Sunday, November 18, 2007

Race and Family History

This is what I call a "stumbled upon" topic. Last night I was wracking my brain as to what to write about today. Too early for Thanksgiving topics and I'm saving my Christmas memories for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

We went to dinner at some friends' house here in Chicago last night, in a neighborhood I had not heard of - Budlong Woods. It is named about the Budlong high school nearby. We had a great vegetarian dinner (there were so many allergies among the attendees that I could have made a killing selling benedryl and epi pens. Perhaps killing isn't the correct word). Squash soup with ginger. Organic green salad with pears, roasted walnuts and walnut oil, Vegetarian lasagna. And a killer dessert made of a pecan shortbread crust, cream cheese filling, pumpkin pudding and whipped cream.

We had a very diverse group and the discussion got around to racial slurs and what you heard family members use as a kid. I won't go into exact details since I don't think such terms have a place these days, but we talked about what terms were used to describe certain people of certain races. And how overhearing these terms affected us.

I was impressed that several people stated that at some point their parent or parents sat down and told them, "You may have heard Uncle Dan say the word ________. This is not a nice word and here is what it means. We don't use words like that to describe ________ people. It isn't right."

Several of us grew up in families with no encounters with black people until much later in life. To this day, one person's family has never had a black person in their house. Another person didn't understand the word "colored" as a child and promptly began drawing on his skin with a crayon and told his mother he was "colored." Someone else's first encounter with a black person was at a carnival. The ticket taker handed over tickets and my friend, as a young boy, saw that the man's palms were almost white. So he theorized that the color of the skin on black people wore off over time.

The discussion also touched on diversity and how children today seem to be exposed to many more races and types of people including LGBT people. Much of it is how mass media handles race and sex nowadays.

I grew up in a family where grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins didn't have black, latino, asian or native american friends or acquaintances. The only encounters were usually in public as merchants, tradespeople or service people. I think the lack of exposure, and the way mass media worked back then allowed a greater sense of misconceptions about other races as well as racial slurs.

I'd be interested to hear from other genea-bloggers on the issue of race - how it affected your family or you growing up. Are there or were there any interracial marriages in your family tree?

Photo: Rosa Parks, Birmingham, Alabama, December 1, 1955

1 comment:

Apple said...

This is a very tough topic for me. My parents were very different in their views. I experienced racial hatred first hand at the age of 14. I was the only white kid on the bus except the driver. I believe that most things happen for a reason and now I drive the bus and I have had kids of various races over the years. I do not tolerate slurs of any kind or any other form of bigotry. When I get on a kid for saying something inappropriate and they respond "but my dad says" I tell them flat out that their dad is WRONG, the only time I will put down a kid's parent, no matter what I think of them.

The hate word I battle on a day to day basis is the word gay. When I write them up for sexual harassment it doesn't seem to make an impression. We have a long way to go in rural CNY.