I was looking through my little trusty blog notebook at the various topics I wanted to write about, and I came across one that I didn't know how to write about, but wanted to write about anyway.
As it is something I deal with for most of my life.
And I find myself having to hit the "reset" button in my heart concerning it.
So if this post seems convoluted, well, it probably is. Remember, these 40 posts are about me, private little conversations I have to myself... and I'm letting you in on it.
A couple of weeks ago my sister Kentucky came home from her teaching job at a local elementary school. She works pretty hard, leaving every morning at 6 a.m., while doing her best to finish up her Masters program in the evening. Sometimes, she may not even get home until late at night.
I am very proud of my sister and her diligence.
However, she came home one day and she asked me a question.
"Lisa, I have a question."
"The black faculty at school, they cater to 'Amy'. I don't understand. She doesn't come to meetings, she don't work as hard as I do. I don't get it. Why is that?"
"Oh, that's normal. That happens everywhere."
"I just don't understand."
"That's life. Happens on my job. Happens everywhere."
"I feel like I work so hard, though," my sister said. "I'm not treated the same. And I do everything I'm suppose to do, even more. Amy doesn't. She skips mandatory meetings, she blows things off, and-"
"That's normal. You just keep working hard. Don't worry about it. Happens all the time."
If you haven't figured it out from this little exchange...
Uh, "Amy" is white.
You know, I hated talking to my sister about this type of thing. I have seen it all my life, and she hasn't.
While I was talking to my sister, I was sitting there thinking....
"Don't cry. Please don't cry. It's going to be alright. Please, please don't cry!!!"
I didn't say that. We just talked about it. I let her know one thing: you work, and you work hard. Period.
At the same time, I know she still doesn't understand one cold hard truth:
That this society deems white people more important than black people.
And something else, most disturbing of all: us black folk consider white people more important than our own selves.
I first understood this as a child. My great grandmother was a maid for a white family on the Northside of Atlanta. She wasn't working for them by the time I was born, but I use to spend a considerable amount of time with my grandmother (She died when I was 12).
But we would go up to visit the family she worked for every so often. I, as a 4- or 5-year-old, would go with her. Now, I have NO idea where these people lived, but I knew it was a long ride, on a couple of MARTA buses. A long HOT ride. I did not look forward to it.
I remember sitting in a chair, watching my Grandmother dote over these people, especially the little boy "Tommy", the little blonde son of the lady she use to take care of, "Jane".
And it was at that time that I concluded in my young mind:
White people are more important than black people.
And this is reinforced every day when I would sit down with my Great-grandmother, and watch her beloved "stories", i.e. soap opera shows. I learned that white people were rich, had interesting lives. We were just black people, had to catch the bus, didn't have interesting lives.
That idea was pushed even further as I got older. I knew I better be on my best behavior if white people were around.
But something strange happened: I begin to make white friends.
Now, back in '89, when me and LadyTee were in our late teens/early 20's (she is older than me by a couple of years), we were invited to a family Halloween party of one of my white friends, Tim. He and I were in college together.
I told my mother about this. She sat us down and said "Look, you're going to white people's houses. You need to make sure you are on your best behavior."
I thought she was tripping for acting like that. I mean, Tim was my friend.
But... you best believe there was MUCH discussion between me and LadyTee concerning this. Let's just say, we felt the way my mother felt, but were undercover about it.
We weren't going to wear halloween costumes. There was NO way we were showing up dressed as witches and what-not. I brought a couple of lab coats home from my lab at school for me and LadyTee.
We went to the party dressed as Doctors. No make-up, no props, none of that. We slipped on lab coats and showed up.
And for some reason, we thought we were going to some big mansion. We rolled up to Tim's house and knocked on the door. Me and LadyTee were both like "His house is no bigger than our houses."
We were shocked to see this. But you best believe we went up in there, and were on our best behavior. We were quiet. We ate quietly. We answered questions... quietly. Tim's little niece, a one-year-old at the time, walked over towards us. We made sure not to touch her, and hoped she didn't fall down.
After all, these were white people. Better act right.
I think for me, that was the beginning of the unraveling of the "truth" that white people are better and more important than black people. Tim was my friend, and he was a normal dude. I had another white friend, Carter, who was white, but wasn't a rich chick. I learned MUCH from her about perserverance. I would come home with all KINDS of stories about her .("Ma, Carter lives in a warehouse on MLK!"). She use to go down to the nearby projects and do her laundry. She'd verbally shank me for my thoughts about white people.
