This essay has evolved and is constantly evolving. While I started releasing it as separate sections, because it's a lot AND I wanted to keep people thinking about all of our parts in racism, I've now decided (On October 16, 2020) to add all of the past prologues into the main piece. I will make note as that occurs. Thanks for reading...
My husband is Black
and I am not special.
I can’t find words – the right words. All I want to do is help, but what can I do? How can I actually make a difference? I feel so helpless.
That’s how most of my friends feel. Most of my friends are white, most of my family is white, some of my family watches what they won’t admit is hateful propaganda and until now I haven’t had the courage to fully call it all out. Most of my family is white, but not all. Now, some of my family is Black, including my amazing husband.
This is long. Reeeeeealy long. But it could be way longer…
PRINTABLE VERSION (15 pages) > ***WITHOUT THE ADDED PROLOGUES, which are included below***
Recently a lot of thing happenings here in Akron have been tearing at my heart strings, punctuated by the tragic murder of Mr. George Floyd in Minneapolis, I haven’t wanted to cause more drama, but enough is enough.
Now don’t scoff, it’s not like a lightbulb went off a couple of weeks ago for me. It’s been bubbling up for a long time, especially since I started dating Blair in 2011, and we got married in 2013. But this isn’t about me, I’m not special, but I have witnessed more than a lot of white people. What I’ve come to realize is that the problem is about all of you, all of us, people that were born white. I’m not racist and if you’re reading this you probably feel the same. But am I antiracist? Here is the harder part to recognize, some of what you do, or say, or laugh at, or support or vote for is in fact racist – or worse yet some of what you witness and do nothing about it, is racist. And allowing those things to be said and done is a part of the problem, dare I say THE problem. Yes, there are bad people in this world regardless, and yes, they will always do bad things, but if we as white society allow them to continuously happen, then we are to blame. White people must change.
While you could say that’s all conjecture, I’d like to tell you about some of my real experiences – some small, others big. These are from my perspective as the 40-year-old white wife of a 35-year-old Black man. I think you can more easily put yourself in my shoes. And once you feel that uneasiness, then perhaps try to dip your toes in Blair’s shoes. I have such a hard time imagining being in his shoes, not just because they are a size 13, but because I am so angry in my own shoes that I can’t imagine living with the fear and hurt every minute of every day, or becoming numb to it. I do my best to show him all the love I can, but it’s not enough, it’s not enough to keep him safe and worry-free. I hope through some of my retellings, you can identify with me, because we will never be looked at and treated poorly just because of the color of our skin.
1 – GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER?
My relationship with Blair started slow to the rest of the world - we had hung out a lot with mutual friends. Before our first official date we spent a lot of time messaging as I was doing a lot of traveling (and I may have dived in to quickly with past guys) but the spark was there and we barely spent any time apart after date 1. So when he officially moved in after 3 months, it didn’t seem fast to me. I regretfully admit there was a hesitation in sharing us with the world. Blair’s race didn’t matter to me, but I wasn’t sure how my family would receive the news. I knew they would love him, eventually. But I didn’t know how to say that he was Black, and thought it wasn’t fair to him to just show up and have people be surprised. I’m especially telling this story because I’ve had several people ask me about it, not just out of curiosity, but to help them “come out” - not just for an interracial relationship, but to introduce their same-sex partner to their family. I mentioned that things started slow because I wanted to make sure the relationship was worth the impending potential drama. Just to keep it straight, the fact that I thought I needed to do this is racist. We had only been dating a little over a month, and I was in in Florida visiting my grandparents. My Grandfather was in bad shape and it turned out this was the last time I’d see him in person. Grandpa and I were sitting together, him with his air tubes in his nose - I didn’t know what to tell him about Blair, but he knew I was with someone very special and I answered all of his questions honestly, he just didn’t happen to ask about his skin color. He told me before I left on that visit that I seemed the happiest he’d ever seen and “whole”, and to thank that young man.
For the record, my mom thinks if he ever would have gotten to meet Blair that he would have been surprised but would have given him a chance as he valued men for men. My grandma LOVES Blair. She now is in a memory care home in Florida, so we are never sure what crazy thing she will say, and I sometimes wonder if seeing Blair will through her off as she can’t even remember her kids and grandkids names, but the second he appears via Face Time, she gets a big smile and I ask “who is that Grandma?” Her reply is usually “Oh I can never remember, but boy do I love him!” Back to the rest of the family…
And here comes mom…
It was Christmas Eve and I talked to Blair, yes on the phone, and he said how he went over to his dad’s that day. I asked what he was doing the next day, Christmas, and he said “Nothing”. To give some context, Blair’s mom passed away April 2011, and we started talking that October, I think our first date was in November. So, naturally, I wouldn’t let that happen, having him be alone on Christmas. It was time to introduce Blair. My mom wouldn’t want to miss this, but she had rushed to Florida to help, so all of a sudden everything had to happen then. I called her super early in the morning. Having not had much time to prepare, I simply said “Blair is coming over.” She was excited, and then sad that she’d be missing him, and I blurted out “Mom, Blair is like Brandon.” (Brandon being one of our close guy friends in high school, and based on this post, you guessed it, Black) My mom said, “that’s wonderful!” She really liked Brandon, but she wasn’t getting what I was telling her. Then I said “Mom, Blair looks like Brandon.” She said “Ah,” and I honestly don’t remember what else she said but it was very nice, something along the lines of, whatever makes you happy and she couldn’t wait to meet him. Check that one off the list.
