I remember wanting to be black so bad it bordered on being a disorder! The people were so different from everything I’d ever seen, and I liked different.
As I got further along in my little life I realized something called “racism” existed. I could not at all grasp why someone would “hate” someone for the color of skin. (There were white people I didn’t like, reasons nothing to do with skin color!)
It didn’t make sense to me! It confused and angered me.
I started watching movies, shows and reading books with themes of slavery, racism, and the KKK. I started to hate the history of white people more and more. (Is there a word for racism against ones own race?)
For a short time, a part of me seemed to personally take on the guilt of white people. I felt so bad that it happened, and that white people caused so much pain. Mostly American white people, those were the people who were mentioned the most regarding mistreatment of slaves (Did every American family who employed black workers mistreat them as badly as was portrayed in some things? Surely couldn’t
be all?!) Thankfully, I matured and I don’t hate on white people as much anymore. But I am still disgusted at mistreatment of people (any people!)
And after reading/watching so many things, I had developed an irrational fear that black people would think I am racist— simply because I am white. I have always been so against racism that I knew I’d risk smiling a little more, saying “hi” a little too loudly, and staring, captivated, a little too hard, all the while telepathically sending out strong vibes of love to any black person I would ever meet. So I always feared coming across as an indirect racist person, like “why is she trying so hard, what’s her white-ass problem!?”
It wasn’t until I was 18 that I met a black person in real life.
I just moved to Ontario, Canada, in a basement apartment. I was there maybe 3 days when I heard a knock at a door. I opened the door to a very tall, thin, dark skinned, brightly dressed woman with a thick, foreign accent “HI! I’m Royette! Me and my family live up stairs” *she held out her hand*.
I stood there, staring, flabbergasted at having a long-time dream finally come true. I wanted to touch her beautiful face, hair and hands so badly, but I didn’t- because that would be weird.
She broke my gazing with a “Helloooo?! I said, Hi to you!” (In that amazingly delicious Republic of Dominican accent).
I snapped out of it, giggled, stammered and spewed: “Uh. Well. Hi. Um. I have to say, you are the very first black person I’ve ever met and I hope you don’t take that wrong because I love black people I have a crush on Will Smith and just think black babies are the cutest!” (Can you sense my excited awkwardness?? Oh yeah.)
In reply: “HA-HAA! NO SHIT!! You are funn-neeey!” With a big pearly white smile, to boot! I released a sigh of relief and thought, “Thank goodness she knows I’m not racist!”
I was so happy. We were friends right away. Her and her 3 beautiful children, ages 3,6,9, and her hardly-ever-home husband, too. We hung out around the house and chatted a lot, went to Wal-Mart together, and she showed me how to make the best damn fried chicken I ever had! (She laughed at my ignorance of fried chicken—I didn’t even know it was used as a racial slur!)
I also babysat her kids a few times. Her very shy 3-year-old son had the deepest, darkest eyes I had ever seen. And the most adorable dreads imaginable. When she brought him to meet me, I asked her, sheepishly but respectfully, “Can I touch them!?” She got a kick out of my timid, yet fearless way and screeched in a sing-song, “Oh yeah! You can! haha! You are so funn-neey!” (I think “fun-neey” was her word for “weird” for me. And I liked it.) The boy looked at me oddly as I told him how amazing his hair was. He shot me a ‘haven’t you ever seen hair before, lady?’ look.)
Her girls were also adorable. The 6 year old was full of questions and life force. She had such energy and reminded me of Rudy! The oldest, who seemed to have more experience behind her, was the shy, reserved one of the 3. She seemed to have deep stories behind those dark eyes; only I never got to hear them.
We were there roughly 2 months when Royette got deported. Taken right from her home, right in front of her children (who were born in Canada, so they were safely allowed to stay here, her husband because he was working.) I heard screaming and crying upstairs. I knew they were having stressful moments at the time, but this was different. I didn’t go up. I waited for her to come down. I waited the next day. Nothing. I waited another day. Still no word.
Finally on the 3rd day I met her husband outside and asked him how he was and where Royette was. He said with tears in his eyes and hate on his tongue: “She has been deported. Back to Dominican. Where she shouldn’t be. Her family is here. It is so unfair! It is not safe for her there! We just needed more time!” I had no idea what it all meant. But I felt for him, for her, those kids. I looked up and noticed all those deeply hurting, dark eyes peering out through the window. They were so lost. They were all hurting. I told him if there were anything I could do, I would do it.
I was then 3 months pregnant; there wasn’t a whole lot I could do. I babysat the kids a bit more. I helped them with homework. I wish I could’ve done more. I wish I still had contact with them, but they moved shortly after. How someone can hate someone for the color of skin is something that will always elude me.
How a country like Canada can rip a mother from her children to put her back in harms way of a Country they fled to start a better life is also something that will elude me.
I don’t know much about the rules of immigration and what leads to deportation—but I do know people deserve time and understanding. All people deserve love and safety. No matter what country. No matter what color. No matter what socioeconomic situation.
Racism isn’t born, folks, it’s taught. I have a two-year-old son. You know what he hates? Naps! End of list. ~Dennis Leary
*If anyone from my home town reading this knows exactly how many black people lived along the Southern Shore, if you could ever so nicely leave it in a comment below, I’d really love to know! (I said 2 for comedic effect and to emphasize the low number 😉
UPDATE: After beginning this piece I started to watch episodes of the Cosby Show, for research you see, and wow was that show ever filled with a lot more than just color and humor! For examples: gender issues, stereotypes, relationships, addictions, as well as heavy focus on parenting and being children were all thickly themed throughout. And the parent/child relationship is pretty picturesque on the Cosby show. The kids are good and the parents are good. And more importantly, they show that conflicts of interest and egoic tendencies will occur, but it’s all in how you react and deal with that matter: emphasis on love, understanding, trust and humor, a lot of humor! Life would suck without humor.
Tammy M Carew is currently an A.D.D writer (meaning: she writes in random bursts of creativity, because she can’t sit still long enough to finish one of the dozen or-so books she has started. But will someday. Just watch!) Which is why her blog, overzealousblog.blogspot.com, is such a frikin’ mess— but is full of (self-proclaimed) wisdom, humor, experience, and most of all, love. She has studied yoga philosophy and enlightenment for the past year and just started her Yoga Teacher training in September 2011. She is a mother of two, a lover to one and is in love with her dog and dove. And she absolutely loves elephant journal for all its delicious people and wisdom.