The only difference is I am white and you are black. You yell that I don’t know anything about being black before you even know my name. You yell that I have always known privilege. You yell I have done nothing for the black community. You yell alot, even before the recent spates of deaths, but you don’t ask or more importantly listen.
In 4th grade Frank Campbell joined our school, he had such political sense at such a young age because of his father in NAACP. I know it wasn’t easy in that school at that time but he taught much. In 7th grade my teacher was Mr Walker, soft spoken,well read and I hung on his every word. My classmates were not kind and other teachers not supportive beyond Miss Dantone from Puerto Rico. The sixties were a time of World Book sorely out of date and only a main library downtown at the same time so much was moving ahead so fast.
In highschool, Billie came to school on bus,wearing baggy overalls that quickly grew tight and she was increasingly tired, depressed. When I asked her if she wanted a boy or girl, she responded ” a puppy. She never came back to school and I never saw her again. Esther was thrown out of her family when she got pregnant. My mother refused to help. I saw her again sitting in the hospital lobby cradling her crusty,dirty toddler as she told me her life was over at 16 married to the father in deep poverty. I had my father drive me around the red brick public housing complex surrounded by tired bare dirt and suspicious eyes.
In nursing school one student was not wanted as roommate but she seemed happy to be alone as she spent most time with her boyfriend.I was so busy dealing with hunger and bad roommates while trying to read. Turns out most students only read the required list, I read the whole list so had no time for bars and boyfriends. This is when I found Sociology and found more information that filled in gaps all these people left.
My first years of nursing I was drawn into a rut of incredible sameness of thoughts, plans, life experience. The only novelties were the Mormon couple who moved in downstairs, the neighbor across the street who was abandoned by her husband. She struggled in parenting, working and poverty. I am ashamed I didn’t do more to help her.
My first house was in a historic district in Milwaukee, solid, old, home. My neighbors were all homeowners having been there many years. Many retired or stay at home moms and kids fascinated I had no husband and got sun burned. We lived in harmony on porches complaining about bosses, weeds or snowplow sealing the drive exactly as backing out the freshly shoveled drives. Marie told me about the huge magnolia that she brought from TX, how Juneteenth was a thing but told me not to miss the exhibits in the museum of black business in Milwaukee. She made sure I had a plate every holiday I had to work whether she cooked or went. I felt a part of all. Lisa and her family lived a few blocks over and worked with me and was a great nurse, mom but relied on her husband for good food. We had so many things to talk and laugh about. Flora was from Jamaica and she had such a belly laugh and stink eye that transcended her thick accent.
My patients in Milwaukee taught me about homelessness, shelters, domestic violence, drug use, prostitution and despair. I saw women who everyone gave up on, so eager for even one person to see their soul and affirm them saddled with kids they had no resources for. I saw southeast Asians prejudiced against by all groups. I interacted with, cared for every shade of humans, advocated every way I could. I loved when I saw patients months or years later and the progress they made and worried about the moms I sent home on city bus to go to homeless shelters.
Then alderman Michael Mc Gee starting saying he was going to purge the city of white people and drive by shoots increased. White friends shunned my house claiming I was in the ghetto. Plumbers, electricians called it the jungle and refused to work in our neighborhood. Suddenly it wasn’t safe for me to bike with my white baby in the trailer behind me or walk the dog at dusk. My neighbors were the same, my house was the same but Mc Gee was the commander of Black Panthers surrounded by armed men and no one had the courage to stand up to him. He and his son didn’t want to hear, see or listen to anyone who wasn’t exactly like him. I left Milwaukee.
Eventually I landed in TX. I got used to hearing Spanish and having things stolen. I never got used to black on black prejudice or the belief that I had no idea about anything because of my skin. I met incredible cowboys riding gorgeous pinto horses, ag students passionate about goats who actually saw my mind and heart. I saw the difference in caring, concern from one hospital to another. Coworkers who were great, some were real stinkers but wave upon wave of sick, depressed, poor, people living on the edge in front of us. Sociology wasn’t a thing there, people didn’t matter, just money and divides.
I refused to forget what I had in Milwaukee. I adopted a newborn from Chicago where even strangers saw me as only mom. Doors were opened, chairs offered, smiles given. When I got back to TX the verbal assaults started and continued. The anger I felt amplified when my 8 yo son was stepping in front of me and staring down black faces saying horrid things. I moved to the country, changed churches three times, finally changing religions. I argued down racist doctors, found ones that truly cared for my child and paid cash for care. We went to the beach, carribean festivals, rodeos, parks, libraries where many people were great. The systemic corruption, racism I saw, experienced, endured,could and did fill a book
So now what was it you were saying?