The rest of our motley crew…
Now to tell the rest of my immediate family. So what I came up with because I don’t know if I was too afraid to say “my boyfriend (which I don’t even know if we had defined our relationship by then) was Black” or if I didn’t know the proper way to say it, ‘African American, etc.’…was again “Blair is going to join us.” Everyone was excited, then I said, “It’s a Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner situation.” Sean, my step brother, immediately realized what I was saying, chuckled and said “Awesome!” The others didn’t pick up on it. Jim, my step dad, looked puzzled – the irony being he’s a big classic movie buff so I thought he’d be the first one to get it. Sean said “Dad, he’s Black.” Jim, “Ohhhhhh, now I get it!” He followed it with “we can go shoot some hoops after breakfast.” Yes, that is racist. While I cringed inside, I brushed it off as it also felt like acceptance to me. I had said it, they were prepared and everyone was very welcoming to Blair - I was proud. And as I fell asleep leaning on him, on the couch, as we were all watching a movie, my sister said she had never seen me at peace like that. That is love.
Prologue Part 2 composed on June 17, 2020:
PROLOGUE PART 2:
It feels like the cries for "Mama" in Minneapolis were months ago, and yet it's only been two weeks since I published the first part of this. So much HAS happened, but it's still not enough, we need to continue speaking up and doing more. We must do better. I'll be honest, I've had some of the hardest conversations of my life just in the past couple of weeks, and each seems to top the last. They were necessary - standing up is necessary, it is right. I can't believe an amazing 18 year old Black woman, Na'Kia Crawford, was gunned down here in Akron by a white man (yet to be confirmed) the other day, and there are photos of the car and yet it just vanished. I can't believe that they haven't arrested the officers in Breonna Taylor's murder. There are too many other "I can't believes" but that again shows my ignorance, that I can't believe it.
If you didn't read Part 1 or the full version, this is the part you MUST READ, and even if you did read it, I beg of you to READ IT AGAIN. This is the one where I could have lost my husband, he could have been killed, by police. Blair could be dead. (I had to reread that last sentence about twenty times, because while I've thought that because of this story, seeing it made it ever more real). He could have been murdered and I could have been standing there, hopefully screaming, trying to stop it and definitely recording it. But would that have changed anything?
More must be done.
Back to the original piece, Part 2...
2 – SNOWY TETRIS
Almost 4 years ago, just after Christmas, Trump had just been elected but not yet inaugurated. Blair was driving us home from his friend’s house in Mentor. We were passing through the neighborhood of Kirtland Hills. It was a snowy night and I was distracting myself from being worried about the state of the roads by playing Tetris on my phone. Then the red lights came behind us. I asked Blair if he was speeding, which was kind of funny because I’m always the one speeding. He of course said “No”. The police officer approached our car. I forget what the latest racial injustice was (sad I know) but I knew to have my camera open if I needed to start recording. I don’t recall if he asked if Blair knew why he was pulled over, but he said that Blair drove past a stop sign, without stopping. As I was busy playing on my phone I had no idea if he ran a stop sign. Blair said he didn’t see it and that he wasn’t from this area. The police officer asked “Is this really your car?” It was 100% said in an accusatory way, like it couldn’t be his car. Mind you we weren’t rolling in a Benz or something, it was a Honda Accord – at the time it was pretty new. The officer then asked where he was from, Blair and I both replied “Bath,” though we weren’t sure if the officer knew our little township, the officer suddenly said “Oh” in a way that seemed to change things. He then asked for proof, so Blair handed over his ID, and the officer said “Is this really where you live?” This is when I finally leaned over Blair as the flashlight had only been shining down on him and the officer couldn’t see me, his white wife, and I nicely asked “if he knew that area?” The officer took Blair’s ID back to his car and came back and told us to get home or something like that. We were in disbelief, if he ran a stop sign he would have definitely received a ticket. We didn’t talk much on the ride home, but we did question if a stop sign was really there, but we didn’t want to turn around and check we needed to get out of there. Not only did Blair not get a ticket, but he still had his life. I often question what would have happened if we weren’t from a “fancy” suburb or if I, his white wife, wasn’t in the car. That party was an annual event, we drove the same path every year, there was no stop sign. Do I have to say it? This is racist.
What you hear about…
This was the first time that something so blatantly racist and by a police officer no less had really happened to me – no it happened to Blair with me being there. (This certainly was not Blair’s first rodeo) Up until this experience I had only heard about “Driving while Black” and far worse on the news. I had heard about “the talk” that Black parents give to their Black kids, especially Black boys, but I had never eye-witnessed why it was so vital. This was not my reality. I wanted to shout it from the roof tops, and I’ve told people in various conversations, but I could have done more.
Prologue Part 3 composed on September 21, 2020:
PROLOGUE PART 3:
What you're about to read could truly be its own section, but for now it's just another prologue to the original piece. The bottom line is that it should emphasize the fact that racism is here, around all of us, and it's getting worse, far worse than my generation has ever known. I wrote this intro late in the evening of August 30, 2020, so it's definitely not my finest writing, thanks to wine and emotions. More has happened since then, but i still find myself wondering "Where does time go?" and knowing that it can't simply fix things!
August 30, 2020 - And here I sit, preparing to go to bed after having friends over (outside, socially distanced) for the first time in 6 months, basking in that camaraderie. But in these first moments of quiet since this afternoon, I can’t help shake what today actually was.
Blair has never “allowed” me to put up political signs or any signs in our yards. I remember when Black Lives Matter was first a thing, now years ago, and I asked him if he’d be ok with me getting a sign to put in our yard, thinking there is no way he could object to that and it’s not political. (For the record, B and I generally vote the same.) Ok, no signs. Then there was the 2016 election, fine, no signs. Now we are "here," and it’s different, and the things I used to be afraid to ask him because I didn’t want to be the one pushing him - I’m no longer afraid to ask. We all need to be putting up signs - show me who you believe can make this country whole, show me if you believe my husband matters.
