To what extent do you discuss issues of race with your children in the same way they were discussed in your home, growing up?
Anonymous: My family didn’t discuss race much at all. The implied message was mostly that we need to be wary of blacks and Hispanics. My wife and I discuss race with our kids a lot, partly because they are adopted and of a different race. They have friends who are of different races and religions, and regard it as totally natural and normal to do so.
Birth Decade: 1960s
Hometown: Houston, where I have lived all my life except for four years in Austin and two years in Indiana.
Race: “That I’m white/Caucasian really has no meaning for me, simply because it doesn’t create any problems for me in this society. When I was in China, yes, being white/Caucasian certainly did change how others saw me and how I saw myself.”
“Events of the past five years in particular—the murders of Trayvon Williams, Tamir Rice, and so many other occurrences of discrimination and injustice–have certainly made it very clear to me that people of color experience life in America very differently from what I experience. I’m shocked every day by some new shooting of an unarmed black guy or arrest for Driving While Black, and then I have to realize that it has been happening all my life but I didn’t know about it.”
What frustrates you the most about racism and/or racists?
Anonymous: Their ignorance and naiveté about history and cultures astounds me. The people making the claim for racial superiority have their ancestry in central Europe, an area of the world which, through the period of known history, has seen invasions of Celts, Germans, Italians, Huns, Slavs, Hungarians, Mongols, Turks, and more. And nobody knows what happened in pre-history. There might be some racially pure society on some island somewhere, but to make claims of racially purity anywhere in the Eurasian landmass is absurd. Cultures grow by incorporating new influences and adapting to change; cultures that reject new influences and refuse to change stagnate and die.
“To make claims of racially purity anywhere in the Eurasian landmass is absurd. Cultures grow by incorporating new influences and adapting to change; cultures that reject new influences and refuse to change stagnate and die.”
How would you describe yourself?
Anonymous: My mother is from upstate New York, and moved to Texas after marrying my father; her background was Scottish, but that had no influence on my upbringing. My father’s family, however, provided me with a very distinctive last name (from Wendish, a small Slavic group like Polish and Czech, but the Wends had assimilated much to the culture of the Saxon Germans, who had conquered them in the 12th-13th centuries).
When I was a child, I often heard my father and his family conversing in German, and his parents often conversed in Wendish; I became curious about languages because of that. Yet overall our Wendish/German heritage meant very little to me and my cousins; I believe I am the only that learned some German, and that was for academic reasons, and I believe I am the only one that travelled to the old country to explore the place of our origins.
Yet a big influence on me was their religion, Lutheranism. In a way, I think the strict teaching about original sin and sinful human nature helped to prevent deep racist thinking among the more thoughtful members of the family: in the eyes of God, all are sinful regardless of skin color, and equally dependent on Jesus for salvation. (Let there be no doubt, though, that the n-word was heard at family reunions back then. Today it’s different—one cousin married a black woman.)
“In a way, I think the strict teaching about original sin and sinful human nature helped to prevent deep racist thinking among the more thoughtful members of the family: in the eyes of God, all are sinful regardless of skin color, and equally dependent on Jesus for salvation.”
The teaching on original sin also alerted me to the fact that there is in all us—including me—the possibility, if not likelihood, of doing harm to others, for no other reason than that there is something perverse in human nature which insists upon doing evil.
Another big influence on me was my father’s service in the military and career at Houston Police Department. He joined the military after Truman desegregated the armed forces, so he had to have been trained to not express racist opinions and to respect black service-members as equals, and he no doubt was trained similarly at HPD; of course, there were (and, no doubt, still are) many racists at HPD, but I don’t recall my father saying the n-word more than once or twice, and when he did it was in reference to particularly heinous crimes—murder, rape, armed robbery, selling dope, pimping.
To him, I believe, it was all about actions and character, and while he saw some pretty nasty characters while on the job, he knew that most blacks were hard-working people. Anybody who worked an honest job earned his respect; his harshest condemnation of people who weren’t breaking the law was for whites who wouldn’t work a steady job to support their family or to improve their circumstances.
Still, he was wary of blacks (he did view MLK as a trouble-maker), especially young black men, probably because so many of the ones he saw on his job were committing crimes; without a doubt that wariness passed on to us, his children. Eventually, we got to know POC better, and learned not to be fearful of them, but it took years.
Two other things are relevant to my upbringing. When I was born (in 1962), we lived on Homestead Road in northeast Houston. The neighborhood had been started for lower-class whites in the post-WWII boom, but in the 60s was gradually becoming the home of more minorities. My older sister was going to schools in North Forest ISD (my other siblings and I went to a Lutheran school), and, as a minority white, was having a rough time, either because she was being picked on by black kids or she felt she was being picked on. So in 1969 we moved, and yes, the reason was that too many blacks were moving into the neighborhood and crime was going up. I grew up in the Aldine/Spring area, bounded by the north belt on the south and 1960 on north, and IH-45 on the west and IH-59 on the east. The new neighborhood was entirely white, lower-class, and it was there from neighborhood kids that I heard the n-word spoken the most. Yes, the worst thing you could be accused of was being a n—lover.
