I have a confession to make.
Over the weekend, I took the boys back home for my brother’s bridal shower and we got to spend some quality time with my family. It’s always nice going home, or to the compound as I call it, because my parents, my auntie and my brother (until just recently) are all neighbors. My brother moved to Illinois for a job about a month ago but comes back every weekend because his fiancée has not moved yet. My grandfather lives about 30 miles away and is always romping around stopping in once and sometimes multiple times a weekend. So, everyone is always around and there is so much for the boys to do and explore there that it’s nice to get out of the city every once in a while for some fresh country air. It also nice for me when Seth is out of town, like he was this past weekend for the Kentucky Derby, because getting out and about with a one- and two-year old on my own around here can be a little more than I’d like to bargain for. Plus, this past weekend was extra special because my aunt from Houston was up visiting.
The weekend was great. The weather turned out to be beautiful and even despite Abbott having to take a trip to their local pediatrician and getting diagnosed with Hand, Foot, Mouth and an ear infection, both of the boys had the time of their lives. Although, there is one thing that I can’t stop thinking about. And I’m going to warn you, there may be a lot of swearing that follows.
My grandpa has been bringing around a new friend for a while now, they’re both in their 80s and every time I’ve been around her I’ve liked her. She’s got a spirit, she’s funny and outspoken — all things I can appreciate — but as it turns out she’s also got a touch of racist in her, and by a touch I mean she is one. I didn’t know this until this weekend and now I can’t stop thinking about it. The exchange happened Saturday after my brother’s shower while a handful of us were gathered in my parents’ kitchen.
I was in one corner of the kitchen making margaritas (because of course I was) and my aunt from Houston, my grandpa and his friend, let’s call her Mabel, were sitting at the island having a casual conversation. My aunt and grandpa were catching up and my aunt mentioned her and my uncle were thinking of maybe buying a place in Michigan and splitting their time between the two places. My grandpa made a joke about the winters and then it happened. Mabel dropped the bomb on us.
Mabel: I’m going to be the mean one and say in one place you’ve got a lot of blacks and Mexicans and … (I LITERALLY BLACKED OUT THE REST OF HER SENTENCE)
Aunt: Well, that doesn’t matter to me.
Mabel: Oh, really? (and it was not said in a curious way but a snide, dismissive way)
Aunt: Yes, really. It doesn’t bother me.
Aunt: They’re no different from you or I, Mabel. The only difference is the color of their skin. My girls were probably in the most diverse school district in Houston. It does not bother me at all.
And here is where my confession comes in: I said nothing; I did nothing. I just continued making my margaritas without turning my head in the slightest. In the moment I kept telling myself not to make it weird by turning around or chiming in. I wanted the awkwardness to dissolve with the silence, I didn’t want things to be weird. I was raised to respect my elders and there is a certain way I feel comfortable speaking around my grandpa and it’s not freely (if you know what I mean) but in retrospect, I’m pissed that I chose to bite my tongue. My aunt responded the exact way I would have hoped any other family member of mine would have and I’m sure had I intruded it wouldn’t have been as respectful or carried such an easy tone. But still. I said nothing. Nothing? I bit my tongue and waited hours until they had left to discuss with my family how racist she was.
My other aunt informed me that Mabel had made a comment to Seth before on a different visit. They had been watching an NBA basketball game and Mabel had made some joke about how they may as well call it “blackball”. My aunt said Seth handled it very well, calmly saying something along the lines of “No, that’s not true. There are a lot of white people who are really good at basketball.” When I later asked Seth about it he said he didn’t think to mention it because she’s old and a lot of old people are like that. He said, “we’re never going to change them.” My aunt visiting from Houston told a story about how she recently had to tell the director of a top-rated care facility in Texas that she was relocating my grandma from their care because my grandma was racist and felt uncomfortable. The director she spoke to was black. My aunt said she cried when she had to look this woman, who is no different than you or I, in the face and tell her there was no other reason she was moving her mom other than the color of her and the majority of her staff’s skin. She recalled how difficult it was to handle. I tried imagining what it would be like to have someone value the shade of my skin over the quality of my work, the goodness of my heart or my eagerness to help – and then I thought about having it happen so often that you eventually become immune to it but still chose to work and love anyway. What a godsend those individuals are.
I have thought back to Mabel’s comment several times since Saturday, wishing I had just told her that kind of bullshit wasn’t be tolerated in my home, my parents home or around my children. Really just wishing I said something, anything that let it be known I won’t have it. I’ve wondered several times since then what the difference is between a tan from Mexico and a tan from Hawai’i, or Samoa. I took notice of Matty’s already evident tan lines and wondered what the difference is between his tan and a child’s tan from Mexico. There is no actual difference; the only thing that makes me different, maybe even okay in her eyes, is that she knows my white mom and my white grandfather. Had we met under different circumstances, I’m sure I’d be just another “one of those”. Seth might be right, maybe they’re so old we’ll never change them but that doesn’t make my inaction feel any better. Next time I’m going to do better because it’s the right thing to do. And you know what they say…