Blair and I have a great relationship and sure we test each other with our “witty banter” (clearly I’m the “witty” and he’s the “banter”, just don’t ask him) but there are some things he hasn’t been able to share with me until recently. A few months ago the neighbors on the corner put up a Black Lives Matter sign. It has made me beam with pride inside each time I see it and I feel like I’ve caught Blair smiling while driving by it. (To the best of my knowledge, Blair is the only Black person that lives on our street - and honestly the only other Black families that we know in town are NBA players). In fact I’ve been meaning to write the corner neighbors a thank you, though I don’t know them, to tell them how much it means to me and now that I know, how much it means to Blair. Signs matter. As he told me “no” to signs in the past I was worried that he might think it "called him out", and turns out I was mostly right. His company, Search Discovery, that is AMAZING, especially with all that this year has thrown at them, has been working very hard on the diversity front, including a diversity and inclusion session this past week (note from Blair: “A real one, not one of those BS ones people complain about"). After it was over B was finally able to share with me his full feelings on signs, that he worried that they would in fact target him. Again, my fear realized. But the fear inside him I will never know. Turns out he had been noticing those BLM signs around the neighborhood and all the Biden signs popping up, and they made him feel good, really good!
I guess it’s been two weeks since I re-approached the sign issue, after Kamala was chosen. And he said yes. If you’ve read any of my posts recently, making change is about action, and to me this is one small action that can have a much bigger impact. So we finally had everything we needed, one sign, two metal stakes, the missing cable ties, and we bought a rubber mallet. Since we live on a busy street, I felt it was a great spot for a BIG sign. We began hammering the first post and as we did I could see cars slow a bit, out of curiosity. Then, as we began attaching the Biden/Harris sign to it, we had people beeping at us, clapping, thumbs upping us, screaming "thank you!" And I saw Blair smile. Heart melted. Mission accomplished.
As we were heading back to reorganize the patio for our expectant company, the gunshots started. It made me jump and we both spun around. They sounded soooo close, closer than ever before. When we realized it was coming from across the street and up the hill, from the neighbors that often seem to be hunting on their own property, Blair continued walking back to the house. I stayed for a minute because I was worried that they were close and watching us and would be using the sign as target practice. (side note I have never met them and know nothing about them other than hearing their guns). The gunshots continued to ring out repeatedly, but the sign appeared safe. So back I went to the patio, where Blair was supposed to be helping set up. He was nowhere to be seen. Ugh, I was so frustrated by his lack of action, but as I walked into the house I saw him cowering in a chair shaking. He was paralyzed, he couldn't talk to me. Side note, it's now September 21, 2020 because the night this happened I couldn't bear to finish typing it all out. And now reliving it nearly a month later I'm filled with anxiety.
Blair couldn't talk to me, and inside I was terrified too, but I couldn't tell him that. I needed to help my husband. Again, I will NEVER know how he felt/feels, but I needed him to feel safe in our own home. I offered everything, including taking the sign down - even though this reaction proved why it was so necessary and why this election means soooo much. I put our friends on "standby" as they were heading over from Stow and I couldn't have the pressure of them on his shoulders. So, I called Michelle, hoping that she could talk to him, but he refused to talk to her. Blair wanted me to talk to her, away from him. Again, thank God for Michelle. What she and I talked about was short, because we really needed to talk to Blair. Eventually, he let me put her on speaker phone, but the gist was that it was probably just really unfortunate timing with the neighbors, even though what he felt was so real and understandable, but that he had to keep living his life. We have to keep living our lives and that is a sign of action.
So we had our friends over and the gunshots did continue through the night. I'll try to be briefer because much more has happened since then. That very night 2 guys in a pickup truck went around stealing Biden signs throughout Bath (we know because there is camera footage of them). I thought that happening would be the end of our sign, either from those criminals or because Blair's fear of people coming onto our property would be justified - but our giant sign still stands. The acts of theft lit a fire in Blair. He's right, it is a crime to come on another person's property AND steal their property. These signs cost money and we fully intend to replace ours if stolen, continuing to contribute to the campaign. There is a Bath facebook group where someone else posted about their signs being stolen, and Blair chimed in that it happened to our friends too (and was also recorded). As you can imagine the thread went downhill quickly with sentiments of it "being no big deal," "people have been stealing signs from the beginning of time," etc. and then battling political views devolved things even more. The part that I couldn't get past was that my husband bravely stated "As a black man I feel..." and yet the argument persisted. I knew one of the people commenting, because of the shop, and I wanted to call her out, but I felt I needed to tell the above story for the true impact, of my husband incapacitated out of fear...fear of our own neighbors and our greater community, while on our own property. We, white people, will NEVER know what it's like and to not even listen is a disgrace.
In the weeks since being erected, we've had a gamut of reactions to our sign. I've received texts from neighbors and friends loving it, but one day sitting alone on the patio, covered by our giant tree, I heard a car slowing and saw a rickety old pickup truck hauling something up the hill, driving as slow as he could to make the yelling of "FFFFUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCCCKKKKKKKKKKKKK Biden" last as long as possible. Then the next week I had a voicemail from an older woman I know whose family lives nearby. Her brother called her to tell her about the sign in our yard and to see if she would talk to me about it. I've never even met her brother, and honestly we find the voicemail to be hilarious as she came up with theories that maybe teenagers put it in our yard when Blair was out of town and I couldn't remove it on my own and more. No reason to wonder, that sign is no mistake.
Just this past weekend I had someone comment on an IG post from July ("It's Still Black Lives Matter"), saying "You lost a client". Well I can say I honestly don't recall you if you ever shopped at my store, and I have no record of it, but let me make this perfectly clear, if that is how you feel, I hope our paths never cross - or at least until you learn to find compassion and show equality for your fellow humans.
