“If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.”–James Baldwin
Each week we will take a section at a time, this week starting with pages 1-27 “Childhood in White.” The point of the book is not to simply tell of the author’s life, but to get us to reflect on our own life and how it shaped our own understanding and judgments. So, this week I want each of us to share in a couple of paragraphs an autobiographical remembrance of some events that shaped your childhood. (You will need to sign up with an email in order to share—let me know if you need help).
Tell your story—what aspects of your childhood shaped how you viewed your family, your own culture and that of “others” who were different?
I’ll go first with some key impacts on my childhood. My mother came from a fairly well-to-do doctor’s family in a small Southern town in North Florida. I was born in 1962 into a white-Southern family. Till I was nine we lived in Montgomery, Alabama. It was a baby-boomer scene with the two parents, two boys, in a new neighborhood of middle class white men aspiring to the American dream of wealth, while mothers stayed at home. My mother took me to the Republican headquarters where she volunteered. The only black folks I saw were the maids at my grandparents where I spent summers. They did all the household work and cooking. They wore white uniforms and had to use their own restroom in the garage—just like the movie, “The Help.”
But my Baby-Boomer world was fractured in 1966 when mine were the only parents I knew to divorce. My mother went to work at Head Start teaching the teachers and often took me with her to work and to the schools where I played with poor black children and poor white children. We were pretty strapped too, but our grandparents helped us out and instilled a high value of education, even in elementary school where I strived to make all A’s. In first grade I had no black children in class but integration started in second grade and was normal by third grade. Then, at age 9 we moved back to my mother’s hometown of Quincy, Florida that was very segregated and had an extremely wealthy white community (tobacco growers and Coca Cola stock) and extremely poor black community of sharecroppers. I was sent to a small all-white private school started because of integration. I had basically no chance to make friends with black kids and the only black folks I knew were our house-keepers. The extreme reversal of what I was taught in Montgomery vs Quincy always made me skeptical that I was being raised in a bubble and others, especially Blacks in our community, lived in different worlds. I have always sought to understand “their” world and how being white has “colored” my own. Therefore, I love reflecting on how my upbringing has steered and calcified my judgments. I have often been ashamed of being white or at least did not consider myself a “typical” white person. But I am still learning how I had and have advantages just from my color and the dominant culture in which I live.
Please reply with your own story rather than commenting about mine. Let this thread be a journal of sharing each of our own stories.