So yesterday was guest post day for the 2010 Blogathon which I’m participating in. Thirty-one days of straight postings. I swapped posts with the awesome blogger Dylan over at discordianZen and Dylan graciously opined about race consciousness. Then Sue from I Breath Therefore I Write offered to write about her first experience with race consciousness. I loved it so much that I’m posting one of her experiences on my blog. What about you? When did you first become aware of race?
When I Discovered People Are Different
by Sue Poremba
I grew up in a small coal town in Pennsylvania. Drive a few miles
outside of town and you hit farm country — not quite an Amish area at
the time, but certainly plenty of folks with Pennsylvania Dutch
heritage. Once you scrubbed the coal dust and farm sod off our skin,
we were all white as snow. When I was a child, a “person of color”
was someone who got a nice tan in the summer.
When I was 7 or 8 years old, my family was on its annual vacation to
South Jersey to spend a week with relatives. On one of those days, we
went to a nearby park and playground. My siblings, cousins, and I
were the only ones on the playground for some time when a group of
African American children showed up. They asked if they could join in
our game. I said yes, not even thinking about it. But I recall my
cousins pulling me aside and saying we can’t play with them. My
brother and sister froze because I’m the oldest and they were going to
follow my lead. But my cousins insisted. We could not play with
these other kids, and the oldest cousin had us move to another part of
the playground. I thought it was because these other kids were
strangers and it wasn’t a good idea to play with strangers.
It was my very first encounter with someone who was a different color
than I. With 20-20 hindsight, it was the first time I realized that I
didn’t see the world the same way my family did. I remember
questioning extensively why we couldn’t play with those kids. It
never dawned on me it was because they were black — not until I was a
teenager and remembered the event on another visit and similar
avoidance tactics were taken by my cousins.
A couple of years later, I got several Flower Power dolls, bendable
hippie dolls, and again was a black doll, and again it was a gift from
someone who sheepishly admitted that it was a lot cheaper than the
other dolls. I didn’t care. To me, it was just another doll that
There was one other incident that stands out from my childhood. Our
neighbor’s son was in the military and stationed in Japan. While
there, he married a Japanese woman and they had three children, and
eventually they moved back to our neighborhood. We were allowed to
play with the kids, who were the ages of the kids on the block, but
none of us was allowed into their home — yet we could go into the
home of any other neighbor. Nor were they ever invited to our home,
not even to play outside. Everybody in the neighborhood behaved the
It wasn’t until I was in college, living in the dorm, and for the
first time meeting people of other races and cultures and backgrounds,
that I began to realize what had happened in those experiences of my
childhood. In our pure white community, people were uncomfortable
about anyone who looked different — even if it was a doll. Even
outside our community, the people in my life saw a world in black and
white and in their eyes, black wasn’t good. And for reasons I never
understood — still don’t understand — that attitude didn’t sit well
with me. Well, let me explain that. My upbringing should have made
me prejudiced, but it didn’t, at least not against people of different
colors. I was always kind of skeptical of blondes. 🙂 I think a
lot about what made me different from the people who shaped my life,
but I have no answer. The best I could do was raise my children to be
more open minded and I did that.
One final incident that shaped my views of race. As a freshman in
college, there was an Hispanic guy who had a serious crush on me. But
I couldn’t stand him. Again, I had paid no attention to his race. I
didn’t even realize he was Hispanic until someone told me because I
had never been around a Hispanic person until then. His personality
was awful. He was rude, overbearing, an ass. I didn’t like him as a
person. But he spread the rumor that I was racist. I was crushed
because I couldn’t understand why anyone would bring race into the way
I felt. Some people believed him and branded me. Most knew the guy
was a jerk. But it was the first time I saw how race and racism is a
When I read this MSNBC.com story about teens getting kicked out of school for wearing American-themed garments to school Cinco de May0 I thought “Um please tell me this is a story on the Daily Show?” Oh wait it’s not.
What kind of idiotic politically-correct nation have we turned ourselves into that we suppress our envied American liberty and freedoms to appease people who come here in droves to dump on us? We will allow people to burn the flag in this country (which is fine with me it’s just a piece of cloth) but not wear the flag on a holiday mostly fueled by beer and America’s deep-seeded need to party? Cross the border and ask a Mexican what is Cinco de Mayo and your response will be um, the 5th of May?
