Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Post 29: Things That Bother Me, Part I

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."

Uh, okay.

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.


  1. The Green Eyed Bandit12:17:00 PM

    Hopefully we are the last generation dealing with the favoritism. I do see some progression with the next generation. They are more apt to have friends of multiple races. It is more now a separation by economics and environment vs color. However, our deep rooted experiences have not been completely overcame. I see it in how teachers treat students at school. The 1st step is to get Black people to quit treating each other like we are unworthy, then others will fall in line.

  2. I have made attempts to explain this truth to my son. He doesn't get it and I'm afraid -- really afraid -- that something awful is going to happen in order for him to get it.

  3. The Green Eyed Bandit1:52:00 PM

    @ Chele, I feel my son does not get it either. But I pray it will be their generation that change it. They are so naive about how they are perceived. I remember having to talk to my 10 year old about why his old, southern, country, white teacher was afraid of my "angry" Black child and her lack of comprehension on how he was intelligent enough to have skipped a grade. Such a trying year with her!

  4. I can't ever remember my father saying the words, but he instilled in me that I would have to work 'at least' twice as hard if not harder to get half the recognition.

    And the post didn't seem convoluted to me..Thanks for sharing.

  5. Anonymous2:16:00 PM

    We are dealing with something similiar at my job as Kentucky is dealing with. This dude can get away with murder. The boss will give him work to do and he if don't want to do it, he will leave for the day. Let me try that! Bet I won't have a job.

    My son is only 4. He doesn't see skin color. Just the other day, him and one of his Asian classmates saw each other in the grocery store. They were really waving at each other.

    I can remember going to white folk houses with my grandmother. We were also threaten with "yall better act right". LOL

  6. After reading the comments....my question is are we the reason that kids like Southern Gal's and Chele's DON'T see things like us? Our parents told us things like be on your best behavior and we grew up seeing color. But they don't see color like we did? So did we stop telling kids to "be on their best behavior round white folks?" What is so different that we saw it and they don't? Is it us?

  7. Divaindemand - I think part of it is that everyone tries to be so politically correct and that some things aren't said anymore. Also, growing up, my neighborhood, church, etc. was all black. I only saw white people at the stores or at school. Now that is totally opposite of Tyler's experience. The neighbors on either side of me are white. So when I think of my childhood friends and who I played with outside, its totally different from what Tyler will recall when he's an adult. We did have a conversation, which I felt bad about saying to him but my neighbors have a dog and Tyler was playing outside with the dog and it was licking his face. When he came in the house and told me this I found myself saying "Black people do not do that. Thats something white people do. So stop it." I'm sure he wanted to ask me what is the difference b/c he is constnatly remindin me that everyone is the same inside.

  8. so true... and makes u wonder if this will ever change

  9. My parents (mom especially) NEVER told me that I was Black or that I had to work harder or be on my beset behavior. For the most part, they wore rose-colored glasses and thought that everything was fair and good. Odd for people that grew up during segregation.

  10. God --I was just re-hashing this today...as my white supervisor --made a snide comment to me...

    So much I can say -- but the realit is that we have to believe in us..period...

    Am I concerned about my kids?...NO -I'm not -- because of what I think I've poured into them

    Never let a "cracker" or anyone else for that matter--define who you are.

    They will encounter problems..but they have to first LOVE themselves and this will take them very far.

  11. How in the world did I miss THIS post..lol
    Whoa, I could blog about this one right here.
    I was fortunate because, I was raised in an all black area that was filled with black lawyers,dentists,doctors,judges,etc
    They also had blue-collar workers in the same neighborhood so, I knew I could be anything I wanted to be growing up.
    By the time I hit 12,I had white friends who lived a few blocks from me(on the other side of a ditch naturally) and their homes were the same as mine so, I knew they weren't living better.
    But, what you say is so very true.
    That's why my son is at St. Aug. Wasn't about to send him somewhere so he could sit with a whole bunch a white boys while they try to make him feel inferior.
    My kids are mini-militants like me.
    I'll stand right in their face and tell them..."you're not smarter than I am so, don't even think you are"..have done it on many times.
    Naturally, I'm called arrogant...hey, I can live with it. The truth must really hurt for them..lol


Slap the *crickets* out the way, kindly step up to the mike, and SAY something!!