I grew up in Dallas in the ‘50s and ‘60s, more specifically in Oak Cliff, a place that most in northern parts of the city thought was a substandard, in fact, a scary place. I was born at Methodist Hospital and my family of five eventually moved to Wynnewood North, a tucked away all-white neighborhood. It was an idyllic time by traditional standards: Mom stayed home and dad worked. Kids ran throughout the neighborhood, waded through the creeks and even walked up to Wynnewood shopping center, alone.
My parents were kind, generous and tolerant people. They taught us to respect others and that “we are all the same.” My mother often said, until the day she left us at the age of 97, “we all have the same color blood.” When I was about 10 years old, I was riding in the back seat of a car with my friend as her dad was driving through Wynnewood. Her dad commented about a girl walking down the street, “Look at that N!” I could barely believe what I heard. I had been taught “N” was a bad, hurtful and disrespectful word. I was so confused as to why an adult would use such language.
Some time later I noticed a big sign on the washeteria in Wynnewood that said, “Whites Only.” I asked my mother about it and she explained that they did not want anyone but white people using their services. She reinforced that it wasn’t right. I knew our neighbors who owned the service. I just couldn’t understand them.
I remember the race riots of the ‘60s, yet we did not talk about them as a family. I attended Sunset High School before desegregation, when it was predominately white, with a significant number of Hispanic students. For the most part, we did not cross racial lines. We had one black student join our class for about six weeks, and the rumors about her were outrageous and false. Now that I look back, we lived in a bubble, a white bubble. Racism was invisible to us.
Something else my mother said is, “you never know what someone is going through until you walk in their shoes.” That has been ringing in my mind for weeks now, so I have taken the time and opportunity to listen and watch and read. The first thing I learned is there are so many layers of racism, and only the most blatant are noticed by white people.
I had my first hint of this complexity in the mid-‘90s when I was selected to attend the Dallas Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Dallas. One of my classmates was a black professional who was the vice president of human resources for a large corporation in Dallas. I was shocked one day when he said he had to be very careful how he dressed on the weekends because it was not unusual for him to be stopped by the police for no reason. Again, as in my childhood experience, I was astonished and confused why this would happen. I grew up in what I knew to be a non-racist family. They taught us, not so much through words, but in modeling their beliefs of equality and justice. Even so, I was beginning to see that there was much more to understand about racism than even they realized.
Likewise, little did I know I knew so little. There is a great deal to understand about race relations and systemic oppression. Thankfully, there is also so much available to grow our knowledge. I am just getting started.
Lately, every day my eyes are opened to new information that I missed growing up and into adulthood. Even tonight, as I write this after a Facebook Live conversation organized by my church with Dr. Michael Phillips, author of White Metropolis, my understanding has been expanded. Earlier this year I read Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, and currently I am reading White Fragility. Recently I listened to an insightful interview Brene Brown had with Dr. Ibram X Kendi on her podcast. I watched the HBO documentary True Justice about the work of Bryan Stephenson. I’ve watched conversations with people of color on webcasts, television and Facebook. And, I have had my own conversations with colleagues and friends of color.
The most intimate picture of the ravages of racism is shown to me at The Well Community. The primary staff, who are Hispanic and African-American, have reminded me that injustice did not start 400 years ago; it started when Columbus “discovered America.” The majority of our members are Black or Hispanic. They have shown me the injustice they face every day because of race, in addition to mental illness. It is heartbreaking.
Our pledge at The Well Community is to continue to be a safe place, a place where there is respect and racial equity. We promise to evolve, and when we fail, we will stop, learn and make a better choice. I am so grateful to my mom and dad who taught me in their own way—not so much by their words but by their actions—that Black Lives Matter.