When (if ever) did you first realize that your race and/or cultural identity mattered?
Anonymous: I remember, back when we lived on Homestead Road, my father being called at home to go to work to help HPD put down some riot that was happening; a search on Google leads me to believe this was the TSU riot in 1967. Of course we were afraid for the safety of my father and the other officers, and I’m sure that it probably led to me fearing black people. (Neither the students’ safety nor the justice of their cause was discussed.)
I vaguely remember him being called to work another time, presumably after MLK was assassinated. As if to punctuate the reason for moving from Homestead Road, the day we returned to the house to clean up after moving all the stuff out, we approached the front door and saw an enormous foot-print on it, and the door swinging open; somehow the family deduced from the footprint that it was a black guy who kicked open the door to look for something to steal. So, with what my sister was experiencing at high school, and my father was experiencing at work, and fears about the neighborhood, a certain amount of fear of people of color was instilled in us.
I did not actually meet any black people until 7th grade.
Does race matter? Please explain what you believe and why.
Anonymous: It shouldn’t, the fact that I have brown hair or size 11 feet doesn’t determine what type of person I am and what I do.
It’s culture that’s the issue—how people act, what they say, and what beliefs they act on. Racism seems to be the assumption that traits such as skin color determine our culture and ways of thinking and behaving, and judging someone on the basis of that erroneous assumption rather than on facts such as character and behavior.
But people have that urge to hate, that perverse little instinct to do the wrong thing when there’s a choice, that little devil on the shoulder that too often overpowers the good angel.
Does everyone in your immediate family feel the same way about race? If not, why don’t you think so?
Anonymous: Yes, pretty much. Our jobs and lives in Houston require that we interact with people of all races and cultures. Through those experiences we’ve gained much understanding and appreciation of others. The one distant family member who feels differently reveals something about racism among lower-class whites.
“Our jobs and lives in Houston require that we interact with people of all races and cultures. Through those experiences we’ve gained much understanding and appreciation of others. The one distant family member who feels differently reveals something about racism among lower-class whites.”
This particular person has suffered from serious emotional and psychological problems throughout her life and developed alcoholism because of them; at this point, her life, it’s sad to say, is a complete wreck. She’s unemployed, unemployable (because of mental illness), and totally impoverished, living on various forms of government assistance. Somehow she manages to feel that she is superior to blacks. White skin-color is all that she has. There’s no point in trying to talk sense to her—her mind is gone.
If you’ve ever been treated differently because of your race, can you describe any/all relevant experiences?
Anonymous: Through my career I’ve had many black colleagues, with whom I have been able to talk about such matters. One in particular stands out, Jimmy. (I must first note than he is much smarter at me in one field of knowledge that I experienced great difficulties in.) He and I became fishing buddies, and the long drive to Galveston provided us with ample time to discuss a lot of issues. Jimmy was a very straight arrow; he told me he never smoked pot or did any drugs, even though he was in high school and college during the 60s. Therefore one story he told had great impact on me. He and his wife and kids were driving to Florida to go visit his mother; since IH-10 is a corridor for transporting drugs, the cops pulled him over and conducted a thorough search of everything in his car while he and his family waited by the side of the road. As he told me this I remembered how much pot I smoked back in high school and college; one time cops even found a tiny amount in my car when I made a minor traffic violation, but they just threw it away and let me go.
“As he told me this I remembered how much pot I smoked back in high school and college; one time cops even found a tiny amount in my car when I made a minor traffic violation, but they just threw it away and let me go.”
One event happened, and it made me laugh because I realized how the shoe was on the other foot; I can see how this would be extremely aggravating to people of color. My daughter was at a friend’s quinceanera in a wealthy neighborhood. I went to pick her up at 11:30. Being a long-time Houstonian, no matter where I have to go, I leave pretty much an hour early, to make sure I get there on time; there happened to be no traffic, and I got to the destination 30 minutes early. Rather than call my daughter to leave the party early, I went to a nearby 24 hour CVS to look for something to eat.
I had been doing yard work all day, and hadn’t taken a shower yet, so I walked into the CVS looking dirty, sun-burnt, and dazed. It also happened that my debit card had been frozen because of fraudulent activity, and I had exactly $1 in my wallet. I have a food allergy, so I was walking through CVS looking for something non-allergenic under $1 to eat while waiting for my daughter. I couldn’t find anything, so I kept walking through the CVS, looking. This roused the suspicion of the clerk, a black woman. So it was definitely an odd experience as I walked through the store, looking like a homeless person, being followed and watched from a distance by the black female clerk. I can see why it would be infuriating if this happened all the time.
In your educational experiences, did you learn anything about race?
