My experience with race has been two fold. First I grew up in South Bend on Eddy Street, our neighbor was poor but as kids we had no idea. Everyone around us lived the same way. We all had single parent households, and that one parent was at work most of the time. At this time I had two brothers and a sister, so one parent working could not afford to provide what we wanted, and all kids want things without one thought of what we actually need. My neighborhood was predominantly black, but there were also poor whites; we had regular corner stores and tailors, but none of us really paid much attention we were just being kids.
Race first came to me when I started school; once kindergarten started I used to wonder why I had to catch a bus to Jefferson school when Perley is within walking distance. The only reason this came to my attention was because my best friends lived next door and they walked to Perley. As school progressed this thought would continue to emerge until I had a conversation with my Grandmother. She told me that “this was a program to diversify the school system”. At the time this program seemed just foolish, because I wanted to go to school with my friends, but we had no choice in the matter. As I got older I began to realize why this had to be done, and as I started to read about history this program became clear. Did this program work? My sister says “yes” but when the same question is posed to me, I say “the jury is still deliberating”.
When I was 12 we moved to Plymouth IN, that is when my race became a factor in my everyday life. When we moved to Plymouth we were the only black family in the entire town and boy did we know it. Until the late 1970s Plymouth was what we refer to as a sundown town, meaning blacks were not supposed to be there after sunset. When we arrived it seemed that people in Plymouth were no different than in South Bend. That turned out to be a very dark tinted window that would not show the other side until school started. My race was now front and center. People had been looking at us strange since we arrived, but they only saw us sparingly, but with school came everyday outings. It did not matter how young these children were it seemed they all knew the word Nigger, and in what context to use it. People would ask “why does your hair look like that or why do you talk like that”. The problem was I did not have an answer. I thought what I was doing was normal, just being myself-but it became painfully obvious that I was different. There were people who treated us equal, but those were a minority.
These experiences changed my life because they taught me what this country was really like. I did not have to travel this entire country to understand what race was all about, and from this point forward I was different from white people. However these experiences did not make me feel any less than anyone else. Although my parents divorced some years back, they were both still there for us, so I always had support for whatever I chose to do even if that whatever was not in my best interests. I found out that no matter how good I was, I would always be different; but I never figured different to be a bad thing and I still do not.
Gender has never been a problem for me, but I have seen my Mother, Grandmother, And Sister be dually discriminated against because of their race and gender. As far as class, class has no color. Rich people are in a class, and poor people are in a separate class, but if the question was posed to me, I would say “rich white people would rather live next to poor white people, instead of rich black people”. People say that race and class is different and that is true, but they fail to mention that racism creates a different class by separating people with the same life goals. Class has been around a lot longer than race, but this nation seems to wrap the two together in the same box.
I do not know what I hope to learn from this class. What I do know is that, a person can never learn enough about race, gender, and class in this nation. We can make no mistake. This country’s racial issues have changed over time, some good and some not so good. But it (race) is not fluid in this country. We may be able to change class, but race in this nation is systemic. Even with Barack Obama being president this nation has a long way to go.