You guys, I just can't. I have tears running down my face again, so ashamed in humanity and people that look like me. But that's the thing, I look like me, so I can't say "I can't", I have to say "I must." I must take action. I will never know what it's like to be instantly judged AND hated simply for the color of my skin and if you look like me, neither will you. If you "don't do signs," please reconsider, they mean so much more to others than you could ever realize. If you'd like Biden signs and live in Northeast Ohio, we got ours from a group that has been delivering them to the Montrose area, Crooked River Action, you can email: email@example.com
I can't segue into the original article without reiterating that this election is about soooooo much, but one thing that I know in my bones to be true is that the hate against Black Americans, immigrants, LGBTQIA+ and every other minority and marginalized group will only get far worse if we don't vote for Biden. You can disagree about other things, like having heaps and heaps of money and that is your sticking point - that Trump allegedly looks out for that, or you're pro-life (though don't get me started on that one, check out the abortion rates), and don't care about science, but how can you not care enough about your fellow man? Sure I may think things when I see Trump signs, and feel anger and fear, but would I ever do anything about it, like stealing signs, screaming at my neighbors house, and calling them (though while that was hilarious and invasive, I'd much rather talk to the actual person that has issues with my politics, than his sister that he’s hiding behind)? NO! You guys, these are just little things comparatively, and I'll be the first to say I'm guilty of closing my mind on some things, because I can not fathom how anyone with a brain AND a heart could vote for him. In our own state of Ohio, I've seen photos of Biden signs with N-words and worse drawn on them, set on fire and more. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences and as such it’s beyond time to start holding people accountable for what they say and especially what they do. Multiple times a day I take screenshots on my phone of memes i want to remember, either those "fighting the good fight" or some in disbelief. Currently cycling in my head is the one that "racists need to be afraid again."
We can't have blinders on, we need to hear all of the stories, like this one from our little house in Bath. If you hear those and still choose that your fellow man is not more important to you than issue X, then hear me loud and clear: I am more than happy to not have you as a client, friend or family member. If you're on the fence, and now thinking of not voting for the current person, it's not enough to not vote. What a privileged position you are in to not care, enough. I'm in the same position, but I choose to care. I must care. Please take the time and really try to clear your mind and then read about Joe Biden’s and Kamala Harris's platforms, and see if you actually disagree, and do you disagree more than imagining your husband sitting shaking in a chair because he's afraid for his life.
More must be done.
Back to our originally scheduled program, Part 3...
3 – IT’S A GENERATIONAL THING
In these days since Mr. Floyd was murdered, perhaps the only hope I have felt is talking to my friends about their beautiful children. Children that are actively being taught better and more than we were about acceptance and that all PEOPLE are created equal. Which makes me hopeful for the future, so let’s dig into a little of my back story. My father. He was the worst, to put it mildly. He died last February and the terrors it brought back to me were only amplified by this one statement that my aunt, drunkingly told to me…he called her at some point after Blair and I were married and said “You didn’t tell me she married a Black man, you bitch!” This crushed me, not just because what I always assumed was true, about his evilness, but how little my husband reacted when I told him. Blair didn’t flinch. Maybe I shouldn’t have told him, he didn’t need to hear that, but I was so filled with rage I needed him to know why and in my selfish way I wanted him to join me in my rage. But instead, it wasn’t surprising to Blair. He never met my father, but he has experienced moments like this all his life, so it was just another minute, of many. That is just one small sliver of my father’s foul nature - he verbally abused me and my sister for 19 years, and I’m sure longer for my mom. We escaped, and all have found pure love. I do not want to turn this post to those atrocities, but the reality is that more of us than care to admit may have grown up in households where racists things were said, without blinking an eye. If pressed, I wouldn’t have considered my household as a whole to be racist.
But what about antiracist?
According to the Blacksonian (as Michelle likes to call it), “No one is born racist or antiracist; these result from the choices we make. Being antiracist results from a conscious decision to make frequent, consistent, equitable choices daily. These choices require ongoing self-awareness and self-reflection as we move through life. In the absence of making antiracist choices, we (un)consciously uphold aspects of white supremacy, white-dominant culture, and unequal institutions and society. Being racist or antiracist is not about who you are; it is about what you do.” So while my mother certainly isn’t racist (I’ll let her claim antiracist or not for herself), I do remember my dad using the word “schwartzer” and his father as well. (A German term for Black, used derogatorily, like the n-word). Duh, that is racist. And I knew better, but as a kid you didn’t ever say anything. I grew up in a middle/mid-upper/upper class area of West Akron and attended school where some friends lived in mansions, we lived in a Cape Cod, and other students, mostly Black, were bussed in. In hindsight, it’s very telling that I couldn’t tell you the types of homes those classmates live in. 95% of my friend groups were white throughout the years. There usually was always one or two Black or Asian friends, but it wasn’t because we were trying to keep anyone out, nor were we actively trying to recruit a more diverse friend mix, it just never happened and I honestly don’t know why. I applaud parents now that are trying to diversity their children’s friend mixes. When Blair and I moved to Bath, we knew that our child would be the “token” Black child in school. We moved here because we wanted some land, and quiet, and it was easily accessible to Cleveland, where Blair’s office is. I spent much time dreaming of what our children might look like and worrying about teaching them all of the “right” things, and to love everyone, and wondering if I would know what to do about their hair. So Bath, our little township of 10,000 is not known for its diversity, but it is most welcoming. If our country’s social boundaries can be broken down, can’t we all be welcoming? We need to do the work!
