Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ebony and Ivory

Jim ‘Suldog’ Sullivan is a blogger whose acquaintance I’ve just recently made, through our mutual friendship with my good blogger-friend Lime. Suldog, along with his friend Michelle Hickman, recently (well, if a couple weeks ago is 'recent') ran parallel posts describing their respective experiences of race relations in their formative years (Suldog is white, Michelle is black). And then Suldog came back with his Chapter Two. Their stories were poignant and honest, and they moved me to share with you some of my own experiences, and a few of my reflections on them. It occurred to me that I’ve never really given a complete account of my experiences vis-à-vis black folks (although my story of my GF1 gives some of it), and that’s actually been something I’ve thought about a fair bit. So, forthwith, I present to you the formative racial experiences of the young Desmond Jones. . .

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The town I grew up in Up North was whiter-than-white. I mean, there simply weren’t any black people in our town. None. Zero. Most of my first impressions were formed by the sports I watched on TV – guys like Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, or closer to home, Detroit Lions like Night Train Lane, Roger Brown, or Mel Farr, or my beloved Tigers, like Willie Horton, Earl Wilson and Gates Brown. My first impression was simply that these guys were really good players, and I didn’t really make any mental distinction between them and players of a ‘paler’ persuasion.

But, by and large, my early formation in ‘race relations’ was mostly by way of ignorance. I simply never saw any black people, except on TV. On the rare occasions that I traveled ‘downstate’ to cities like Saginaw, or Flint, or Detroit, we would see black folks, but mostly they just seemed exotic, and strange. I remember asking my dad why their skin was dark, but the palms of their hands were lighter; I forget how he answered.

My family didn’t form me in racist attitudes, beyond the simple perception of ‘difference’. In fact, my mother (my ‘first mother’), having grown up in Nazi Germany, was especially sensitive, and would not countenance me using words like ‘nigger’. And it’s funny – as a young kid, my friends would use the word ‘nigger’ as a ‘generic insult’, on the order of ‘jerk’ or ‘doofus’. There really wasn’t any particular ‘racial’ connotation to it in our minds. How could there have been? We didn’t even know any black people; it was just an insult. But my mother let me know, in no uncertain terms, that it was not a word she ever wanted to hear coming from my mouth.

I remember, too, that my dad seemed to regard Martin Luther King as a trouble-maker and rabble-rouser. He didn’t couch it in explicitly ‘racial’ terms, but he sure didn’t appreciate the world-as-he-knew-it being messed with. . .

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When I got to high school (I graduated in 1973), my ‘racial horizons’ began to expand significantly, and not always in the best ways. Our school, being one of the larger schools in Northern Michigan, would, in order to play against comparably-sized schools, wind up playing teams from some of the urban schools ‘downstate’.

[A brief lesson in Michigan geography: in the popular imagination, Michigan consists of ‘Detroit’ and ‘everywhere else’. Metro-Detroiters call the rest of Michigan ‘outstate’; northerners like me refer to the more 'metropolitan' southern part of the state as ‘downstate’; ‘Yoopers’ – folks from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (the UP) – call everyone else ‘trolls’, ie, those who live ‘below the (Mackinac) Bridge’.]

Anyway, playing teams from Flint and Saginaw was a real eye-opener for us northern white boys. One time, we were playing at a predominantly-black school from downstate; our team bus drove up right next to the door to the locker-room, and we walked from our bus into the locker room with police officers on either side of us. Inside the locker room, the school’s principal met us. “Urban High is a big place,” he told us, “and there are a bunch of black kids here who’d just as soon cut a white kid as look at him.” Well, THAT was comforting. “So don’t go wandering around, and stay in groups, and you’ll be OK.” Shit, we were just there to play a basketball game, and this guy had us fearing for our lives. And once the game started, the loud and raucous urban environment was even more intimidating to us. As was the fact that, apart from a few of Urban High’s teachers, and maybe the referees, ours were virtually the only white faces in the gym. We felt very much like ‘strangers in a strange land’ (which, I've come to understand, is how a lot of black folks feel pretty much all the time). . .

