In my living room, I was discussing this post with a friend. She just so happens to have an incredibly similar pedigree to my own. She also tends to see things from a different angle and so is always a pleasure to bounce ideas off of. She’s also a good enough of a good friend to call me out when I’m full of shit. I return the favor on a regular basis. Friend is not really the right term. She’s one of a select group of girlfirends that I think of as sisters. She’s the only one that anyone would actually believe is a blood relation. (Funny enough, that includes my 2 half-sisters that I actually do share DNA with.) Another of these emotional sisters doesn’t write a blog, so I can’t link her. She knows though.
Back to my point. I know, I over-share. I’m unapologetic.
We were talking about the post and the complications of race in society. She pointed out, very correctly, that our mutt heritage gives us a rather unique perspective. There has never been an ethnic group that I’ve ever really been part of. I wasn’t ever considered ‘white.’ I spent many weekends in my childhood going to Filipino parties, but that wasn’t the niche either. Even though they welcomed me as just more family, just like my blond-haired, blue-eyed mother. Filipinos are like that, you share a meal and you are family. And yes, that plays into my views on racial differences as well.
At these parties, when we’d had enough lumpia and attempted to decipher enough Tag-a-log, another half-breed, her blood cousins (also half-breeds), and I would retreat to some back room where we would play cards and talk about boys. And there, we belonged. We had a kinship because we didn’t fit anywhere else. We weren’t white, black, hispanic, or even asian. We couldn’t fully claim the pacific islander heritage being celebrated in the rest of the house (and yard, and in the yards of tolerant neighbors). The funny thing was, that we assumed that all the kids felt the same way, no matter their ethnicity. These divisions were something of our parents’ generation. I’m sure the fact that our parents didn’t care about the skin color of a person shaped that view, but we certainly wouldn’t have given them credit for such a progressive view at the time.
So we would play cards and laugh at the adults with their silly ideas. We’d complain about the younger brother and gossip about classmates. I’ve since learned that even our gossip was different. We never saw race as anything beyond a physical description. I could say that so-and-so was black in the same way I would say that someone else was blond. Maybe that’s some level of coping mechanism from being one of a very few more exotic members of a very heavily white high school. Off the top of my head, I can think of 5 non-white members of my graduating class. There may have been 10 to 15 out of 5 or 6 hundred. I can’t be more exact because I really honestly never defined anyone that way. The 5 I can think of off the top of my head are those that I ever had a conversation with about it. One being a fellow card player.
This has absolutely shaped my current views on race relations. It has always shocked me that people were stopped my something so superficial as skin color from having a conversation. The first time I learned that the reason my very dear blond friend couldn’t spend the night was because her mother had terrible fears about ‘those people’ I was shocked. I’d known her since I was two years old. My childhood solution to the problem was that we would just have overnights at her house. Now I know that solution probably frightened her mother but also did her a lot of good in the end. It’s difficult to use some aesthetic judgement on someone at your breakfast table.
Maybe this is why I believe that racism really boils down to a very simple solution. Maybe I’m naive to think that it’s hard to use superficial lines when you break bread with someone. But I don’t think so.
Maybe my friend and I are ahead of the curve since we had to learn to be a part of both every group and belong to none. Because we’ve been both unfairly judged and unusually accepted into various ethnic groups, we’re a little off-kilter in our perception. Or maybe we’ve just got a window into a world that most people are blind to.
When Martin Luther King dreamt that his children would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character, he didn’t mean that they would receive favor based on their ethnicity. He meant that they could break bread with a peer and be seen as people. He meant that the pigmentation of their skin meant nothing more than the blond hair of the girl in Algebra class. I don’t think he ever intended for us to forget the rich cultures that we came from. I can continue to make too much lumpia and call family those that I love whether we are related by blood or not just as my Filipino ancestors have done before me. I can take pride in the crazy Celts of my husband’s lineage that drove out the Romans. Or my own German grandfather that served in the US army and kept watch over POW camps in WWII.
Racial differences are something that we as a society have made far too complicated. Our differences are many, but they are nothing compared to the things we have in common. There are racists on every side of the argument. The race baiters like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson do nothing to further what they claim to be their mission. Every day, regular people with different backgrounds can sit down across the table from each other and learn that aren’t really so different. This is what made the movie Gran Torino so great. They didn’t need any special counselors or priveledges to reach a genuine relationship. They broke bread together. It’s hard to use some aesthetic judgement against someone across your breakfast table.