I have an 85 year-old grandmother who is laugh out loud funny. She has always been funny, but now I’m old enough to laugh at her jokes without getting the side eye. She is a gun packing, smack talking lover of pearls and all things elegant. She is all kinds of awesome, but sometimes she says some things that make me think…is this the same lady who had a hand in how I see the world?
I was talking to my cousin on the phone the other day and she told me she was showing a few of our pictures to our grandmother. My grandmother of course commented on my weight and hair and then proceeded to ask what beach were we at. My cousin told her and she made a comment I would not expect from my grandmother. She said, “those white people sure do keep their beaches nice. I guess they keep all the Black (she didn’t say Black) people out and don’t let us come over there”. The beach was nice. It wasn’t the nicest I’ve been to, but I never once saw a sign saying, NO BLACKS ALLOWED. She then proceeded to ask my cousin if we stayed the whole day and what were we doing. This whole dialogue between my 85 year old grandmother and my cousin got me to thinking about the barriers we all create in our minds.
My grandmother grew up in a time when segregation was quite real. She grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana and has outright told me that the racism or prejudice she had to deal with came from her own people and never from a different race. Yes, she had to ride on the back of the bus, but in her time and where she grew up, ‘if you didn’t bother them, then they didn’t bother you’ and that’s just the way it was. The whole concept of not bothering “them” was a conscious decision to stay alive in those times. Although times have changed, do some of us hold on to those same concepts today?
As an adult, I have been blessed to have traveled a bit and at an early enough age that I rarely feel uncomfortable around any group of people regardless of race or class. I am a shy person, but I hardly ever let it show. I am confident, but I would be lying if I said I never thought about being the only one in a particular setting or the instant familiarity I feel when someone who looks like me is around. Fortunately, I push through it and let the thought pass, but I know that many people have not had my experiences and can’t simply push through it. The idea that a group of people are keeping you out of something may sometimes mean that you are in fact keeping yourself out of it.
I am from the hood. It isn’t something that I wear on my sleeve, but if you talk to me long enough you will realize that I’m from California, but I have only had the pleasure of seeing this beautiful State from a positive standpoint as an adult. When I was a young adult I never traveled outside of my “hood”. I had been all the way to Korea, but never to Malibu or Long Beach for that matter. It is a hood mentality mixed with my elders fear from their past…”don’t bother them, and they won’t bother you”.
I don’t believe this is just a Black thing. I believe we all have barriers in our brains that we don’t realize. The signs excluding one race to this and another to that are no longer posted on poles, but are very real in the minds of people. It is not just going somewhere, but it is also dreams and aspirations. If one cannot go to an opposite side of town because they don’t think it is for him or her, then how on Earth is that same person going to develop the concept that they can become a Doctor, Astronaut, Physicist, or Novelist. These barriers of the mind are self inflicted destroyers of life and sometimes we indirectly set the foundation of these barriers for our children and grandchildren.
I doubt my children think that any place is off limits to them, but as a mother I am frightened by that. I keep that fear held inside because I will absolutely not play a part in building a foundation in their minds based on fear. My husband, who was not born in this country, does not share my fears, which is why I know this barrier is learned. I refuse to pass it on, so yes grandma, we were at the beach all day long and those White folk didn’t bother us one bit, they even let us get in the water and take pictures on the rocks. They never told us we couldn’t come in the first place. It was us who told us we couldn’t go.
For fun, or if anyone really reads this blog…What barriers do you have? What do you subconsciously or consciously think is not for you? Is it exercise? Dance classes? Writing a book? Falling in love? Leave me a comment….pleeeeeeeeease.