Our coaches were quite upset with what they perceived to be Urban High’s intimidation tactics, and when Urban High came to our gym a couple weeks later, they arranged to return the favor. Our principal met their team in the locker room, and told them, “Up North High is a big place, and there are a lot of rednecks who’d just as soon shoot a black kid as look at him,” etc, etc. (*sigh*)

I think it was my junior year that three black kids – a brother and sister, and their cousin – came to Up North High. It created a minor sensation; as far as anybody could remember, they were the first black folks who’d ever lived Up North, except for a few basketball players at the junior college. For the most part, they were pretty well received, although our ignorance and inexperience were painful, I’m sure. Some of the white kids, in all innocence, would just walk up to them and ask, “Can I touch your hair?” There was also a certain sense of anticipation that Up North High was, by virtue of the presence of actual black males among the student body, on the verge of an athletic breakthrough. Alas, one of the guys was a decent, though not spectacular, athlete; the other just wasn’t terribly athletically inclined. What the heck was up with that? Stereotypes die hard, when you don’t have any live experience to measure them against. . .

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The summer between my junior and senior years, I went to a church camp, as I had the two previous years. Like the rest of my life in general, the camp was pretty much an all-white environment. I don’t know if there just weren’t any black folks in my denomination, or if their kids just weren’t terribly into spending a week in the woods by Lake Michigan, but I can’t recall seeing any black kids at camp until that summer. After I arrived at camp and moved my gear into my cabin, I had some free time until dinner, so I wandered down to the rec building, where there was a piano, and started playing. After a while, a black girl came and watched me play. She told me she liked my playing, and sang along with me for a couple of the songs. And just that fast, I made my first (and still most significant) black friend. By the end of the week, we became a bit more than friends, and even engaged in certain, um, mutual explorations (the girls from Up North High had never deemed me worthy of their attention, but it took this black girl about five minutes to just completely win my heart).

Throughout my senior year of high school, GF1 and I carried on a high-school version of a long-distance relationship. We did manage to get together a couple times, but for the most part, we passed letters back and forth in the mail (in those days, long-distance phone calls were still expensive enough that neither of our parents would remotely consider letting us call each other).

The thing was, GF1’s family lived in an otherwise all-white, northern small town on the other side of the state from mine (no, her name isn’t Michelle Hickman). Her extended family was from Chicago, but her immediate family were the only black folks in their entire county. And GF1, being a sanguine, outgoing type, had no qualms about being around white people; heck, they were all she had available to her.

The summer after I graduated, I got a job in OurTown, in anticipation of going to school there in the fall. And every weekend, I’d hitch-hike over to GF1’s town, and stay with mutual friends, so we could spend the weekends together. And I learned a TON, just from the simple expediency of actually having a relationship with an actual black person. Questions like, ‘can black people get sunburned?’ weren’t quite so awkward or ‘loaded’ in the context of a comfortable friendship built on mutual understanding and trust. And heck, by the time you’ve made out with a black girl a couple times, you know what her hair feels like. . . ;)

My relationship with GF1 was also the occasion for probably the nastiest quarrel I ever had with my dad. As I said, I had never known him to be overtly racist. But one night, something I said set him off, and he launched into a rant about ‘that black bitch’. Which, love-struck teenage boy that I was, pissed me off royally, as you might imagine. It also exposed a nastier core to my dad’s racial attitudes than I had seen before. The rhetorical question in those days was ‘Would you want your kid to marry one?’ And my dad answered with a resounding ‘Hell no’.

GF1 and I eventually broke up. It had more to do with me going off to college while she was still in high school (she was a year younger than me) than anything else. But looking back, I can see that, had we stayed together, we’d have eventually faced some harder questions than we anticipated, about how to build a life together that bridged, or at least took sufficient account of, the ‘cultural’ differences, acceptance by each other’s families, and things of that order, which, as love-struck teenagers, had never appeared on our radar screens.

GF1 and I lost track of each other for many years, but a few years back, we got back in touch. (I told the story here, but I’ll re-tell the bit where, when we met each other quite accidentally, she turned to her husband and daughter, who were with her, and said, “This is that white guy I told you about!”) And it has been almost as if our friendship never missed a beat (well, except for the making out part). To this day, she is unique in my life as the only black person I’ve ever gotten to know well enough to get beyond the ‘racial barrier’ – to where our relationship was just relaxed and unguarded, and we knew each other as friends, regardless of each other’s color (but certainly not blind to it, either)

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The next chapter of my story covers my college years. I actually went to college hopeful of getting to know other black folks as well, and as warmly, as I’d gotten to know GF1. But it never quite worked out that way. At my university in the 70s, racial relations weren’t typically hostile, but they weren’t warm, either. The year before I got there, a white student was murdered, and there were dark stories still circulating that he’d been killed by black students as some sort of initiation rite (Stories which, 20 years later, were essentially confirmed). All the black players on the basketball team walked out before a game, in protest of what they viewed as excessive playing time for a white freshman player. And the most stark feature of race relations on campus stared me in the face at every meal – one end of the cafeteria was unspokenly designated as the ‘black section’. All the black students sat at that end, and none of the white students did. And virtually nobody ever bothered to challenge that state of affairs.

