Somehow this little white girl from Utah fell in love with a Mexican catholic guy from California. I had no idea that anyone would have an opinion about this, or would not approve of two people falling in love. He did not look Mexican and people thought it was OK to say derogatory comments about hispanics in front of me. I enjoyed putting them in their place. I was young and feisty and fought back whenever people would say things. I loved the heritage and culture that I had married into and I just didn’t understand. I still don’t think I fully understood racism and the hold that it still has in this day and time.
Two years after my husband passed away from cancer I started dating an African American gentleman. He is truly one of the most amazing, kind and loving men I have ever known. As things became more serious he wanted to have a serious talk with me, he wanted to make sure I understood that I was dating a “black” man. I told him that I didn’t care what people thought and that I didn’t see color when I looked at him. He tried repeatedly to get me to understand how others think and how they would treat me. I made a joke about it, I really had no clue!
The only color I saw was the beautiful way his dark skin looked against my very white skin. I loved learning about how he took care of his hair and skin (which feels like satin to me) and how we could celebrate our differences and traditions. My family embraced him in our life and we moved forward in our relationship.
My first experience with racism was when I proudly showed a friend a photo of us together and they physically took a step backward when they saw the picture. This was a good, kind hearted person who had been taught to have this prejudice. It finally started to set in. I had people I had known for a very long time make comments that they didn’t even know were racist and I had to take it as an opportunity to teach them what is inappropriate and what is never OK to say.
It is becoming more common in Utah to see African Americans within our community but with a 1.8% population there are still children growing up without ever interacting with people from other races. Unlike my wonderful parents who taught me not to judge, they are growing up with negative opinions and cruel labels even though they have no reason to feel that way.
The worst experience came when someone we had both known for years was angry and immediately used the “N” word to fight back. This is someone who knew better, they chose the word in the same way they would have chosen a knife or a gun to hurt us. I was shocked and hurt- stunned! He was upset but sadly not surprised, he had seen this behavior his entire life.
Mostly, people go out of their way to be kind to us, it is their way of showing the world and themselves that they are not prejudice. I don’t really mind this, we get the best service in restaurants and stores. It gives us the chance to show people who we really are and to be kind and educated to help with awareness.
What can you do to fight racism?
- Show who you are through your actions and your words at all times. Be a model to everyone around you of understanding and tolerance.
- Think before you speak or post on social media. It is never OK to say the “N” word- ever! Other examples; those photo’s being circulated showing Obama as a monkey are offensive, if you don’t know why-ask. Assuming that someone voted for Obama because of his color is incorrect, if they voted for him it is because they chose to, not because of his race.
- When you hear things that are inappropriate or demeaning to anyone, take an educated stand. I have found that many people who at first glance appear to be racist are really uneducated or were taught as they were growing up that these words were acceptable. Help them to understand why things are offensive and what words should not be used.
- If you don’t understand anything about a culture, ask questions. There are so many wonderful things we can teach each other and so many amazing things to learn that will enhance your life.
- Children will notice differences in color, answer their questions in an open and honest way. Teach them that everyone is different and that is what makes them so special.
Treat EVERYONE with respect and kindness and there will never be a concern. I don’t pretend to be an expert on this or any other subject. I am just writing from my heart based on my experiences and the injustices I have seen or heard about in the world. What can you do to make a difference?