Friday, February 13, 2009

how much has changed in my lifetime

I was thinking the other morning about how much had changed in my lifetime. I grew up in an atmosphere of racism and intolerance. Didn't know it then, but I look back and think, OMG, how could we be like that?

The kids in my neighborhood, myself included, used to play a game called "Smear the Queer". Do you remember that one? Whoever was the queer, caught the football and was then jumped on by everyone else in the game. Nice values.

When it got hot in the summer, and you would get all sweaty, a grownup would wipe the "nigger babies" off your neck (the black grime that would collect in the folds of your neck). Our version of "eenie meenie" included "catch a nigger by his toe". Really. Pretty awful when you think about it.

We did not play with black children. We were not allowed to invite them home or to sleepovers. I didn't have a sleepover in 4th grade, because I could not invite Janet Pulley, along with all the other girls. Didn't seem right to me, although I think it was more about friendship than about any budding social conscience on my part.

Our neighborhood was completely white. 100%. When we went to sell our house there, another three houses were for sale. The neighbors agreed to not sell to anyone black, so that the neighborhood wouldn't be ruined.

Yet I did not grow up to be a bigot. I did not grow up to be a racist. Why? Because I learned to read when I was six. And I got a library card. And an education.
I am so glad that my world opened up -- I would hate to still be in the same place I was then.

1 comment:

Kitten Herder said...

You and I grew up in very similar socio-economic conditions, even though I was in a single parent household.

Our neighborhood was 100% white. By the time I was in sixth grade there was one black boy and one Jewish boy in my entire school. Though our vice principal was a large black man that all the kids feared (though he really was a very nice guy if you talked to him one-on-one).

Most of our neighbors were blue collar whites and transplanted hillbillies. Graduating from high school was a stellar achievement, since many of the parents hadn't made it through (including my own mother).

We moved up a notch in the socio-economic spectrum by the time I got to high school. Still, in a school of around 600 kids, there were four blacks and no Jews.

My mom had black and Jewish friends, so the concept wasn't quite so alien to me. However, I didn't have any non-white serious friends my own age until college.

I am sometimes concerned, living in NH, that my son isn't exposed to enough cultural diversity. He probably sees more kids 'of color' than I did at his age, but not by much.