I did befriend a few black students – all men (the black women seemed to have a bigger racial ‘chip’ on their shoulders, over the predilection of some of the black men to date white women). I did some tutoring through Minority Students in Engineering, and got together to help a couple of the black guys with their homework.

There was one guy in particular, though, who lived in my dorm, and seemed willing to go out of his way to get to know some of the white guys. Unlike most of the black guys I’d lived with in the dorm, who kept to themselves, and kept their doors tightly shut, this guy (I’ll call him William) and his roommate would open their door and invite guys in just to talk, and get to know each other. I knew that I’d really gotten somewhere significant when William invited me to join him for lunch one day, and brought me over to the ‘black section’. And I had a fascinating conversation with him and some of the other guys, about how even ‘black dialect’ had its ‘northern’ and ‘southern’ accents. And after the first few minutes, I didn’t even notice that I was in a different part of the room anymore. After that, William and I had lunch together from time to time, sometimes in the ‘black section’, sometimes not.

But things with William eventually cooled off, and I can only blame myself. One day, my roommate H(al) (the guy whose wife I took to a McCartney concert once upon a time) and I were walking down the hall one day, and William and his roommate had their door open, and were playing chess. Hal is quite an avid chessplayer, and we sauntered in to watch. William won the game, and Hal asked if he could play the winner, and William agreed. Now, I had often played chess with Hal, and I knew that he was a darn good player. So as I watched, I was surprised to see him struggling with what William was giving him, and as the game wore on, and the advantage went more and more in William’s direction, I was shocked; I’d never seen anyone do that to Hal. And I saw something in William’s eyes that just convicted me to the core. “You didn’t think I could beat him,” he said wordlessly. “You think I’m just another dumb black guy who got quota’ed into college. But I beat your boy, didn’t I?” I knew instantly that, without saying a word, I’d stabbed him in the heart, and screwed up such trust as we’d been painstakingly developing in the preceding weeks. And after that, William was cooler to me. His door was still open, but there was more of an air of, “I gave the white boy a shot, but he’s just like the rest of ‘em.”

I can look back, and wish that William had been a bit more resilient, a bit better able to absorb the petty indignity that I inflicted on him that afternoon in his dorm room. But the bottom line is that I screwed up. I betrayed the stereotype that I carried around inside me, and there was nothing I could do to deny it. I might wish for a chance to learn from my mistake, and to have further opportunities to grow, but I sure couldn’t make any claim that I deserved it. And I never really got another opportunity like that again.

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My kids’ experiences at their urban public high school have been somewhat more hopeful. The student body at the school our kids go to is more-or-less equal parts white, black, Hispanic, and Asian (lumping Vietnamese, Koreans, Indians and Arabs together under one heading). No one group of kids is in the majority – everyone is pretty much equally a minority. And that makes for some interesting dynamics. It is certainly not the case that there is no racial strife at LUPHS. But there are some unique opportunities in such a scenario.

4M and 5M have both played on the sports teams, and they’ve had lots of black and Hispanic teammates. And the experience of being teammates (and heck, even parents of teammates) with a common goal, has been very constructive; for the sake of ‘something bigger’, the kids (and, to a lesser degree, their parents) could just pull together, irrespective of who was what color, or lived in which part of town. 4M was one of the team captains his junior and senior years, and after the games, he’d bring his teammates to our house for some post-game chillin’. And so we got to know a bunch of kids we wouldn’t have otherwise ever had occasion to run into.

The thing is, it’s not that we don’t see race and/or color; we do. But, when you get to know each other, you can start to get past some of the ‘loaded-ness’ of race, and just relate to the people, as they are, who they are. . .

