My mother was brought to the United States in January of 1968. To put this into perspective, she never experienced American racism or temperatures below 65 degrees. She was totally uncomfortable and afraid of this place.
As you know, Martin Luther King Jr. would be assassinated just months following her arrival. With the aftermath embedded into her psyche, she grew up somewhat politically and historically aware and decided to align herself with the “feminist-black power”, sprinkled in with some Rastafarian, paradigm. She has an Afrocentric, Grass Rooted point of view about life.
With this being said, I always knew certain ethnicities and groups didn’t fuck with other ethnicities and groups. History is taught so non-politically in school that I couldn’t make these connections myself. I would piece together what I could from conversations my mother and I would have as well as listening to NPR and other news outlets.
I lived the white-black racial dichotomy; I was aware of discrimination though I didn’t fully understand how it got this way, or why. I just knew white people made all the rules for everybody to follow, especially black people. This disturbed me to the core and it would take the last half of my life before I figured the whole White Supremacy thing out. For all of the years prior I pretty much accepted white privilege as the norm. For black and white people to have beef made sense.. other groups though? What’s y’all problem?
All my life I would have these inner dialogues, questioning so many things around me, particularly things that didn’t quite make sense about race and ethnic relations. I think I felt embarrassed to ever question them because I felt it was conventional wisdom.
From ages 8 through 16 I grew up in a predominately Jewish neighborhood (Kemp Mill in Wheaton, MD); we had at least three synagogues and two Jewish schools I would see on the regular. I always wondered why they were so “special” and had their own institutions and establishments. Their school was located adjacent to our neighborhood park. They had their own basketball courts which were nicer than ours, one was short enough for us to try dunking on! They wouldn’t welcome us to play on their court, however they would come down to our shabby ass court at will.
It also appeared they had their own religion and way of life different from any I’d witnessed before. Of course their attire was strange to me, as well as their “stand-offish-ness.” I felt like they felt they were better than everyone else. And then there were the Jewish kids who I went to public school with who were my friends and nothing like the kids who attended the Yeshiva School. I even attended a Bat Mitzvah! My good friend Jaime would always make it a point to remind me that she wasn’t “orthodox”. While I didn’t quite know what that meant, I assumed it meant she wasn’t like the Jewish people in my neighborhood.
This opened my mind to a field of inquiry concerning the race and religion of people in general, but particularly Jewish people. I wondered, are Jewish people white? Can a non-white person be Jewish? Why does my mother wear a Star of David pendent on her chain? What is this 12 tribes of Israel stuff I hear Rastafarians talk about? Why do they require their own bible? Excuse me, Torah.
They even had their own grocery store (Kosher Mart) and pizza shop (Ben Yehuda). Hell, they even had Bazooka Joe Bubble Gum with Hebrew writing on the comic. Obviously, I had zero notion of the concept of nation building. Adding to my curiosity about race, religion and ethnicity were the other people who made up my neighborhood.
I lived in a high rise apartment building with 21 floors. The tenants were multicultural & multiracial; our community was also diverse as far as socio-economics are concerned. Now that I think about it, our community included a number of nursing homes and disabled people as well. There were residents from all ethnic backgrounds and class levels technically living under one roof. Diplomats from foreign countries would reside in my building, as well as their children, many my age. The same could be said about low income residents who lived in my neighborhood.
We had people from African countries, Eurasian countries, South and Central America as well as the Caribbean and so on. I could virtually play basketball with Jewish kids on Monday, street hockey with Albanian kids on Tuesday, soccer with Nigerian kids on Wednesday, football with American kids on Thursday, swim with Jordanian kids on Friday, play tennis with Vietnamese kids on Saturday and play baseball with El Salvadorian kids on Sunday.
Thanks for Reading!