I was raised in a lower-middle-class home in eastern Iowa by very conservative parents. During the earliest years of my life I was rarely exposed to black Americans^Ňor as they were then known, Negros. My school did not have a single black student, and looking back I find that quite odd. In that whole town was there not a single family of colour??? This was in the period between 1959-1967, so maybe there simply was not. Maybe the whole town was just one big lump of vanilla ice cream!
My parents themselves were quite vocal about black people. Mom had been supervisor of a large hospital in Des Moines, Iowa and told stories about how black people were so vicious with knives in particular; they would come in for treatment badly slashed and Mom never forgot that. There was one section of my town called "the coloured district". If necessity compelled my mother to drive through it she would insist that the windows be rolled up and then she would drive through those streets like the hounds of hell were after her! My childish mind did not quite grasp the reason for all this; after all, the people on those porches and playing in those streets looked innocent enough to me.
We lived 150 miles from Chicago and every summer my parents and I would go into the city to visit the museums and zoos till one summer when I was about 12 or 13. It was then that the race riots were in full swing; my father said that he wasn't about to subject us and our vehicle to the perils of bricks being hurled through our windows. Again I was mystified. I didn't understand why people were so angry at one another.
Oddly enough even though my mother's attitude about blacks was less than cordial in general, she had a special liking for a young woman who came to the Job Corps in our main town (the town in which I went to school was a few miles away).This girl's name was the same as mine so we called her Liz Two. For several years she spent a lot of time with us in our home, and we were all sad to see her leave at the end of her course.
At the age of 14, a year later, I began going to some church club meetings in another town. Lo and behold, there was a black family who attended that church. Their name was Greene, which always struck me as funny. They had two boys, Danny and George, and they became my favorite people to hang out with, much to my parents' disappointment. I didn't care, as they were nice and fun to be with. Today Danny is a doctor, by the way, and I have lost track of George.
I had a good attitude about black people till I went to college for my first degree. I did have a close friend named Sally who was black, but later on we parted ways as she did not like my choice of husbands. The bad part came in as a result of associating with people who had come from Africa to go to school there. At first I had no problem with them. I even went on a date with Pat Mutinga, a lively lad who carved beautiful statuary out of wood (he was later killed in a car crash). During that date I felt very uncomfortable though, not because of Pat but because of the reactions of both the black and the white students. I had another good black friend named Ibrahim Bawa who used to sing songs by "Skeeta Davis" as he called her
I became more and more negatively influenced as time passed, however. This was due to the way the African students manipulated the faculty to get what they wanted. If they were tired they did not show up to work or classes, and if action against it was mentioned, they brandished the word "discrimination". Being around this for four years really turned me against black people. Particularly disgusting to me was one interracial couple. I would glare at them as they strolled the campus, hand-in-hand.
Time passed. I was married and widowed. Then one day I got a phone call from a young man who needed a textbook reader because of visual impairment due to Multiple Sclerosis. I got the surprise of my life when I went to be interviewed at his home. He was black, but I would never have suspected it because he didn't talk black on the phone. As it turned out he had been raised in all white schools and his mannerisms and vocalizations matched theirs.
To make a long story short I ended up marrying him. His parents were not at all unhappy with the arrangement; the way his mother put it was, "I don't care if she's purple as long as she makes my son happy." As one might expect mine hit the proverbial roof. I did not even tell them for a few months. They told me never to bring him home because it would be too embarrassing, and for sure never to bring him to church or out in public. As time went on, however, they came to see how intelligent, sweet, and good he was and grew to love him as I did. He even used to joke that he couldn't even tell any of his mother-in-law jokes because Mom got along so well with him.
I was with him for 13 years till he died of complications of MS. During that time I learned to see past color in not just him, but everyone around me. People became just that--people. This even extended to people who were of different sexual persuasions than the mainstream or who suffered physical and mental disabilities. Being married to Maurice changed my entire life and my whole way of viewing things. It also made him "blacker" in that before he had just simply lived as a white man in a black man;s body. Being with me made him reevaluate himself and embrace his own traditions, as he never had before. For example, he hadn't eaten greens very much in his lifetime. I think he thought of it as a stereotype. After our marriage he began cooking them, little by little, and before long he was hooked.
In summary, my attitude toward black people was influenced by
environment to some degree, listening to and associating with people who
actively did not like them. Some was by experience, seeing up close and
personal events that shaped my thinking. My final conclusions took me a
while at which to arrive, but they are solidly in place now. People are
people and I accept them as they are, black or white, "Indian" or Spanish,
gay or straight, disabled or "normal", ugly or beautiful. They come
complete with their own set of positives and negatives, ides and activities
I can learn from and enjoy. Their worth is, I believe, relative, and if I
approach any human being in an open manner, there is potential for growth,
both for them and myself. I'm happy and comfortable with my decision, and I
believe it has made my life much richer and fuller.
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