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My experience of relating with black folks has always been that relationships are the key. Our long, sad cultural history has left us all with a residue of mistrust. And that is a terribly, terribly difficult thing to overcome. As I’ve said above, in my life, I’ve had one relationship with a black person that was truly, honestly characterized by free and open trust. And one other that might have gone there, if I hadn’t screwed it up. And today, I have a few others that may yet get there, if we can get to know each other better. And those kinds of relationships, across racial lines, are precious, and hard to come by, as things sit now. I really don’t know what the way forward might be. But I hope, and yearn, for the day when we can just know, and relate to each other as persons, without all the baggage. May it come soon. . .

17 comments:

Suldog said...

Desmond:

Your story touched me deeply. You know, from reading mine, that I had a few very regrettable incidents when I was younger. I've reached an age now where I long for nothing more than to see all of the bullshit about race just die quickly. I don't see it happening in my lifetime, and it truly makes me want to cry.

I hope Michelle reads this. I'm sure she'll have some insightful commentary.

Thank you for this.

lime said...

well, i am delighted you found suldog through me. he is one fine individual. thanks also for sharing your story. it's been interesting to read suldog, michelle, and you and be able to see the regional, generational, and even gender different perspectives. it's good to be able to exchange experiences and thoughts respectfully and grow from it. i can relate to a number of the things each of you shared and then add that to the experience of being the racial minority for the year i lived in trinidad (which is admittedly very different than being the racial minority here). the really great thing about living there though was being able to openly discuss racial things because that is a cultural norm there.

Michelle H. said...

Hello Desmond!

Jim (Suldog) dropped me a link this morning and I had to rush on over.

I would like to have some witty and insightful commentary, but on this rare occasion, I don't. Your story was deep and passionate, and there were just so many things that had me both laughing (the hair touching thing - I had that happen to me), and gasping (armed police at a basketball game - wow!)

Your GF1 could have been me, spit-on. And your father's opinions about black people mirrored my own parents' bigoted viewpoints concerning white people. Any time a boy called the house, my father would ask, "Is he black?" and then glare whenever I gave a different answer.

There's just so much I could go over in your story. But my comments can get long (just ask Jim about that). I guess, all I have to say is, thank you for sharing your own experiences! Only through such openness do we learn about these racial instances, and hopefully improve our own understanding and tolerance toward others.

FTN said...

There's a lot of interesting stuff here... It's sort of a personalized history lesson (um, sorry if that makes you feel old). Because honestly, a lot of stuff changed in ~20 years. It really has become less and less of an issue over time, at least from what I've seen in my little corner of the world.

People say that Sunday mornings are the most segregated time of the week, with our churches and all. Which is still too bad. I am a huge fan of churches that are going out of their way to be try to be really "integrated" with people of all races. I spent a week in college with a church in Tennessee that was doing that, and a good portion of the pastors and elders and staff where in interracial marriages -- something that I thought was a fantastic example for what they were trying to do.

I have a story I'll have to tell on this topic sometimes about generational differences I've seen concerning race... Parents and their worries about their kids dating people of other races.

Desmond Jones said...

Suldog - Thank you very much for stopping by. And thanks for sending Michelle by, too. I found both your stories to be inspiring, and to resonate with my own experiences. Which is why I wrote this post up. . .

I'm right with you, just waiting for the bullshit to die away. . .

It may not happen in your lifetime or mine, but my kids' experience gives me cause for hope. Their relationships with black/Hispanic/Asian kids are much easier and more relaxed, than anything I've ever experienced. The ability to tease and poke fun at each other is a marker of a certain level of trust, and I've been impressed that their relationships allow for that, without offense being taken. Which would have been a harder place to get to in my day. . .

Lime - Well, the best part of Blog-space is all the cool people you meet there. So, thanks for your role in my meeting Sully.

I've had a few occasions like yours in Trinidad, where I've been the 'minority', and for a white guy in America, they can be a tad disorienting, at first. But once you relax, they can be a lot of fun, and you can learn a lot.

And yeah - the unspoken taboo against speaking openly about racial stuff is NOT helpful. Yet another marker of the lack of trust, when you can't even talk about it. . .

Michelle - So glad you came by! (I was hoping you would) Thanks for your kind words.

I don't know if the cops in question were 'packing' or not; but they were on-duty, so it's reasonable to presume that they were. It was mostly just a 'show' thing, I'm convinced; ostensibly to say to the white kids from Up North, "we'll protect you", but even just the thought that we might need to be protected was scary, all by itself. (I don't know how old you are, but in the late 60s/early 70s, cops at sporting events was not terribly unusual, especially in bigger cities.)