Time for turkey…
Our house hosts most big holidays, especially since Mom and Jim moved to Florida. I vividly remember hosting the Thanksgiving just after Trump was elected. I wanted my house to be welcoming, but I feared unappreciated views being spoken, so I devised a plan to break up the families. No one would sit next to someone in their immediate family and spread out over three tables all in the same room. In my eyes, far too many from my side of the family watch Fox News (which more than zero is too many) and there were folks in Blair’s family that I knew wouldn’t stay silent if triggered, and some from my side as well. I wish I would have had the guts then to address all of the hateful propaganda in the outside world. But that day I wanted peace, at least peace within my family. I was 100% the stupid white girl from the Chris Rock/Dave Chapelle sketch on SNL that was in utter shock at the election results. I couldn’t believe that my family would support someone banning immigrants and so on and so on. The only thing I could ever gather to say to my mom as the travel bans started was “Don’t you get it?! This is like saying that Blair and I wouldn’t be allowed to get married – it wasn’t that long ago.” She couldn’t see it, and I gave up. I gave up trying to change their minds. So that Thanksgiving Blair’s cousin Michelle, gave a very nice and measured prayer/grace, and we all did our best to be civil and made it through. Things weren’t magically better in the world, we just ignored it, and I’ve let too many things go by. By “allowing it,” this is racist.
Ugh, more turkey…
I can’t remember if it was the next Thanksgiving or two years later but he world was still a mess though there was less tension, at least amongst our mixed bag. As I’m known for coming up with different seating plans every year, so it probably was that following year, because I wanted everyone at one table. I had the older members of the family down at one end. The table was so long you couldn’t really hear what was happening. I thought everything went really well! The next day or so, Blair got a call from his dad, Jim #2 (I refer to him as that as he was the second Jim to enter my life). Jim #2 was bothered by something my step dad, Jim #1, said. I never heard it, and I don’t recall the subject of the conversation, but at some point Jim #1 said “Japs.” Jim #2 was offended by it. No, he’s not Japanese, or Asian, but that is racist. What was I to do? I had to do something, I needed Jim #2 to always feel welcome at our house. I was planning to talk to Jim #1 about it. (Side note, he is a wonderful man, and has been the best father I have ever known). I decided to give my mom a heads up before I talked to him. I told her what I knew. She immediately went into defensive mode, that was “just something people used to say, it was generational thing”. This is racist. I told her well that may be the case, but that’s doesn’t mean that it’s ok. My father in law is upset about it and rightfully so. Perhaps he worries about other things. She assured me that Jim #1 had never said anything like bad about “their culture.” But I tried to explain that we don’t know what it’s like to hear other races discriminated against, we would never know. She was upset, mostly feeling like they were being attacked, not my mission obviously, but I had to be the one to say it. When she asked something like “what if he slips again?”. I said that he wouldn’t be welcomed back into our house. She was flabbergasted. She said “You’re not going to allow your step dad back into your house, after all that he’s done for you and how he loves you? Just because he said ‘Japs?’ What if that means that I won’t come either?” From what I recall I said “Correct. Our house is a place where all are welcomed so long as they show love and respect for one another.” It wasn’t good. I think the next thing I heard was via text, she and Jim #1 talked and he understood and all is good. Blair relayed it to Jim #2. That was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life, but it was worth it. (They are now back to their laughing and exchanging of stories) Be the change, even if it’s just a little change. That is love.
4 - “OUT OF THE MOUNTAIN OF DESPAIR, A STONE OF HOPE”
Blair’s grandma on his Mom’s side died while were dating. I remember trying to visit her in the hospital with Blair, but she was having a test run so I never got to meet her. I remember being nervous to meet her and any family as I hadn’t met anyone on his side, yet. I’m a very self-conscious person on my own but throwing in if she or anyone would say anything about my race was major anxiety. We ended up running into Michelle (Blair’s only local cousin but she is more of an older sister to him) in the hospital’s hallway, she barely said hello, she had to keep moving. I wasn’t sure if her briskness was because of me, but Blair assured me in the car that we’d get along, that we were very much alike. His grandma passed away, and I found myself sitting front row with Blair in a Black church, a first for me, next to Michelle, who we now lovingly call “our cousin.” My parents (Mom and Jim #1) were there supporting us, in the back. As the service was over I didn’t know what to do, Blair was headed to the limo, and Michelle who I hadn’t really spoken to before, grabbed my hand and said “you’re family, you’re coming with us” (we weren’t engaged yet, and had only been dating a few months) and we piled into the limo to head to the cemetery. That immediate acceptance was new to me. And it didn’t stop there.
Meeting the In-Law
I met my father-in-law, Jim #2, after dating and living with his son in my grandparent’s old house, for almost a year. He came to Thanksgiving, a holiday that had been hosted in that house for probably 60 years. I was still getting ready when he we walked in and met my whole (white) family, and I think Blair was in the kitchen cooking. I came downstairs and he smiled, but I couldn’t help but wonder if he knew the makeup of what he was walking into as I hadn’t asked Blair about what he told his dad about me and my family (Blair still can’t remember if he told him that I was white). But when I saw his smile and heard his laugh (he has a great laugh) I knew he was ok with things, and I remembered that he is probably used to being outnumbered by white people. Blair grew up in Shaker Heights - you’re all probably watching “Little Fires Everywhere” or have read it, I hear it’s a pretty accurate representation. He was lucky to have two happy parents, even though they divorced when he was 3. The Plain Dealer even featured them in an article about how to co-parent. Question for you the reader, have you ever been in a room full of people and been the ONLY white person?
