When I was a little girl back in th Fifties I lived in a town with no black people in it. At that time all the little girls in our neighborhood played with their Betsy-Wetsy dolls. All of them except me. I didn't have a Betsy-Wetsy doll because my father --- remember my father, the guy who made me a family tree that had me convinced that Jean Lafitte the Pirate was my great-great-great grandfather? --- well, that same father bought me an Amosandra doll. I remember the day he gave it to me. He brought it home from work in his lunch bucket. I ran to get his lunch bucket as I usually did and there, when I opened it was this darling little black baby doll. She was round and plump with a sweet face and curly hair and she did everything a Betsy-Wetsy did. She just did it being black.
Thus began my career, at the age of four, of being the mother of a black child. I loved her with all my heart and kept her for years and years but, let me tell you, it wasn't easy being her mother. To this day I remember some of the remarks made about my baby --- not by my friends but by their parents and older siblings. I could never understand it. My baby did everything that my friends' babies did and she was a whole lot cuter in my opinion.
I think I was about 9 or 10 the first time I ever saw a black person. I was visiting my godmother, my dear Aunt Rosie, in Erie, PA and we were at a playground near her house and there were some black-skinned children there. I was very excited because, of course, they looked like my baby doll. I knew about black people, of course. We'd studied the Civil War in school and the nuns had talked a lot about how cruel people had been to the blacks --- well, back then we called them “Negroes” --- and how that was wrong. That they were just as much God's children as we were.
Later, when I was in college during the Civil Rights Movement Era, I had a few black friends --- acquaintances really --- and, though I participated in a few demonstrations, I don't think I really had much of a grasp of what we were demonstrating about. I didn't understand oppression at all.
Then I moved down South.
Nothing in all my years of experience and education prepared me for what I encountered living in the South. My first job was in the marketing department of a prestigious real estate agency with very elegant offices in the Galleria area of Houston. I had never experienced such opulence at work. One day I came in to work and it was clear something was going on --- all the agents, these well-groomed, meticulously manicured matrons, were having conniption fits. “Just go out in the lobby and see for yourself!” one ordered me. I went out. The plants in the glass enclosed atrium were lush and green, the waterfall was tinkling, all the furnishings were as lavish as always. The new receptionist was beautiful and as perfectly groomed as any of the agents. I didn't get it. I went back and said I didn't get. “Well!” the agent huffed, “what on earth are people going to think when they walk in here and the first thing they see is a Negress?” She actually said “negress”. I was absolutely gob-smacked. I had never in my life heard of such insanity. And that was just the beginning.
Later my sister Chris married a black man and gave birth to two beautiful girls, my nieces Tasha and Alicia. I adored them --- they looked like my Amosandra! When I was working at Enron I had a shelf above my desk on which I kept photographs of my family. I got used to the remarks about the two “dark” children by a few fellow workers. “Are those young'uns EYE-talian?” one woman remarked, picking up the photo to study it. “No,” I said, “their father is African-American.” The woman stared at me, hastily put the photo back on the shelf, and rushed out of my office.
These are only a few of my experiences and they really don't amount to much but through them I learned something that I had not been brought up to know --- that there are people who have an attitude about others just because their skin is a different color. Of course, now, as an adult my awareness in that area has changed substantially but those early imprints remain.
Tuesday night, when Barak Obama, accompanied by his beautiful wife and his two beautiful children, walked across that stage in Chicago as the President Elect of the United States of America one of my friends said, “I feel like I felt when I watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon.” I thought he made a wonderful point. All I could think was how much I wished I still had my Amosandra doll. She would have been so happy, too.
Thanks for reading.