I joined the NAACP tonight.

Download PDF
Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks

In 1960 – when it just wasn’t done – my older (white) sister married a black man in San Francisco.  And had children.

I didn’t learn until I was 12 (in 1968) that my niece and nephew were black. I wasn’t told, lest “I have prejudiced feelings against them.” Like, a child has that degree of prejudism out of the box? No. That was maternal “eek!” factor in play. Mom – who always had black women friends thoughout my life – didn’t quite know how to cope with something so close to home, so didn’t share anything about it until she absolutely had to.

She was distressed to share this truth with me. I, a child of the ’60s, was delighted to discover this diversity in my family, and later to learn more of the experience from my sister who lived it first-hand.

Also a discontent child of the ’60s, in a later year when I was ready to run away from home I negotiated what was to me the next-best alternative: to live with a school teacher/role model who had become a close friend and surrogate parent. This plan only fell apart after mutual parent/teacher conference on a weekend at said teacher’s home, but with the result that I still consider my former teacher a near parent. It is almost incidental that she is black, but she certainly had a profound impact on my formative teenage years. (I credit her with my becoming a writer, and my first book, Mainline, is in part dedicated to her: Mary Walker McCants Wilton. If you know where I can reach her these days, please do let me know. I love her still, and would love to reconnect with her.)

Formative Ideas About Race

My friendly affection towards black women began early on. When I was 0 to 3 years old I had a nanny, who happened to be a woman of color: Aunt Bea. I loved her dearly, and miss her to this day. So some of my early emotional bonding occured across to-me-invisible race  boundaries (perhaps notable is that these years encompassed 1956-1959. Note that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the Montgomery, Alabama, bus in December 1955 – a mere 7 months before I was born.)

Rosa Parks booking photo

Rosa Parks booking photo, 1955

That left me ready-primed for seeing loving connections in a way that is rather oblivious to color.  My addendums to race have always been exactly that: a sort of belated, “oh, yeah, and people see that as xxx” (fill in race/ethnicity here).  I can’t say I’m color-blind – I”m aware of racial tones when I see them, and how that works in the larger world – but on a personal scale I see person-of-color and tend to think, “oh! family model. And who might you be?!’  (Which may be why some of my girlfriends have been of various ethnic origins….)

One of my most heart-wrenching close contacts with race and color happened when my then-partner also became pregnant by a black man. My partner was from Germany, and returned there temporarily early in our infant daughter’s life, leaving me to raise Monika by myself until she was 3. (She was the most beautiful baby! Looked like a young Janet Jackson. SO adorable!  🙂 ) I lost contact with her after her mother came back from Europe and we parted ways, but I finally managed to reconnect with her as an adult after many years. What to do with such a relationship interruptus circumstance is a whole ‘nother story (won’t be getting into it here).  But for my posting reasons du noir, I just want to observe that my near-daughter  is half black, something that interests me and I wish I had more personal experience of in regards to her lived life.

Now, the third tangent is this: I am not exactly “white” mainstream American. In fact I am Arab American. I am half Lebanese, and since 9/11 have been treated to rants about “towel-heads” and more virulent verbal assaults, some of which I’m happy to say I have challenged face-on (and seen boneheads back down from their rhetoric when they see a face attached to “those people from over there.”)

I share this pseudo-invisibility with other Arab-Americans of ambiguous names and ethnic appearance (and who would ever guess that the Scotch-Irish surname “Christian” hides the “Hakeem” part of the lineage?) Trust me, we compare notes on these disconnects from time to time. This journey across mixed ethnic and racial ground can lead to very weird circumstances.

I have even  (most surprisingly) been completely dissed as a minority with any issues by a Chinese American psychology professor who said, in so many words, “You don’t look foreign. You can’t have a problem.”  (!!!)

Where do I even begin….

Well, let me just get back to the NAACP.  And to get there I will briefly tour through science fiction  by James Cameron (Hey. This IS a sf blog, you know?)

Cameron>Bassett>Parks

One of Cameron’s relatively overlooked works from the 1990s was this little thing called Strange Days. This 1995 movie was about a former vice cop (Joseph Fiennes) peddling illegal cyber-brain recordings (aka “sensie feelies” in other sf tropes) that share a vicarious recorded reality of someone else’s experiences. His friend/romantic interest is Angela Bassett in a totally great role (she definitely made more of it than was written).

Because of this sf romp I got curious about Bassett’s other work.  I’d seen her previously only in the bio of Tina Turner, What’s Love Got To Do With It?, which I found more disturbing (for the content) than entertaining.  The Cameron movie put her on my radar in a whole different way. She was completely compelling. And intense. Stole the show, even.

Hm.

So – next up:  The Rosa Parks Story, which not only stars but was also produced by Bassett.

I grew up hearing about Rosa Parks. SEEING this story fascinated me with Bassett’s acting, and irritated the hell out of me about our collective (and continuing) issues about RACE in this country, and the continuing battle we must even lo these many years later fight, even when a black man is (unbelievably! wow!) actually holding the office of President (and why is it not surprising that death threats against the president are up by 400%, according to the Secret Service).

!!!

I am simultaneously amazed by our progress, and appalled by the small dent it has made in the face of entrenched attitudes in certain parts of the country.  I am – I regret to say – doing my writing retreat in a terminally Red State where they are still fighting the Civil War. The attitudes portrayed by certain crackers in the Rosa Parks movie are still alive and well in some places close to where I live, and it makes this San Francisco girl with beloved black family members just want to puke. Or scream. Or go on a Freedom March or something.

And so, tonight, I joined the NAACP.  And I signed up with the local chapter, in case there is something I can do locally that is of significance. Time will tell. At the very least, I am contributing to an organization that has had a huge impact, over time, on civil rights and social status quo in this country. Many people dismiss the NAACP these days as no longer relevant, or a relic from  an older time. But I see it as a civil rights organization with a vibrant history. It is part of my generation and consciousness,  and I am proud, however late my association may be, to now be a part of it.

Huzzah.

Take that, Red State.

 Subscribe in a reader

Did you enjoy this post? Why not leave a comment below and continue the conversation, or subscribe to my feed and get articles like this delivered automatically to your feed reader.

Comments

No comments yet.

Leave a comment

(required)

(required)