As for my dad. . . It's funny, but a few years after Molly and I got married, one of my cousins married a black guy. I don't know what kind of churning that caused in her family (if any), but he's always been fully accepted at the family gatherings (at least, so far as I can tell). So, I don't know - maybe Dad would've been more upset to have one of his own kids marry a black, or maybe he's mellowed a bit, seeing that it ain't so awful as all that. . .

And listen, just this once ( ;) ), feel free to leave as long a comment as you want. On the right topic, it happens here all the time. . .

FTN - You're welcome for the history lesson. ;)

And I'm sure you're right - a lot has changed in the 20-year difference in our ages. Again, I look at my kids, and I see just what you're talking about. Heck, 4M was chased by black girls almost as much as white ones. . .

See, my thing with GF1 was always that she wasn't my black girlfriend, she was just my girlfriend, who happened to be black. And a really neat person, no matter what color she was. The virtually complete dropping of the 'taboo' against interracial marriages is certainly a positive marker.

And of course, I'll be waiting for you to post your story, either on your blog, or here in these comments.

Michelle H. said...

You are a dangerous man, giving me the invitation to write a long response. My comments can get as long as novels.

BTW - I'm 34-years-old, so the story I wrote happened between 1980 up to 1994. I never heard about the cop thing at sporting events until now.

Trueself said...

Interesting stuff. I may have to write a post of my own on the topic at some point. Given that N is biracial has given me a perspective I may not have had otherwise. I just need to get back into the writing mode (or mood).

Cocotte said...

I think I had the rare opportunity to grow up in a culturally diverse suburb in the '70's. And we had a number of neighbors that were mixed couples. If anything, I felt left out because I was not "ethnic" in the least. My mom didn't make any food that pertained to our heritage whereas most of my friends' moms did.

I'll come back tomorrow to read more, Des....this was a looonngg post!

Therese in Heaven said...

I've only had a couple African American friends in my life because in my part of the country, there really aren't that many. We have a lot of Hispanics this way, though. I agree with FTN, though, that race does seem to be less of an issue, now, but frankly, I don't think its enough.

When Obama was elected, people talked about how much progress we had made that we would elect an African American. I think real progress will be when we elect an African American, Asian, Hispanic or some other minority, and no one talks about race at all.

Desmond Jones said...

Michelle - C'mon, show me whatcha got. . . ;) You know I'm all about the 'dangerous' (yeah, right). . .

Actually, in urban schools (at least here in Michigan), it's still not unusual for there to be some police presence at sporting events; usually pretty 'token', but there's apparently some felt need for a 'presence'. . .

Truey - Yeah, your perspective changes when it becomes a matter of your own 'lived experience', doesn't it?

Cocotte - Sorry about the long post; I suppose I could've broken it up, but it just kinda kept flowing, once I started writing. . .

And funny, too, how you felt 'deprived' for your family's 'non-ethnicity'. I suppose I'd be similar to you in that regard. When I was in college, tho, I got all into the various-and-sundry 'ethnic' cuisines - Mexican, Indian, Cajun, Thai, etc, etc. . . and we never had any of those Up North. . .

Therese - I agree that 'racial stuff' is less of an issue than (*ahem*) when I was your age. But it isn't just free and easy, either. I still perceive a kind of 'psycho-social barrier', altho it's nothing like when I was younger.

Maybe, like I say, it'll be better with my kids' generation (oh wait. . . that would be your generation, wouldn't it?)

Xavier said...

When I was a little bitty boy race wasn't much of an issue round here, either, other than in the 'big city' (Binghamton) down the road. By the time I was in junior high school things had changed quite a bit but I hesitate to relate much because my race-diverse friends saw things we experienced quite differently from how I saw them. The one thing I can relate is that I lost several racially 'different' friends as soon as their parents found out I was white. One even called me the enemy.

But then, most came from New York City and had a far different life and experience than they found here. I regained one friend after his parents were here a couple years but things were never again what they were to begin with.

Jim said...

I hope you don't mind, Desmond, but I feel a need to answer Therese with my own thoughts on the matter.