She was key to undoing some of the stuff in my head.
But something REALLY crazy happened that pissed me off, made me KNOW that this myth isn't true:
I went to graduate school.
At times, I was the only black person in a sea of whites in my classes.
And I was considered the smartest.
This struck me as odd. I mean, they were white people. They were automatically smarter and better than me. I remember thinking to myself, when we would be discussing grades "But you're white. You're suppose to know this stuff."
I learned through the whole grad school process: white folk ain't no smarter or no better than black folks.
And I wish we as black people knew and understood that.
I felt as though I had been duped or something.
I know, every once in awhile I talk to young black people about furthering their education. I know, when I was in New Orleans, I would get requests to come to schools and speak to kids, tell them about my job, what I did, etc. It's still funny to me, but it's like they just wanted to touch me or something, just to see if I'm real, lol. Most black folks have never met a black scientist, especially one with a doctorate in something as hard and strange as Or.ganic che.mistry and dru.g design.
But I always tell them, you can do whatever you want to do. And the question about white people comes up. Yes, they are priviledged. Yes, they have that extra helping hand, whereas we don't. Nothing we can do about that.
The answer is to work hard. Work hard, work hard, work hard.
And that's what I told my sister that day. Do not worry about it. Work hard. It's upsetting. I know it is. But do your best. Period. Focusing on the extra perks will only upset you . Work hard.
And this has caused "problems" in my own professional life.
I remember when I finished school, and was about to take a post-doc fellowship in Louisiana, one of my advisors pulled me to the side, sat me down, and said...
"You know you're black, right?"
And we had a LONG conversation about being black. And it meant much coming from my WHITE advisor. He sat me down and explained a few "truths". He made REAL sure I knew what color my skin was, and how I had to work harder than the white people.
It's a bit daunting when a white man sit your tail down and talk to you. Very much so.
(And uh, he was right. A couple of the other black post-docs and myself would stand on the front steps of the building and ponder the swaying trees on the property. We joked constantly about of they could have legally hung us from those trees out there, they wouldn't have hesitated to do so. We were treated like SH**. HUMPH).
I know one thing: white folk take care of each other. I've been a victim of it on the job. Had a discussion about it yesterday with my group's specialist, who's Asian. It is terribly difficult to explain how things work to him. He thinks I'm very smart, and doesn't understand the deal. It's hard to explain to him that I ain't white. It's hard to explain to him that black management don't listen to the black employees, and if we were white, then they would be doing the soft shoe Bojangles dance at our feet. He doesn't understand such complexities. He seems to understand that they are set up to enjoy life on the job, and not have to work as hard. (He has been a victim of that craziness, just like the rest of us...). We explain this to him in many ways, and he sees it, but it is hard for him to "get" it.
And then I have an underlying issue with "sorry" white folk. I mean, come on, life is laid out for you on a platter. All you gotta do is show up, and you got the job. You have the opportunity. You can have anything you want in life. You have NO excuse for being so frickin' sorry.
What a WASTE.
And I have to blink when I think that. It's not right to think that.
Especially when I've had to counsel or tutor some young white student. Those thoughts rush through my mind a mile a minute.
And I am ashamed of thinking that way. Because it ain't right.
Let me repeat: it's not right to think that. It's the product of years of a black attitude concerning white people. I realized, when talking to my sister, who didn't understand, that I am the last of the generation who does understand about the way things are, and the way things use to be.
I have prayed about it. Because I don't understand the root of the thing. I've been honest, sincere with my feelings about it. Not looking for an answer or anything, just wanting to talk out loud about it. I guess I wanna make sure between me and God, that He know that I don't have hatred for any group or race of people.
And I realized something: my entire age group seems to think like this. It peppers our conversation. We all actually believe certain things.
And it don't help that we are in the south.
I don't know what's right or wrong, or if it's a question of that. It is what it is.
My answer is to think more of myself. Think highly of myself.
No matter the color of my skin.
Certain "truths" seem to be embedded in our hearts, all our lives.
But I know it will forever be one of the things that bothers me.
I know one thing to be true:
It doesn't mean that I have to let them control who I am, and who I hope to become.
And I hope I conveyed that truth to my sister. I really do.
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