A friend’s husband uses racial slurs and opines that slavery was “not that bad” for African-Americans. Another friend reluctantly admitted that her boyfriend declined my party invitation when he found out I am Black. It was rumored that a coworker constantly complained about the influx of black faces into the company.
My shock at these incidences was not that people were still thinking and acting this way in the 21st century, but who did and said these things. My friend’s husband is Hispanic and the other’s boyfriend is of Middle Eastern descent. The coworker is Jewish. In the past few years, it hasn’t been difficult for me to find substantial evidence of Anglo-Americans finally validating and including African-Americans. A Black man is in The White House, and there are more commercials than ever before featuring African-American families. But in my microcosm, and much to my dismay, it appears things are going backwards in race relations between non-Anglos and African-Americans. . .
One of my Latina friends learned English and about American culture by watching American news. I have only to look at the news and conclude that it shoulders some of the blame with its lopsided portrayal of African-Americans. Positive organizations Blacks founded or participate in like community after-school programs or The National Association of Black Journalists don’t get as much press as an African-American man who robbed a store. Many African-American eye witnesses are equally disturbing, smacking of ignorance. They are usually women with heads full of rollers or young men with sagging pants — both with poor grammar and exaggerated hand gestures.
Another friend, who is ethnic but not Black, has an older relative who sums up his disgust for African-Americans in two sentences: “We come to America, beat the odds start prosperous businesses and so on. You (Blacks) have been here all this time and do not/can not do the same.” Whenever I hear this “apples to oranges” comparison, I want to shout back in anger and weariness, “My ancestors had no choice in coming to America. And they were forbidden to practice their religion, speak their native languages, and even to learn how to read and write English! You were afforded the luxury to take advantage of what America’s forefathers intended: religious freedom and the overall freedom to pursue the American dream.” My pride longs to remind them about Blacks like Oprah Winfrey, to share other African-Americans’ success stories who may be not famous: my grandparents, for example. The real George and Louise Jefferson. My grandmother owned two dresses as a girl, and she told me of how she coveted the iced tea at the White family’s home she and her mother worked in. “I always thought that was the prettiest drink,” she’d tell me. My grandfather was so poor as a boy that he only got certain foods at Christmas. Through earnest and persistent efforts, they got their barber and cosmetology licenses and opened a barber and beauty shop. The shop has been in my family for over sixty years. Sigh. As multi-faceted as this issue is, the same motive is at the heart of all the animosity: Once again, Black caricatures eclipse those Blacks who cast off the cloak of poverty, dodge discrimination and “move on up.”
My hope for cross-cultural education improving relations between African-Americans and others may be Pollyanna. It may be slow to get results. But it is possible. I welcome sincere questions about everything from the origins of Ebonics to hair care differences to Soul Food. I’ve learned to say hello and thank you in a few exotic languages and take it upon myself to understand the basic principles of other religions. My desire is to have more tales like this: recently, I did business with a family-owned tailoring establishment. I had a nice chat with the lady at the counter; she was warm, pleasant and quite complimentary. “Have a nice day,” she said, “Come back and see us,” with a Vietnamese accent. “You’re welcome,” I replied, “I sure will.”
Sean C. Wright is native to Dallas, TX, and earned a degree in English from University of North Texas. She is the author of the short story collection A Gathering of Butterflies, the novella Honey Riley and the children’s books Mary & Jerry Canary. Actress Jessica Biel directed a short film based on her winning essay in 2010: Sodales (18 minutes). Sean has also been a member of the Dallas Gem & Mineral Society (DGMS) since 2012, and was their 2017 secretary and newsletter editor.
Check out Sean’s profile on IMDB.
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