Posted by: abbiewatters | October 14, 2016

Color-Blind: Why saying “I don’t see race” is as racist as it gets.

Chapter 18 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

If both your parents are white, imagine just one of them being a person of color. Rethink your life from birth to the present. How would your race have influenced your experiences and your outcomes?

First, if one of my parents were black, I would never have been born. They would never have met, much less married. They met and married in Texarkana, AR, in 1943 when my father was stationed there during World War II. They met because my father was rooming with one of my grandmother’s friends, and there’s NO WAY a black man would have been renting a room from a white woman, and even if he were allowed to stay in her garage, there’s NO WAY he would have been introduced to the daughter of one of her friends. Likewise, if my mother were black, there’s no way a white Army captain would have even met her, much less dated her.

That said, I definitely understand that my grandparents, my childhood church, and all my friends before the age of 12 would have rejected me. When my family to moved to New Jersey, I remember the realtor telling my parents that “the few darkies” in town lived in a particular area, and he was careful not to show us any houses even close to that area.

My husband and I might have met, but probably would never have dated because our social life revolved around a college fellowship at the church. This was the early ’60s and everyone “nice” was violently opposed to the forced integration of the colleges that was happening in Texas at that time. If I were half black, I wouldn’t have been at that church. My husband was in the Air Force, and from Pennsylvania, and a rebel, but it never occurred to him to visit a black church. The church he did attend was interested in “doing good things” for all the little black children, and ran one of the first Head Starts in the area. But the faculty were all white, and the assumption was that black teenagers/young adults hadn’t had a good enough education to help.

Chances are, if we actually met, fell in love, and married, our life would not have been all that different from what it was. He was in the Air Force, and black officers, or white officers with black wives, socialized freely at the Officer’s Club. Again, rank was more important than race, and we had several good friends who were people of color.

After he retired, we returned to Texarkana. If I were black, we might even have attended my grandparents’ church, as there was at least one couple of color in the congregation. Even when we moved to Abilene, TX, and then to Dallas, the church circles we moved in were fully integrated (or as integrated as you get when you’re talking about the Presbyterian Church (USA)). There was a mixed race couple in the church in Dallas – he was black, a lawyer and served two terms on the session – their daughter was fully accepted in the youth group.

When we finally made the break with the south (largely because we could no longer stomach Texas politics), we moved to Washington state. We live in a retirement community that is lily-white, although the staff is integrated and accepted, and I don’t think we would have been rejected as residents if I were black as long as we could pay the buy-in fee and keep up our rent. Our church has a few people of color and I would definitely have been comfortable there.

If you would like to join me as I blog about my experiences with race, please read the book. It was life changing for me.

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