Racism, agism, gender bias and really any type of discrimination is rooted in the belief that all people do not hold equal value. People who hold racist beliefs tend to believe that race is the primary determinant of human capacity – that your whiteness, blackness, brownness or any other shade determines what you as a person are capable of.
We take away the power of these biases when we refuse to give in to another’s conception of our reality. My own personal experience of racism began when my “pop,” a large African American man who raised my mom, took me by train to the theatre district at Christmas. On that train ride, we both broke into song, enthusiastically belting out “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth,” since I happened to be missing mine at the time. Amidst our good-natured fun and giggles, I didn’t understand why everyone on the train seemed to be staring at us. I didn’t understand how the outside world viewed this seemingly odd couple of a towering and imposing black man and a young, apparently white girl. After the show, pops took me out for ice cream and explained that folks didn’t look at us as a family in the same way that we did. He told me that we had to teach other people that what we were was okay. That we had to teach other people that our love and our humanity is not based on the color of our skin. That is a lesson that our clients have lived firsthand.
Doris believes that every month should be Black History Month, because the history we celebrate at this time isn’t the history of a single race or group. It’s a history we share as American people and it is what makes us a nation today. As she wisely notes, God instructed us to love one another, not based on skin color, nationality or anything else other than our humanity. Throughout her long life, she has been helped by folks and helped others based on that command.
When she moved up here from the South, she was taken in by and worked as a governess for a white family who considered her part of their family. She in turn helped their children have a more diverse view of racial issues and understand how things were different in other areas of the country. Doris’ eventual involvement in politics was eye-opening. Over the years, she became a mentor for youth and was heartened by the positive changes she saw as a result. As she notes, “We’re still behind, but we can’t let us hold that down, because we have movement going.” As she relates, the first Afro American President and first female Vice President of color have opened doors to wider acceptance.
Erma had a different experience, moving here from Jamaica. At 16 years of age, after her mother died, she had to work to support and also take care of her 5 brothers and sisters, the youngest of which was only one year and 11 months old at the time. She then went on to have 8 children of her own. Coming to America made life much easier for the family, who remains close today. She appreciates the opportunities this country has given her and her family to succeed.
As we move through the rest of 2021, let us carry the hope we have for a better and more enlightened future that we have felt in this month continue throughout the year.