Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What's the Frequency, Kenneth?

So here we are at a large family gathering, about 80 of us, for a special event. Some of us, including my Dad and I, arrived early to verify things were arranged as we had planned, check in with the caterer, etc.

My Aunt pulls my Dad and I aside and starts talking in a wierd blend of hesitant, apologetic, defensive tone. I can't imagine where this is going, and she eventually cuts to the chase.

Aunt: Well, my daughter has sort of become a foster mother to one of the boys who is friends with her son.
Us: Oh, wow, congratulations.
Aunt: Well, it's likely he will be joining us here today and I want to be sure its OK with you that we have one more guest.
Us: Of course.
Aunt: Well, he's a black kid.
Us: OK
Aunt: Really? You mean thats OK with you?

At this point, my Dad and I look at each other trying to read each others reaction and determine whether my Aunt is pulling our legs or not. Could she possibly be serious? Has she forgotten that my children and my Dad's grandchildren are African? Apparently, she did not make that connection. So, how to process this conversation?

On the one hand, I am thrilled that my Aunt does not even think of my children as black. That she is totally oblivious to my kids skin color is incredible, astounding, and exhilarating. My kids are totally and unconditionally accepted by the older generations in my family, and that is awesome.

On the other hand, there is still this latent attitude - I don't even know how to describe it - that the older generations have about blacks. It's really subtle. It is not evil; they wish no ill will to blacks. It's more like "I like blacks better when they keep their distance" and "I am concerned you will not accept me if I am associated with blacks." I think America needs to lose two more generations - say 40 more years - before these attitudes will be largely extinguished.


Shannon- said...


rebekah said...

Yeah - this is the thing. We've had quite similar experiences all the time. Many head down a road in the conversation from which they cannot seem to turn back, and then qualify with something like 'I don't mean to sound prejudiced...' and then continue on. Apparently completely ok with that qualification.

I worry about this - I agree with you that it's wonderful that my child (soon children) are wholly accepted into our very white family with not just one but two great grandmothers. It's clearly better than the alternative. But we know that eventually, our kids will figure out the 'them and us' attitude that prevails and then WILL NOT KNOW, ARE THEY THEM, OR US?

Anonymous said...