We moved our family from rural Michigan in 2005. Jobs were scarce, cost of living was high, and we wanted a fresh start. It was so exciting (and a little scary) to move to a bigger city in Arizona. I was more worried about fitting in with “city people” than I was about people of different races.
We pulled in to the parking lot of our new apartment, tired, anxious, and in need of showers. As I was getting out of my car, I saw the woman who would be my downstairs neighbor standing in her doorway. I smiled and waved. She frowned and spit on the ground.
What a welcome. I turned to my husband and said, “Oh no. This is not the way I wanted to start things off. Either she hates neighbors or she hates white people… or maybe she is just a mean person.”
The next several months were hard as far as finding friends. My children fared a little better than I did, but even they were being ostracized. “Don’t let that white bitch hang with us” – those comments mostly from Mexican teenagers.
My downstairs neighbor was African American. She made it clear that she hated white people. Her grandchildren would stop to chat or they would smile and wave at us sometimes and she would grab them and tell them out loud, “Don’t talk to those white people. They aren’t good people.” The little girl was about four years old. I remember one day I was coming down the stairs with an ice cream sandwich. She looked up at me and her eyes got really big. She was a kid. I had ice cream. I told her I would give her one if it was okay with her grandma. It wasn’t. I received a tongue lashing for offering. Her granddaughter was kept inside for the rest of the day.
They moved within a few months of our moving in.
Not long after we moved here, my 15 year old daughter was being harassed by a group of girls. I remember watching out the window as my daughter headed off to school. One morning, they were waiting right outside in plain view. She didn’t want to go out. I told her to go out and I would be standing in the window.
The minute the door opened, “Come on, white girl…”
“Just leave me alone. I just want to go to school.”
“Are you scared, white girl?”
“I’m just one person and I’m not a fighter. Just leave me alone!”
I called out from the window,”Hey, what’s going on?”
My kids aren’t angels, but they aren’t violent and they aren’t racist. They had never had to deal with racism. They knew it existed, but thought it was mainly a white against black issue and even that didn’t make sense to them.
Within a year, my kids had learned to walk on the other side of the street when they saw a group of Mexicans. Especially Mexican girls.
Now, of course we know that not all Mexicans act like that. We have made friends since moving here and most of them are Mexican or African American. A few of them, though, have been put in the position of having to stand up for one of us against someone who didn’t like white people.
There was a public service announcement running on the television for a while depicting a white guy being rude to a Mexican man. It was an ad against racism. Every time I saw it,I thought they should show it the other way around as well.
By the way, my too young daughter recently had a baby. Her black ex-boyfriend’s family has threatened to “kill the white trash”. They want nothing to do with her precious little girl. He has vanished.
My daughter is now dating a white boy. I am strangely and confusedly relieved.
We don’t need to stop racism against black people. We don’t need to stop racism against brown people. We don’t need to stop racism against white people. We need to stop being racist against PEOPLE.
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