Anonymous: I started going to public school in 7th grade. There I met black kids from the area we called Bordersville, the area off old 1960 between Lee Road and 59. My neighborhood friends already knew some of the black kids through going to public schools, and were friends with them, so I wasn’t too afraid, but I was still kind of anxious: at that point I still hadn’t had much contact with actual black people. So at middle school I met black kids, mostly through playing football and basketball. I soon learned that they were nice guys. Sometimes their way of playing basketball was too showboaty, and yes, my friends called that style of basketball “n—ball,” but the fact is they were better than we were. At this time in my life I was becoming more interested in books and literature than sports.
Something that happened my sophomore year, at Aldine HS, revealed to me much about race in the US. I knew only one of the hundreds of Hispanic students there. I was kind of scared of the Hispanic guys, because they looked tough and I didn’t understand them when they spoke Spanish; many of the girls were really pretty, especially one whose locker was next to mine, but I was afraid to talk to her, both because she was so pretty and I feared that the boys, out of jealousy, might beat me up if I talked to her.
“That year some HPD officers murdered Joe Campos Torres, and their punishment was one year probation and $1 fine. I remember the Hispanic kids protesting by wearing $1 bills safety-pinned to their shirts, including the pretty girl whose locker was next to mine. I vaguely remember her and her friends huddling together in front of the lockers and talking about it and being very upset; I needed to get to my locker but I felt so ashamed of being white and of being somehow connected to HPD I didn’t want to interrupt them.”
A major influence on my thinking occurred in my junior and senior years. Back then, few black students were in the honors/advanced classes, so although in a school with 25% blacks, I had little contact with them in my classes, and I wasn’t playing sports anymore. Yet one black girl, whom I will call Rita, sat behind me in one class; not only did we talk a lot during class (from which I learned that she had a much more stable home-life than I did, as she certainly didn’t go out at night, smoking pot and drinking beer, as I did), she also made better grades, even As in trigonometry, which I passed only because the teacher pitied me.
It was one thing that some black kids were better at sports; it was another matter entirely that Rita was smarter and a better student. (And funny and nice, too.) When I went to college, I had similar experiences. A black guy from Galena Park, Neal, lived across the hall in our dorm; he was studying electrical engineering, a really tough major, and was doing well at it. We were neighbors only one year, but later I’d occasionally into him on campus. I was struck by some injustice: Neal had to take off a semester because of some issue back at home which concerned finances; it seemed unfair to me because he worked so hard and did so well at such a hard major, while I had no major financial concerns and was in a much easier major, and I knew plenty of affluent white kids who were using the opportunity of going to college to party all the time.
When I was working on my teacher’s certificate, one of the classes I had to take concerned teaching minority students. I certainly learned some useful and helpful information, but the truth is Rita and Neal had enormous influence on my thinking about minorities, because they were smarter than I was and had more stable home lives.
“I certainly learned some useful and helpful information, but the truth is Rita and Neal had enormous influence on my thinking about minorities, because they were smarter than I was and had more stable home lives.”
Is there anything you’d like to add that you haven’t already mentioned?
Anonymous: I need to make a confession. Although this happened 46 years ago, I’ve never talked about it to anybody, and it bugs me that I did this. I want to apologize; the only defense I have is that I was 10 years old at the time.
In 1972 or so, my sister took me and my brother to the Dairy Queen on 1960, between Memorial Hills and Hardy. She pulled up to the drive-through, and a black girl, probably 16 or so, came to take our order. She closed the window and went to make our order.
I don’t why I did this, but I shouted “Hurry up, n—-!” My sister was horrified, and even my brother was shocked. My sister started yelling at me, and it was with horror that I learned that no, the glass did not block what I had shouted. I don’t know why I said it, because I didn’t even mean it, and I certainly did not intend for the girl to hear it. Yet she had to have heard it.
So, if one of you reading this was that black girl, working at the DQ on 1960 between Memorial Hills and Hardy in 1972 or 1973, and heard the obnoxious and stupid white boy shout that through the drive-through window, I am sorry. I so regret it. I didn’t mean it—I didn’t even intend for you to hear it. I was just being stupid and thoughtless, and for that moment part of the potential evil in me manifested itself. Now I think of that girl being like the wonderful black kids I’ve taught over the decades. How could anyone say such a horrible thing to Anjeanette, Crystal, Damecia, Lauren, Wesley, Webster, Johnny, Terence…the list goes on, there being so many wonderful non-white people I’ve come into contact with in my life. Still, in my childish foolishness and ignorance, I said it, and I’m sorry.
***If you liked this post, feel free to check out these others. Let me know if you’d like to be featured in any of the upcoming Perspectives pieces!
- Perspectives on Race #4: Cat, On Checking Both Boxes
- Perspectives on Race #3: Anonymous in Maryland
- Perspectives on Race #2: Jamie, From the Midwest
- Perspectives on Race #1: Black, Muslim & Tired
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