Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Living with Black People

Here you can see your average white, liberal lady blogger:

Patient C in a dress her family called "retro hippie" with dog, Lucky.
Or you can see PatientC, me: white lady, disabled mom, loyal wife and girl friend, #Resist Bitch, Proud mom of Girls that with her belong to the #LGBT/#QUILTBAG community, poor Randian leech, sometimes obese but usually just a few pounds "overweight," Buddhist and ULC minister, neuroatypical rabble rouser and oversharing blogger. 

One thing (among many) that you cannot see is this: I live with black people

To my surprise, the data backed up my observation that not many people live with people that do not look like them. In the US, even outside of racist housing policies from corporate to governmental, people tend to self segregate not just along class but racial lines. There is so much material out there on redlining, racist home loans, government segregation, the Northern migration and then later, smaller repatriation. Go look, academics and commentators have formed whole careers saying things about this and you should know about this in the US if you live here, or see if it happened where you live if you live elsewhere.

What I want to focus on here is that my white family of weirdos is even more weird because we chose to live among different folks. 90% of our neighbors are African American. This makes a lot of the people in our lives black. It means that policy meant to affect black citizens probably changes our lives too - in a secondary if not a primary way. If there is a fire nearby, or a shooting, or a tree falls in our area, we stand outside and work with black people to see if help is needed or comment helplessly if that all we can do.

Within site of our house, we have one neighbor that is a white guy. He is a disabled vet with a Latina wife. Minion One sometimes house sits for them, which changed their life. They participate in the local feral cat program & never felt like they could vacation for more than a weekend and now, if they can scrape together the cash, they can go visit her relatives and not worry about home or the kitties. 

On the opposite corner to ours is a Vietnamese lady that was cool for a decade and a half but now has some beef about the breed of my dog. One of the same breed knocked her down once and once she realized I had the same breed of dog she stopped talking to me. But it is the kind of beef you get anywhere from anyone, nothing special about the fact that she comes from where she comes from and I am so white as to appear translucent. 

The neighbors just south of us are a black couple with a couple of grown children from previous marriages. In the summer of blood here, a few summers ago, they lost a grown son to a gas station shooting - he was just there, gassing up his car. We got to know each other after that - their opinion on white people (I later found out) was profoundly changed because I checked in on them each day for that terrible first week, and off and on thereafter. But I only found out because they had family/friends parked around the block, including around our corner yard. When I asked about it, I was devastated: he was another guy that thought it was funny that I played Halo. Another black guy, something incidental to our conversation, but race mattered in how the case was reported and treated. 

Now we lean on each other as needed. Hell, my dog Nissi came from a litter sired by their dog - the husband helped pick and nurture her specifically for me. He was under the opinion that I needed a dog for company as the Minions grow up and I am out in the yard alone with some frequency. So now I have a wonderful nanny dog that loves everyone but from her pit bull looks folks assume she only wants to eat their face and I am never hassled by strangers anymore. I take Nissi over to play with her dad and sister at least once a week, like neighbors might do.

Our mailman is Nigerian, he loves our dogs and chats. He is terrific at his job so we leave a card with a small token of appreciation in the mailbox at the end of the year. Not a big deal, really. 

I can keep going. I can re-agonize about the black kid under a white sheet that summer. He was only there because a cop thought he was suspicious or a suspect or something. He was unarmed, doing nothing illegal or unusual, just walking down the neighborhood street. When the Minions were younger he was one of the kids that got cold water bottles from me when they were running around playing like kids do. 

Some of those kids have grown, left, and now some are coming back. My guys get asked about that white lady with the cold water and if she is still here. It warms my heart to be remembered like that! I did not consider, however, that I was also the first white lady they ever talked to outside of school or other regimented experience. I was just looking after the kids like their moms.

Or I could rant about how we chose this for ourselves and the Minions. It was vitally important to me that the kids attend class with people that did not all look like them. Turned out, sometimes they were the only white faces in their class. I stand by that decision. Now the Minions are at a loss when they hear about how white and black people in the US sometimes see each other. They bristle when they hear about racism or racist practices. They are trained to get out in front when there is trouble because they are so much likely to fare better when interacting with authority. They have seen the school to prison pipeline. They have seen what I call the abstinence to poverty parenting pipeline.

We try to be good neighbors, like folks do. Every time a new family moves in, we introduce ourselves, if appropriate, as the crazy crackers on the corner. We affirm that we have lived in this place for over 15 years. Our neighbors ask about race and political issues more since the last election than ever before. I field these questions like when neighborhood girls used to ask me about white people hair - with patience and dignity. I tell the Minions to remember that even just to ask is to risk, so when they get asked race questions to do the same with the knowledge that the tenor of their response may determine if the folks asking ever try to do so again. 

What is the point here, then? To affirm that some of us do live what we believe, as much as we can, and raise our kids/Minions to do the same. To remind folks that our neighbors are not their neighbors, but at the same time are their neighbors. Once the racial tension settles, and folks know we are not, in fact, the villains in a Spike Lee joint, we were accepted as good neighbors. We had to get past our fictive kinship with other white people to show that we are decent folks. Although we did not deserve that distrust, we understood and accepted that we would have to be better folks to be thought of as good folks. We endeavor to do this every time we get new neighbors.

This is why I react with rage when black mothers grieve over the pointless loss of another black child. This is why when a mentally ill man was shot by a cop at a corner church here I was livid: the family had to raise money for a headstone while that cop was honored in event after event. Apparently shooting a crazy person is something that they honor. But to me these are people - kids and neighbors, not a dehumanized demographic.

This is part of why I get called a "race traitor" and shit when needless black death permeates the culture again for a few moments: I am not set to default white sympathy. My "we" is my family, friends, and neighbors... my "we" is not just white folks.

And yeah, I sometimes bristle when white do gooder liberals are accused of carelessness and callousness. I get it, and I never criticize the folks with that beef: I see it too, and the few holdouts like me and mine never outweigh legit beef over the movement as a whole. There is so much left to do, and current US culture is in full reverse mode regressing on everything from shrinking the franchise to struggling to re-stigmatize LGBT folks. 

Why post this? Not to excuse any past, present, or future race faux paux, hurt, or damage I may have caused nor to flaunt my meager efforts. I post this just as a way of pointing to a spot and saying "I am here." Maybe it will mean something to someone that needs to know that in this mess of a country and time there are still people out there doing what they can to do things differently. 

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