DIVIDED BY RACE?
My early childhood was characterized by idealism concerning the question of race. This was informed by my immediate family as well as what I was taught in school about our nation’s history. It was also informed by what I learned in my Bible classes about how Christians treat other people. Only later would I slowly realize that the country I cherished and even my own Christian subculture was biased against, and divided according to race. When I was a small child, I lived in a color-blind world. Minorities were my family and close friends and racism was something that existed mostly in history books.
Understandably, my family and church was my childhood world and so I had a limited perspective. My grandmother was an immigrant from Italy who married my grandpa who was a Spanish Mexican descended from a relative adopted by his aunt and a Chinese immigrant who had to get married out at sea since it was illegal (Rethinking the Color Line, 21). One of my aunts is Korean and one of my favorite uncles growing up (Uncle Mike) is African American (he was a close friend of my dad’s). My church (Marina Cathedral) was primarily African American and the church I would attend later in my elementary school years was extremely diverse. Close friends of our family were Mexican, Czechoslovakian, or Jamaican. My friends were Swedish, African American, Mexican, Japanese or Korean. I recognized we were different in some ways since sometimes we spoke differently, liked different foods and had different outlooks, but it never occurred to me that our country was not all that I thought it was or that American Evangelicals were not as united as I had grown up thinking. My immediate family and church experiences were often the exception and not the rule. It was also possible stuff was happening behind the scenes that I was not aware of.
My first conscious exposures to racism occurred in my elementary school years. My family lived on a street that was primarily, Mexican and Mexican American with one or two “white” tenants. One day, I heard my parents talking about how upset people where about an African American family moving in across the street from us. I didn’t understand why and so they explained to me that it was because they had darker skin. This confused me. It seemed crazy, ridiculous and arbitrary—and yet, people felt so strongly about it. Later, I also heard about some of the problems my dad and Uncle Mike had when visiting other states and how Uncle Mike was expected to open doors for my dad and how their initial refusal to participate made things worse for Uncle Mike. Also, when my parents were trying to buy a house, the person selling it started assuring them there were no “niggers” in the area. In high school, one of my peers was talking about how stupid Hispanic women were, and how they were only good for one thing. I was offended since this directly related to my friends and I questioned him about it, but my color-blind world was collapsing. The world was a lot sicker and more sinister than my earlier experience conceived. Differences became infused with another, darker meaning. Having dark skin was no longer just like having red or blond hair, and being Chinese no longer meant merely having a different culture, perhaps taste in food, or language—there was a whole profile of expectation of how they acted and who they were. They were now “racialized” and this was the product of a historical process that was not merely confined to the past (19-21). Uncle Mike and our friend Robert could somehow be dangerous? Undesirable? Subservient? I understood now that many individuals were racist or racially biased. Racism and racialization were not merely part of history. Still, my understanding was confined to an individual outlook...
For the entire piece, Allison Quient/Divided by Race