After we were married, the sometimes semi-annual Scott family reunion was happening in Washington, D.C. it moves around the country depending on what branch of the family is hosting. Again, I was in a position I had only seen from afar, Black family reunions that is. We were mailed our matching t-shirts ahead of time; we stayed for a weekend in a hotel; took bus trips to memorials, had cookouts and game time, it was incredible! My family reunions had only been an afternoon picnic at Munroe Falls lake. When the bus doors opened, I was glad we had on matching t-shirts, as there were so many other groups with different t-shirts. I was 1 of only 2 white people in the family and there were 2 or 3 busloads full of Scotts. I was greeted by everyone with hugs and stories. This is love. The part I remember most is standing at the base of the incredible Martin Luther King Jr. monument, he is cut of out of this giant stone that receded in two other pieces by his side, and I just felt like a fraud. What is this stupid white girl doing here with this family that has endured so much in their history and here I am in a matching shirt staring at this mountain of a man but feeling I can’t possibly feel what they felt. Here’s the thing, that’s ok. I did feel a lot, I was moved. I was moved by that remarkable man and what he did for our country AND THE WORLD, but I was also moved by my new family and from my perspective, they just saw family. A few years later another family reunion happened, this time in LA. And so, we all gathered there, this time I knew what to expect and looked forward to it. There was a younger white guy there, a boyfriend, white count now to 3. Part of me wanted to walk over and say “Hello” and that I’m here for him if he needed anything. But I thought that might be weird, because it was, what would he need?! That is racist. We are all just people.
5 – THE GOLDEN RULE
The one thing that my mom reminded us over and over growing up, is to treat others the way you’d want to be treated, and in turn if you don’t have something nice to say to say, don’t say it at all. I worry that too much of my life I have been fearful of saying the wrong thing.
I remember walking into a theater, I think it was at Valley View, as Blair and I decided to go see “Detroit”. Neither of us really knew what it was about. It was shown in one of the smaller theaters, and this before assigned seating so we stood there looking for open seats. It was rather full - everyone in the audience except for me, was Black. By this point that wasn’t jarring for me. What came next certainly was. The movie told the very gritty story of the riots in Detroit in 1967. I’ve been forcing myself to rewatch it this weekend after Mr. Floyd’s murder to get back into the same headspace of anger when I first started writing this piece, three years ago (though I didn’t get much farther than the title). And then the riots started again this weekend. We are now in 2020, the Detroit riots were 53 years ago, and we are living through the exact same thing. Except this time there is recorded proof - and yet still some don’t “get it.” I sat there in agony for the people on the screen, for the people who lived it, for the people in the seats next to me, for all of the people that continue to live it, wondering if white people would now see the need to try and walk in someone else’s shoes. What if I was that white girl that was merely found in a hotel room with a Black man, with Blair?! Would they then get it? If it were someone you knew, 53 years later, there must be some sort of progress, surely? Without completely spoiling it, as I think you should watch it and I’m betting you haven’t, all I wanted to do was cry and apologize to everyone in the audience. “I’m so sorry…I can never make it right…but I’m sorry.” It was white guilt smacking me in the face. But I didn’t know what to say and just wanted to get out of there. I couldn’t and still can’t believe that people treat one another in these inhumane and killer ways. What this movie really taught me was the ability to transport myself into a situation, into a terrible situation, walking in someone else’s shoes. I’ve spent most of my life fleeing terrible situations.
It doesn’t stop…
I think that is something that we as a race, white people, have the hardest time with. I’ve said over and over about how hard all of this is, for both Black people and white people. But again, we white folks are the ones that need to change, we need to do better, we need to be better. In our town, the past couple of months have brought to light many injustices at our own Akron Art Museum. I have always supported the arts, but this time I knew many people on both sides of the very clear divide, the board and then the employees with claims and proof of racist comments and actions as well as sexism and more. I reached out to one board member that I consider a close friend, they confided that they never witnessed any racism from the now ex-director. Do you know where I’m going? Of course they wouldn’t have, they are white and wealthy donors. The part that broke my heart was that there wasn’t a second part of follow up, that might have contained a consideration of ‘maybe we goofed’, or perhaps them thinking they should put themselves in the position of the workers. To give more context, Blair, myself and friends had been hearing from employees for over a year on how things were turning bad there. I wish I would have done anything, to have talked with those board friends back then to try and help them believe the employees, the good, valuable employees that once made the place amazing. I broke down in tears over this actually, and it was before Mr. Floyd’s murder. I asked Blair what could we do? He said “We need(ed) to do anything we could, to support the employees.” He told me the next day how he signed the new petition to have the board’s executive committee removed from their positions, but he did it anonymously so we didn’t get any flack. My poor husband, the last thing he wants is flack, especially from me, usually about cleaning up his messes in the kitchen. The fact that he considered the board, made me all torn up inside - that was sweet of him, but I also hated it. I hated that he was worried about me/us getting blow back and that we should be standing up to it too, with our names. I signed the petition as well.
In the words of President Barack Obama “But laws alone won’t be enough. Hearts must change. It won’t change overnight. Social attitudes oftentimes take generations to change. But if our democracy is to work the way it should in this increasingly diverse nation, then each one of us need to try to heed the advice of the a great character in American fiction, Atticus Finch who said ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.’” So yes, let’s walk around, there are two sides to every story but let’s choose the ones filled with good.
RECOGNIZE THE LITTLE THINGS
- I can’t tell you how many times white men when introduced to my husband say “brother” or “my man” in a clearly 1970s-I’m-hip-to-your-jive kinda way. This is racist.
- Not only is it racist if you think it’s calling him out by saying it. It’s also racist if you’re trying to say it to make him feel comfortable. You are not his brother, he is not your man. You just met, litmus test, would you say that to a white person you just met?
- There have been many occasions when we get seated in restaurants near the service centers/bathrooms. Sure argue that it can’t be proven, but it never used to happen to me, and when it happens enough you start noticing. This is racist.
- People asking Blair is he plays basketball – because he is tall, and Black. This is racist.
- I’m not faultless, I’ve repeated jokes that I’m not proud of, and I know I’ve said before of Blair “He’s the whitest Black guy”. That is racist.