I believe we'll have really turned the corner when a black man (or woman) LOSES a presidential election and there are no cries of "He (she) lost because of prejudice!" I think the real test of a society comes not from elevating one person to a high position, but having so many candidates of varying races and colors that one of them losing is not seen as an indictment of that society as a whole. Just my two cents.

Desmond Jones said...

Xavier - Those 'different perceptions' of shared experiences can really be mind-bending, can't they?

And your friend's dad called you 'the enemy'? That's hard; that's really hard. . .

Jim - Thanks for stopping in and commenting!

I'm sure there's truth in what you say. Surely, Obama's election is a marker of something positive in terms of general cultural attitudes toward race. But you're right, I think, to look 'further ahead'.

It's like hiring the first black man to manage a major-league baseball team (Frank Robinson, 1975, Cleveland Indians); it was almost as big a deal when he was fired because the team wasn't winning, as it was that he was hired in the first place.

Funny too, how fast things can change. Jackie Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers just nine years before I was born, and by the time I was paying attention to major league baseball, less than 20 years later, black players were commonplace.

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Another story, from my college days, occurs to me. At registration, we had to fill out some kind of 'information' form, and one of the questions was 'race', and we were given several choices - white(Caucasian), black (African-American), Hispanic/Latino, etc, etc. Which struck me as bizarre - what did MegaState University care what race I - or any of my fellow-students - was? The last line was 'Other', with a blank space for you to write in your race. So I (idealistic young fellow that I was) checked 'Other' and wrote 'Human'. Which I've done ever since.

When I hired in with my current company, I had to fill in a similar form, and I filled it in as I always have. When the HR rep looked over my form, she told me, "You can't answer 'Human'; it's not one of the choices." When I told her that was the only answer I was gonna give, she erased it and checked 'white(Caucasian)', "because I can see with my own eyes that's what you are."

And so it goes. We're getting closer, but we're not there just yet. . .

aphron said...

We, basically, live in a segregated society. I don't think it is a racist thing, but a "bird of a feather" thing. Sadly, it does produce prejudice.

I'm not sure we have actual racism, in that one ethnic group has overt power over another. I do think we have prejudice. When we hear the term racism (or prejudice), we tend to think of white on black. However, we forget that there are forms of racism that goes in many different directions: black on white, Asian on Hispanic, Hispanic on black, etc.

I think it boils down to distrust for those that are different from us. It is rooted in ignorance. While I am a firm believer that forced desegregation causes more problems than it solves, as a people we have a long way to go towards developing that ability to see others for who they are.

Desmond Jones said...

Aphron - I get what you're saying. And you are certainly correct that racism isn't only a 'white/Caucasian/European' thing.

I have a friend who is Brazilian. And in Brazil, you have a whole spectrum of various and sundry 'racial mixtures' (combinations of European, African and Native American), and one's race is just another personal fact, along the lines of hair/eye color. Brazil has a history of enslaving both Africans and Indians, but no war to end it. I don't know what all that means, but it is a tantalizing set of facts that are suggestive of a 'way forward'. . .

I'm sure you're also right about 'distrust of the Other'. And American history is rife with examples of prejudice toward various and sundry 'Others'. But Irish, Italians, Poles, etc have long since joined the 'American mainstream', and racially-different Asians are well on their way. And all of those groups are newer to these shores than blacks. But the distrust between those of African ancestry and those of European ancestry has been much more durable, and I'm perplexed as to why that should continue to be the case.

At any rate, as has been said above, by others and by me, May it end soon. . .

flutterby said...

I really enjoyed this post... your experience with an awkward, truth-baring moment with William echoed one of my own experiences.

I'm so glad that your kids that such a diverse experience at their school. That is something that is so hard to come by here in the Canadian Prairies. Our closest experience was when the Kid attended a Montessori preschool, which was all-around a wonderful, amazing experience for him. But, even at that, the classroom wasn't all that diverse as everyone attending was from a similar demographic in society, even though there was a bigger sampling of race.

Desmond Jones said...

Flutter - Yeah, 'awkward and truth-baring' is pretty much the uncomfortable fact of the matter. I still cringe thinking about it. . .

Our kids' high school really does present a pretty diverse experience. Racial/ethnically, socio-economically, and all sorts of ways (altho the very 'high-end' of the socio-economic scale tend to be either in private schools, or in the suburbs). Like I said, we've been exposed to kids from all sorts of backgrounds that we never would have otherwise. . .