That previous story I posted about the Hortons really resonated with me. My friend Sharon shared that story with me on Facebook. And, as I usually do, I looked into it to make sure it was an actual event. Not that I had any doubt that something like this could actually happen (it happens all the time!!), but after that totally made-up BLM attack that allegedly occurred in downtown Roanoke, I verify everything before passing it along. That’s when I discovered it was going to be featured on the early A.M. episode of ABC’s Nightline (Thursday October 15, 2020). Yes, this was a real story, and yes I passed it along.
As I commented on Facebook, it angers me when I hear some people say there is no such thing as systemic racism. You can call it whatever you want; “a rose, by any other name, smells as sweet”…. in this case it reeks of implicit bias because of the color of one’s skin. Just because you personally haven’t experienced it, or even noticed it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It happens to people of color every day, in both subtle or blatant ways. I felt that connection with Abena Horton. She stated, “Why did I let myself forget that I live in America as a black person and that I need to take some extra steps to get a fair result?”
That narrative applies to me, as I sometimes say to myself, “Why did I let myself forget that I live in America as a black person? Period.” Sometimes one just wants to believe that we are all a part of the human race and that color doesn’t matter here or anywhere else in this world. I have shared fond moments of my life with you before when color was a non-issue. I grew up in the same mixed-race neighborhood as my Mom. We both had black and white friends that we saw, played with, ate with, etc., on a daily basis. Our parents were friends with their parents. They loved on us, and yelled at us, just like they did their own children! It wasn’t until we started grade school that we realized we didn’t go to the same school as some of our friends. I told you before, at age six, it took about three days before I realized there were no white kids at my school. And they soon realized there were no black kids at theirs. We asked each other our teacher’s names, just thinking we were in different classes at first, but the stark reality of it all quickly settled in.
That was the first time being a different color impacted my life. It would not be the last. And as I got older, and my world expanded, that reality hit me and my black friends, sometimes subtly, sometimes like a ton of bricks. We couldn’t go on vacations like some of my white friends because “coloreds” were not allowed to stay at the hotels/motels at those locations. Our trips were to visit and stay with extended family members. We didn’t eat out, even as a special treat, because they didn’t serve blacks at those restaurants. And why did that white man I didn’t know, yell out of his car window and call me a “nigger” as I walked along the sidewalk? I didn’t do anything to him…except exist.
I’ve had a few moments of innocence in my adult life where color didn’t matter. My favorite was one with my friend Becky. She got me involved with the local theater groups in Waynesboro as a makeup artist. Our love of the art allowed us to spend a lot of wonderful times together. I remember her calling me telling me about a new stage makeup line and she was going to drive to Charlottesville and pick up some samples. She tried it out while she was there, and she was so excited about it, she stopped by my job on her way home to show it to me!! As she applied it to back of my hand, we both examined it with a puzzled look on our faces. The texture, the effect was not like she had described to me over the phone. Something was off, but we just couldn’t put our finger on why!!??!! She tried it on the back of her hand….it was fine. It was like it was expected to be! And then it dawned on on the both of us at the same time. “It’s because you’re black,” she said. It never occurred to us until that very moment that it didn’t look right on me because we weren’t the same color!!! We both forgot, for that moment, that I lived in America as a black person. We laughed about that incident for years. That’s how I wish it could be all the time.
Many of you know I was married once before. My first husband was a black man. We met when I took a singing job with a band based in Connecticut. He was the the lead guitarist. Life with him was relatively simple…although, ultimately, not happy. He wanted to move back to his hometown and start his own band. I dutifully accompanied him. We lived in an apartment building that was mostly inhabited by African Americans. Our days were filled with our regular jobs (I worked in retail in the Palm Beach Mall, West Palm Beach, FL. He worked for a local freight-forwarding company) and our evenings filled with playing music. We knew how to navigate the world as same-race couple. We knew where we were going to be accepted. We knew when we going to raise an eyebrow. That relationship lasted four years.
Like Abena, I fell in love with a Caucasian man. I don’t know her back-story. My second, and hopefully my last marriage also began with a musical foundation. Brian joined our already established band when our original sound technician left to get married. Not having the greatest track record with relationships in general, I tried to discourage him, but his persistence paid off. We have been happily married for 19 years now…and counting.
Brian came into this relationship with a degree of naïveté. I was the first black woman he had ever dated. I don’t think he even noticed the sideways glances I saw from some people when we were seen together. It took him a while to understand things like my hesitancy to accompany him when he wanted to eat in a restaurant that I perceived might not be as welcoming to my presence. He had not experienced those kinds of feelings in his own life. I’ve spent a lifetime with those kinds of feelings…
I made a joke of it one night when we on our way back to his place after an evening out. He lived within an earshot of the old Victory Stadium in Roanoke. He saw the lights on and heard a band playing. Because he’s in the professional sound business, he wanted to see if someone he knew was running the sound board. I was fearful. The thought never occurred to him, considering the genre of the music we heard coming from that venue. I knew what to expect before we arrived. We were holding hands as we strolled through the crowd, making our way to the sound technician’s tent. I saw the Confederate flags. He never noticed. I saw some of the dirty looks. He never noticed. I saw no black face in the crowd except mine. He never noticed. I finally turned to him and said, “My boyfriend took me to a Klan rally….” He noticed. He apologized for making me feel uncomfortable by taking me there and asked if I wanted to leave. I did, but I told him I was okay. Unlike him, I was used to these kinds of feelings. And like many people my color, I refused to give in to the situation. I had as much of a right to be there as they did. I’m an American, and I am equal in every way. Right? “Why did I let myself forget that I live in America as a black person?” Piercing through my personal conviction that I have value and merit is the reality of everyday life of a person of color. If I try to forget, I get reminded of that fact pretty quickly.
Unlike the younger Horton family, we have been blessed at this point in our lives to have our mortgage paid off. So, until we make the decision to sell our home, we will not have to face their particular situation. However, if we decide to do that at some point, don’t think the thought hadn’t crossed my mind about hiding my true identity in order to get a higher assessment of our property. We live in a wooded subdivision and I was the only black person there for years. We now have a white family with two black daughters, so it’s nice to know theoretically, I’m no longer alone. Having a white husband actually heightens my awareness that my existence could be detrimental to his life and livelihood. He loves me completely, without reservation, without the prejudices that color my world. Now that I am retired, I do get to travel with him sometimes when he visits with clients. I don’t intrude on his business affairs. Our deal is while he is meeting with them, I take the car and go shopping, with the understanding that I won’t spend more that he is making that day (smile)! The problem for me occurs when the client is there when we do the driver-swap. This man that loves me is proud to introduce me as his wife to whomever he is meeting with. I am always concerned that his white clients may treat their professional relationship with him differently once they discover he is married to a black woman. That thought never occurred to him. I know it happens. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. With the poignant resurgence of hate groups and militia activity in some of our communities now, I am keenly aware there may be some whites that will hate him just for the fact that he associates with me. Just like that man that verbally accosted me as a child, I worry that he may one day experience physical or emotional wrath because of me. The fear is real.
“Why did I let myself forget that I live in America as a black person?” Sometimes I let my guard down. I long for the day when it is a non-issue. I won’t see it in my lifetime. There is so much hatred in the world that sometimes I feel like I can’t breathe under it’s weight. And then my sweet husband tells me how much he loves me…and I feel a small ray of hope.