- I’m always asked and I’ll be honest I was curious at first also if both of Blair’s parents are/were Black because he’s fairer skinned. I remember on our first date asking Blair questions to try and find out if he is biracial. I asked “What did your mom like to cook when you were growing up?” Answer: “Corned Beef,” Oh mine too! “Also, Tuna Salad and French Fries.” That didn’t point to anything specific. Later on I asked “Where is your family from (meaning ancestry)?” Answer: “Baltimore.” I just laughed.
- One of my closest friend’s parents wouldn’t come to our wedding because I was marrying a Black man. I didn’t know it at the time and cried when I got their RSVP “No”, as they had been like parents to me. Eventually the father got to know Blair through parties, etc. and is now always nice to him. This is racist. But don’t give up on people, show them love, teach them acceptance.
- Rifle Paper Co. makes an adorable “Birthday Girl” card with a white girl in sunglasses and they followed it up with a Black girl in a flower crown. I refused to have both cards displayed at the same time, so customers couldn’t choose one over the other. One time a customer asked me, when holding up the flower crown version “Does it matter that she’s Black?” That is racist. I truly couldn’t believe I was asked that. “No” was all I could say. She ended up buying it and left. But after, all I could think of, was how I should have walked her over to my wedding photo on the nearby shelf and then ask her to repeat herself. I’m ashamed the number of times I bit my tongue as a shop owner because I didn’t want to start anything and hurt my shop’s reputation. But at the time I did what I thought I could by offering more diverse products for all races and sexual orientations.
- We aren’t talking 2 weeks here, we’re talking over 400 YEARS of oppression
- Just skimming this should timeline should upset you >
Go to museums/venues about Black people and Black culture, take them in, read everything. Then stand and watch the people around you, what’s the color of their skin? How are they reacting? With the pandemic you can visit them are virtually, NOW…
- We have visited:
- The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is wonderful in Cincinnati
- The National Museum of African American History and Culture in DC is incredible – I could seriously stare at just the outside architecture for hours
- The Karamu House in Cleveland
- Still to check out:
- Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is in nearby Detroit - and while there, I highly recommend the Motown Museum
- Smithsonian National Museum of African Art on the Mall in DC
- We have visited:
- I would be remiss if I failed to mention the great divide that COVID-19 has shed a light on to class and race injustices. Read more about these very disproportionate statics in The Washington Post >
- The Corona Virus will eventually be handled but something that won’t (yes aside from racism itself) is the infant-mortality rate of Black babies and also the mortality rate of Black mothers when they give birth. Cuyahoga County is unfortunately known as the worst for Black babies – they are 3.5 times more likely to die than white babies (from 2019). “Education and income offer little protection. In fact, a black woman with an advanced degree is more likely to lose her baby than a white woman with less than an eighth-grade education.” That was from the New York Times article, read more >
- And if you thought Flint, Michigan was the only place to really be concerned over lead in the water, Black people get to worry about that everywhere, too. Read this EcoWatch article >
- Racism clearly takes many forms, especially including financial practices. Do research about loan rates, especially payday loans, basically dive down the systemic racism rabbit hole. And while you’re at, I know I’m concerned about equal pay for women, but POC need help too, especially black women. At one point I privately asked one of Blair’s friends who was at a higher level in the company if Blair was making less because he was Black. (This was prompted by me being worried hearing what some of his younger counterparts were making). The fact that the superior had to pause and verify showed me that it wasn’t out of the realms of possibility, that that discrepancy could have been possible. (Gratefully he was in the middle of the bracket for his position at the time).
- Fact check, fact check, fact check before sharing things, all news isn’t true.
- Don’t just look at one news source. Be prepared for too many lies with the election coming up.
- Read about and know what “Deep Fakes” are - learn more >
- If you are worried about “liberal” news, consider watching the BBC for an even perspective, especially globally. And if you go further NPR really does an excellent job at holding back biases.
- Absorb cultural works that deal with racism, and make notes in your phone of your feeling as you view/read, and keep going back to those notes.
- TV Shows/Movies: that I recommend…“Detroit,” “Dear White People,” “If Beale Street Could Talk,” “Just Mercy,” “Black AF,” “The Banker,” “12 Years a Slave,” “Harriet” – others on my list: “13th,” “Mississippi Burning,” “The Freedom Riders”
- It’s suggested to only watch these if you’re a true ally to appreciate the humor OR watch with a person of color: “Django Unchained” and “BlacKkKlansman”
- Read: all on my to read list… “The Bluest Eye,” “Heavy: An American Memoir,” “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism,” “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” “We Were 8 Years in Power,” “Evicted,” “The Color of Law,” “Locking Up Our Own,” and again “Just Mercy”
- Listen: will soon be downloading… “Code Switch”, “1619”, “Color of Change”…
Know AND Say their names
These are just since Mr. Eric Garner’s death in 2014 after saying “I can’t breathe” – sound familiar? (and by the time it took me to write this I fear there were more)
- We aren’t talking 2 weeks here, we’re talking over 400 YEARS of oppression
- TO ASKING
- Cousin Michelle has been my guide. Sure, she may laugh at me, but she doesn’t judge me.
- I’ve asked about wigs and using satin pillows
- Black Twitter (FYI it’s not an actual app) and more
- She taught me about Cotton Blocks – from which slaves were sold – and hopefully soon the name of her T-shirt line.
- Her recent trip to Ghana brought me to tears looking at her photos on facebook, what life for the people - not yet slaves - was like while waiting to come to this land of the “free”
- I learned that my father in law, Jim #2, was part of a church group that worked with the Black Panthers
- When we were doing our wedding planning, Blair wasn’t sure how he was connected to some of his relatives. I’ve started working with his dad on an Ancestry.com family tree – dig deeper!