I love partying with all my brown brothers and sisters as much as the next gal on Cinco de Mayo but what’s wrong with partying with my American flag shirt? I mean aren’t we all Americans? I grew up in Chicago and if you’ve never been to a St. Patty’s Day parade in Chicago you can’t really say you know what’s Irish. And if you haven’t sat on the curb and watched the awe and flare of the Bud Billiken Parade in Chicago then you don’t know black folk.
Sure Chicago has the biggest St. Patty’s Day parade outside of Ireland but do they shoot the miscreant who happens to show up with an American flag? I’ve seen plenty of fights break out at the Bud Billiken parade but never over someone sporting the red, white and blue.
So the story goes that these teens, one of them Hispanic, showed up to school in California with T-shirts and bandannas sporting American flags. I”m sure these kids were being what teens tend to be sometimes – obnoxious and rebellious – but seriously it’s just a t-shirt. Still people are crying about how wearing the American flag on Cinco de Mayo is an affront to all the Mexicans in the United States. Well, let’s shed some historical fact on this event shall we?
In Mexico No One Cares about Cinco De Mayo
I find it mildly humorous that many of these hyphen-American holidays are based on half-truths at best and outright manufactured history at worst. When I was in my 20s I was the chair of the NAACP’s Juneteenth event in Colorado Springs.
Juneteenth is the proverbial African-American independence holiday celebrated in cities and towns all over America. It celebrates the Emancipation Proclammation which many blacks mistakenly extrapolate to mean the end of slavery in America. Not quite. Everyone who knows history knows that Lincoln only freed slaves who lived in the most rancorous of the southern states to punish them during the war. Slavery wasn’t abolished until the 13th Amendment passed two years later, but why stop the party?
Cinco De Mayo suffers from the same historical misunderstanding. Many gringos (Latinos and others alike) think Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexico’s independence day. Cue Alex Trebec: Not quite. (Two points for anyone who knows the actually Mexico Independence Date.) Cinco de Mayo It is actually the date of a minor battle in Mexico where 4,000 Mexico troops staved off a French invasion and occupation plan. You see Mexico welshed on their debt and France decided to repossess the country. They were resoundingly defeated in the Battle of Puebla. Even though Mexico scored a great victory (I don’t know how great is a victory over the French?) Cinco de Mayo faded into the historical doldrums until Mexican immigrants to California resurrected it in 1863. Since then California and now everyone else celebrates the day. But folks in Mexico could care less.
Cinco de Mayo Doesn’t Trump America Day
Immigrants – both forced and voluntary – are the backbone of this nation. But one thing that all the immigrants of before had in common that seems to be missing today is a profound love of this country. Immigrants came here in droves because they saw an opportunity to have freedom of religion, the ability to pursue happiness and cool opportunity to get drunk at Fridays! Well, maybe not the Fridays part but you get my drift. When I meet Jewish, Irish, Italian, African and other immigrants they proudly talk of their culture and tradition but they cry when they think about all the wonderful opportunities this country has afforded them. They do not trump their heritage for the privilege of being in this country. And those that do leave. I’ve traveled all over the world and let me tell you I am glad when I can lay my head down on my bed in the good ‘ole U S of A. Sure America has its problems but loving its people is not one of them. We have a good thing going here and we should NEVER be penalize for sharing our joy and love of this country NO MATTER what manufactured holiday it is.
Cinco De Mayo Shouldn’t Divide US
As a person who has engineered one of these ethnic-focused holidays I can honestly say the event was built as a way to show America how African-Americans contributed and helped build the tapestry that is this nation. It was not meant to separate us from the other America. It was not meant to divide. So it baffles me that when it comes to a Mexican holiday that people in Mexico don’t even care about the American flag has to take a back seat. Are you kidding me? Please someone explain this to me so I can understand. Racial politics, long the stalwart of the left, have served to divide and conquer, slicing up America into an ethnic pie that only an advertiser would love. I’m a staunch supporter of civil rights but can someone tell me when that became being a hater of all that’s American? Let us not fall into the false dichotomy of us versus them. It does us no good and only keeps the politics and race hustlers rolling in dough. Be smart. Cinco de Mayo is a made in America holiday. Never let us forget that.