A while ago, I stopped for lunch with my daughter at a local fast-food joint. You may be surprised by that, if you’ve read my other blog posts about the racial encounters I’ve experienced at a local fast-food restaurant. Perhaps I should just give up on the ironically-named “happy” meal? Something to ponder…
Because it was 12:30pm, I expected a full crowd of hungry high school students, and shortly after Baby Girl and I sat down, in they all trooped. They filled the place. surprisingly mild-mannered and relatively quiet, for a large group of teenagers. I was impressed, especially considering I remember what I and my friends were sometimes like at fast-food places over our lunch breaks (far worse than the crew I encountered).
I was impressed that is, until I began to look around at the groups of teens sitting at the various tables around the restaurant. The mix of colours and cultures was fairly evenly split overall between black and white. This is expected in the very diverse town that I live in. What bewildered me was the total lack of integration between black and white students. The black kids were sitting with other black kids and the white kids were sitting with other white kids.
How could this happen? How could these kids, after the battles fought and won by Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Medger Evers and countless other freedom fighters who stood up and put all they had on the line, how could these kids STILL be segregating after all these hard-fought and hard-won battles?
I was perplexed. Was it racism? Were the white kids rejecting the black? Were the black kids rejecting the white? Was it self-segregation? Were each of these races simply CHOOSING to hang with “their own”? And if so, WHY? Isn’t that still racism? Was it so difficult for all of them to find enough commonality in their age, their goals, their interests, that they would want to sit and spend time with one another over lunch break and not see skin colour as a divisive factor?
I often am embarrassed by my racial naiveté. I guess white privilege does that to you, and I’m not embarrassed to admit that growing up as a white person in a white family in a white neighborhood with white friends and an almost-all-white school did not equip me to question the history that I was taught in school. I mistakenly came away from the VERY brief Civil Rights history classes I attended thinking that all these brave, incredible champions of equal rights had actually accomplished something that would trickle down to everyday life, especially decades later when we are supposed to be more culturally and racially savvy and sensitive. Now I know in the big picture of the world at large, these brave warriors accomplished HUGE changes. I understand that “whites only” restaurants, bus seating, schools, pools and water fountains no longer exist thanks to these heroes and heroines. I guess what surprises me is my naive surprise that the political abolishment of segregation didn’t necessarily knock down the segregation in the minds of both black and white people in everyday life.
I bounced this situation off of a friend and neighbor of mine whom I often consult with on questions about race. She is wise and also happens to be a black woman married to a white man, so often has a unique “biracial” point of view. Her response to my concern over the teenaged segregation? Don’t sweat it. She didn’t classify it as “segregation” but rather a new generation of kids who don’t NEED to care if they integrate or not. She felt the kids were not consciously making a decision to hang with their own or segregate, but simply feeling as though they had nothing to prove. The “I’m ok/You’re ok” generation exemplified, so to speak. I value her opinion greatly, but I’m not convinced I agree with her.
Perhaps I am simply seeing more there than what appeared on the surface, as my friend suggested. Or, perhaps those kids were reflecting a NEW breed of subtle racism that denotes everyone ACT like they aren’t racist and not make racist remarks (at least in public) yet at the basic instinctual level, their generation is still reflecting history’s racism and reverse-racism. Perhaps the new goal of the future is to not only eradicate the mindset of racism and create equality of word, thought and action, but to also teach our children to find similarities between themselves and those of races different from our own. Perhaps we need to consider a new form of equality that doesn’t stop at getting rid of “whites only” water fountains and abolishing the “N” word, but strives further to attain a desire to socialize with peers of different skin colours from our own and find commonalities with all humans.
I worry for my daughter as I ponder the segregation I saw that day. Will she be considered “black enough” to sit with the other black girls who don’t have white parents? Or will she be subtly rejected by her race for having white parents? Will white girls be friends with her, black skin and all? Will she be an anomaly in that group, if so? The token “black chick” whose only reason for acceptance by white girls will be the colour of her parents? Will she be embarrassed by us and try to hide us from her peer group to avoid these types of judgements? She has already done this once, at her age. Her and I were out one Saturday morning and decided to go out for lunch. I suggested to her that we call daddy to join us, but she rejected this idea. I was surprised by this, as she doesn’t see daddy much during the work week and ADORES him, so I questioned why she didn’t want him to join us. At first, she tried to be coy and said it was a “girls day” but I wasn’t buying that, considering every day Monday-Friday is “girls day”. Upon further questioning, she admitted that when daddy was with us, or was with her only, she felt it was obvious to the world that she had been adopted. My heart broke. I couldn’t tell her that this fact was probably almost as obvious when she was out with just me also, because she had taken to heart the many comments we (her and I) received from strangers regarding how we look alike or that I look biracial in my appearance, therefore allowing her to feel she can fly under the radar of detection as a child who was adopted.
My only hope is that by the time she reaches high school, my daughter will not need to worry about these things and that the colour of her skin and our skin, will not be a criteria used to judge her social acceptance into ANY group she chooses to be a part of. More naivety? Probably, but I too can have a dream…