- I know we have a book floating around our house and I’ve heard some tales about the Scott family’s catfish farm in Alabama, but I JUST found this website, read it with me >
- I had to google, just today, to find out what BIPOC stood for. I know People of Color is POC. BIPOC is Black, Indigenous, People of Color. Did you just learn something?
- DIVERSIFY OURSELVES
- Michelle has an amazing group of friends, and it’s usually just me and one other white woman, and then Black women and men, but every time I join them I’m so glad I did, and I learn new things and feel a little less ignorant. I need to do it more.
USE THE RIGHT WORDS
OK: Black, African American, People of Color, POC, BIPOC, Black Lives Matter (BLM)
- My mom tries and doesn’t know the right thing to say and always says “their culture” don’t be afraid you can say Black, mom. Your favorite son-in-law will love you so long as it’s not from the next list.
NOT OK: Saying “I’m just not a political person,” “All Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter (see below)” or of course the n-word
- Yes, all lives do matter and the (good) police matter – but do NOT say that. That’s not what all of this is about, it’s about acknowledging that Black Lives Matter, TOO and they haven’t been valued in the same way, forever.
ACTUALLY BE AN ALLY
Don’t stop posting
- I was a little upset when everyone around me started posting following Mr. Floyd’s murder, thinking that it like all of the rest would just blow over in a few days. I think the riots are helping cement the magnitude of this, but we need to keep calling out injustices, large and small as we see/hear/feel them.
- Actually live your posts. Bring your social media conscience into your everyday world.
Realize we will never know what it’s like to be Black.
- It’s not Black people’s problem to tell us how to fix all of this. We/our ancestors – and don’t just think it’s from slave days – think modern laws, loan officers, etc. did this to them. We and our older generations must fix it!
- Again, do not ask your Black friends for the answers. But show them love.
Acknowledge that some things aren’t for us (white people)
- Though I really wish I could join the Black Bourbon group
Stand up for your Black neighbors/friends/family/strangers – BLACK LIVES MATTER
- This could be at a rally/march/protest– don’t judge how others chose to
- Yes, of course, donate – and if able, select to donate MONTHLY, not just a one time donation.
- Blair and I personally donated to the Equal Justice Initiative, as well as Black Lives Matter, and from my Father-in-law’s suggestion, the Southern Poverty Law Center
- Join the NAACP – Yes! White people can be members and it’s only $30
- If you aren’t able to donate actual funds, get creative - @stephanieleepaynter auctioned off a one-of-a-kind painting today, and @gardenerofbath is auctioning off pints of ice cream, with 100% of proceeds going to BLM
- Support Black Businesses! You know small businesses make my heart pump – but try going out of your normal habits and frequent Black-owned businesses: storefronts, services, online shops, etc. Yikes, I almost forgot about Blair’s own business: Akron Candle Company!
- In a conversation with your white friends/family – be the Black community’s ally ALL of the time – call people out, show them where they are wrong and teach them a better path. If anything, I would love for this to be the biggest takeaway, I think it’s how we can individually make the biggest difference.
AND GOD DAMN IT, DON’T VOTE FOR TRUMP!
I know that was a lot. It is a lot. This pain that you, my white friends and family are feeling now, will pass. It will NEVER pass for my Black family and friends. No matter if we do everything perfectly politically correct from here on out, that pain is ingrained in them from the lives they have lived and the lives of their ancestors before them. Certainly, some things have changed, slavery in the broader sense is gone in the US; gratefully thanks to Loving v. Virginia, Blair and I are legally allowed to be husband and wife; we can use the same drinking fountains; sit wherever you want on the bus; but there is still so much in our words and thoughts and governing that hasn’t changed, this is what we white Americans must work to change. Please don’t stop the conversation, don’t shy away because it makes you uncomfortable. It’s ok if you don’t know what to say, but try and turn that feeling of uncertainty into something positive. If you need to leave that situation, do so, take time to think of what you could have done, consider returning. Learn more, talk more, donate more, call your congressman, message me. I saw so many posts this weekend about being silent is just as much as an attack, and I felt bad because I hadn’t posted, but as you now read I had too much too say, but I could go on and on – now again imagine what’s rattling around inside the head of a POC?! When I saw the post that a peaceful and social distant walk was happening in Akron Saturday night, I thought that could be my chance to show my solidarity, as Blair already said no to the Cleveland rally as he was concerned with COVID and that he didn’t want to be around anyone. He immediately said “No” to Akron as well. I didn’t argue, and he quickly disappeared. I found him in bed upset. I held him until his eyes closed and his snores were consistent, then I started writing. I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t also admit that I was afraid to go, again afraid to look like a stupid white girl FINALLY doing something, afraid of the virus, afraid of potential violence, and full of anger that it took the Minneapolis riots to get people angry enough to do something. I felt I needed to be with my Black husband supporting and loving him, unconditionally, as always.
I know I have not done everything I can to support and defend the Black community. I have done things without thinking about their ramifications, even as small as laughing at jokes. That is racist. But we now have a chance (though we have always had a chance), collectively to rise above the past and do everything in our power to be better white people. These are just a few of my stories that I hope can help you realize that SOMEONE YOU KNOW has witnessed/been a part of these very real things, me. Wishing for peace and good will for all. It’s not just happening in a faraway city, or only down south, or in a bad part of town, it’s ALL of America.
My husband is Black and I am not special.
- Liz Scott
PS - Michelle proofed this with me over a 3-hour call, as always, I didn’t want to offend Black people (or anyone) or take away from the real cause, Black Lives Matter. These events were hard to resurrect but these are the facts of what happened, and while there were hard conversations had at the time, all good things came from it. I love my WHOLE family.
PPS - My Father-in-law would like you to know that I am special.