The reality of who was in control landed with a resounding thud in my young, white life when I was all of 10 years old and was told that black women were not, in fact, in charge of the world. Until then this was precisely my perception because of the women in my childhood neighborhood. At the ripe old age of 45, I still politely acquiesce to any black woman older than myself because of what I learned in the first 10 years of my life.
Even after 10, I continued to see black women in what I perceived as supreme positions of power: RNs at the hospital where my grandmother worked as an LPN, teachers, secretaries at school, school security guards, lunchroom supervisors, meter maids, neighbors, and of course, mothers. My own mother was a force to be reckoned with on many fronts, but she didn't feel comfortable dressing in bright, colorful flows of clothing, nor did she adorn herself with intense gold and silver baubles like the other women in my impoverished and (as it's now labeled) diverse childhood community. Never mind that they wore thrift store fabrics and costume jewelry – it gleamed a standard of confident presentation I still adhere to.
My mother could be carried up in the energy of these women, but she was not the source of that energy; they were. From where I stood, she was allowed to be a part of the inner circle. That those women would gather together and passionately discuss worldly issues was not lost on me. Clearly, they were in charge – no matter what anyone else said.
Sure, my dad's boss was white. So was the mayor, the news anchor, and even the president – but these people had no direct impact on my life or the life of my family. My dad's boss didn't care if I ever learned to spell; the news anchor didn't stop my older brother from getting the crap beat out of him by boys twice his age at school; the mayor wasn't concerned with my getting enough to eat during school lunches; and the president damn sure didn't stop by when our house was burning down.
At every turn it was a black woman who set the tone, kept the flow going, and often saved the day. Black women weren't just present in every facet of my life from a young age, they were there in a very positive way, serving as role models for everything from how to carry myself to how to handle a life-threatening situation.
After reading fellow BC writer Carla Thompson's article, "Michelle Obama's Truth May Set Us Free," my life experience struggles to understand the "natural fear of possibility" as defined by Michelle Obama, a fear she says many blacks feel in a white world. I struggle because it's not a white world to me – it's a world of with a lot of whites.
That there are more white people than non-whites has always has been irrelevant. From my perspective, it isn't who there are more of that puts them in charge; rather, the charge goes to those who are doing the most good and keeping things on an even keel. I don't understand how white people who are nothing like my parents rate the kind of time and attention blacks would have to invest to justify the existence, much less the persistence of, "the fear."
I am not alone in my perception. I do have siblings, other family, and extended family who share my experience and view of the world. I have raised my children the same. My friends are of like thinking – they'd have to be. Just as no one in their right mind would befriend a criminal, who in their right mind would befriend someone who looked down on those who are so clearly in charge?
It is not my intention to dismiss the experience of anyone who has suffered at the hands of prejudice, nor would I dismiss the fear founded in that experience. I've seen it firsthand too many times and know why the fear exists, but I do not understand how the fear persists – and that is because of what I was taught by example as a child. From the knee-high view of a small person, an act of prejudice is hate – nothing more, nothing less. Hate has no color when you haven't been taught to assign it. Prejudice makes no sense to a child; it is all about the person being hateful; it has nothing to do with the person being hated; and it creates a permanent and unsightly association between the yucky feeling one gets from witnessing as much and the person who causes the scene.
It is my intention and request that my experiences not be dismissed, either. I do not assume the black women I've seen brazenly smacking their kids around Wal-Mart to be of the same ilk that was part of the village that raised me. I would ask then, in kind, that no one assume I am of the same stock that thinks there is something inherently inferior about the black race. Being treated badly because I am white (to include other whites insisting on "our" assumed superiority) is just as ugly and awful as witnessing someone you love being mistreated for no other reason than because they are black.
Mine is not the majority white experience and perception, but neither are black women the majority – and I will still always step aside for her. It isn't about kowtowing to the majority regardless of who they are; it's about emulating and respecting those who are doing the majority of good because of what they do.
Let that rule your day, and fear will naturally fall away.