I’m Irish – or more precisely, my mom was from Ireland. She called us Yankees. I appreciate my Irish heritage, shamrocks and all that; so I get the whole trinity thing. I mean, St Patrick isn’t the patron saint of Ireland for nothing! The legend of how he taught the Irish about the Trinity, father, son, and holy ghost using a clover is everywhere. Even if Patrick wasn’t himself Irish, he was able to teach so many through his illustrations.
The idea of the Trinity was a difficult one for me to understand as a little girl. How can one be three? How can one person or thing embody three different experiences? I was standing in the kitchen last night thinking about my own life; I’m not sure what prompted this particular train of thought other than that it is with me always. Suddenly, I realized that I understood the Trinity better now than I ever had before. The reason for this was that I live three different lives all the time.
Let me explain before you think I’m Sybil and contact an institution. I live three different lives not because I choose to, but because of the way society perceives and treats me. I have a different experience when I am out alone. This experience differs when I am with my children and is still different when I am out with my husband or husband and children.
Sounds crazy right?!
Why would I be differently treated when I am with my family than when I am alone?
Despite sounding crazy, it is most certainly true. In fact, I work around these different treatments to manage whichever situation I happen to be in at times. If it seems that it may be more advantageous for me to go alone to get the car fixed, or to get the taxes done, or in a situation where I may be perceived more favorably – and it will affect the outcome, I go alone. If the establishment is questionable and our food may be tampered with if I am with my family, I go alone. If my children have an issue, I alone speak to the person in charge. If I have to deal with courts or law enforcement, I go alone. If I have to order by phone, speak to a manager, ask for some basic information or demand a solution to a problem, I call so that my voice is the one heard.
That IS crazy. I don’t spend too much time thinking about it, but I do live it every day. I skip between my three lives perpetually, and always with the same end in mind -to get what is best for my family. At first, it used to anger me. That’s a lie; it still infuriates me, but I have learned that I can’t force it, it doesn’t work. So now, despite my anger, I work within the system to create the best outcome for those I love.
You’re probably wondering why I live like this. What the heck is so wrong with my family – my husband or children that they would be treated so differently and, by extension, why I would be mistreated when I’m with them. Actually – nothing. Nothing is wrong with them. They are smart, well spoken, beautiful, talented, polite, kind, and black. It’s that last part that makes all the difference.
I am white. I have always been white. I am seriously white – like blond hair, blue-eyed white. I don’t wear my hair slicked back; I’m not trying to Rachel Dolezal it up. I don’t pretend to be anything I am not – nor could I. I did grow up in a racially mixed area, and most of my friends are immigrants or black, or both, and people are people to me. There are lovely and crappy people of all races, religions, ethnicities and, I’ve always felt that if the main thing I don’t have in common with someone is our skin tones, we’re doing just fine. I enjoy diversity; it makes life so much more interesting. Who wants a salad with only lettuce? A bag of all white jelly beans- yuk! Besides being the worst flavor, it’s infinitely more satisfying to be able to mix it up! Can you imagine eating all your meals made of one ingredient and no spices? Blaagghhhh! So whether my dear friends and family are cream, cocoa, caramel or something in between, I love the mixture.
The problem with that is – not everyone does. So before we start, let me explain something. I like white people. I’m not anti-white – I AM white; I love me; and, I’m pretty darn awesome! So when I talk about “white people,” it’s because they happen to be the only ones with whom I have experienced these situations. Even though I live in a state that is supposedly one of the most diverse, democratic, “free thinking” type places, most of what I say comes from examples from within my multicultural mecca of a home state.
When I go out alone, I am afforded the everyday courtesies and assumptions about white people across America. No one assumes I am on welfare or that I can’t pay for the check. No one gives me a hard time about getting precisely what I want at any food establishment and very rarely even mention that it may cost extra. I am given the benefit of the doubt. I have gotten out of tickets with a warning. I have been shown apartments or new cars freely. I am spoken to with courtesy and respect when I bring in my car for service and, if I can’t get all of the repairs at the moment, I am given the paper that has all the diagnostic information on it so that I can come back. I am transferred to managers on the phone; I don’t usually get a ton of attitude if I have an issue with something which needs to be rectified and just about no one feels the need to comment on my intellectual ability, vocabulary, or looks with regards to my professionalism.
However, if I go out with my children, I am treated differently. I have been asked if I am running a daycare. I have had a pleasant conversation with another parent while waiting for our children at the doctor then, later, when the other parent’s three-year-old child entered the room, I witnessed him point to my one-year-old and say, “nigger.” I have been told that my order will cost extra if I request what I want. I have been dismissed, made to wait longer than usual, been helped AFTER people who I came before. I’ve had people look me up and down and then side-eye my children. Stares, unfriendly ones, are common. I have been told that there is no apartment available after all. I’ve been asked about my children’s father’s ethnicity. My children have suffered through random strangers’ low expectations. “Oh my, they are so well behaved!” “They are so well spoken!” “How smart!” “You help your mom, now.” My children have been spoken down to as if they are unable to understand simple instructions. They have been ordered to do things they would have done anyway (as if a stranger has any right to order my child to do anything). They have been stared at in wonder because they are the intelligent and well-mannered children – they have always been. When my son walks alone, people have locked their car doors when he passes. When looking for his lost wallet in the park, he was asked if it was his when he found it under the bench where he was looking. And, suddenly when I am with them, people assume that either I cannot afford things, need a discount, or need to be watched in the store. I have not gotten away with a warning when they are in the car and have even been pulled over when my son is in the front seat for no reason. If my children are not right next to me, I have often found other adults looking around concernedly for my children’s’ parent without realizing it is me.
When my husband is with me, it is even more of an issue. I have gotten hostile receptions when entering establishments. I’ve been told I could not keep a copy of the paperwork that listed the work which needed to be done on my car after running it through a diagnostic. I have been told the apartment I was looking at was no longer available. I have been given substandard service. I’ve been told I can not order what I want because a particular combination is not on the menu even after explaining that I will pay for two meals to accommodate the change. I’ve been left waiting for hours. I’ve been followed, glared at, and whispered(or spoken aloud) about. I’ve been ignored at car dealerships by every single salesperson. I’ve been there to witness people make jabs at my husband. I’ve been on the phone with a manager and heard the manager’s voice and attitude change dramatically when my husband got on the phone – from conciliatory to condescending in a second.
So now, despite how angry it makes me that people can be so awful, I use my white privilege to get the best for my family. I get better service as a white person. I get treated with more respect as a white person. I get problems resolved as a white person. I can return items without being accused of stealing them as a white person. I can procure any food item I am willing to pay for as a white person.
Yet, every time I walk in as a white person without my black family, it rips at my very soul. Every time my husband and I go somewhere, assess the situation and realize that it would be safer, more profitable, or a better experience if I went in alone, I feel the rage boil within me.
So, when white people tell me they “don’t see color,” or “racism is dead,” or “that doesn’t happen around here,” despite what they see on the news, I grow more frustrated. There have been studies published recently about the psychological trauma all the shootings of unarmed black people has on people of color in America. These studies have examined how the constant stress impacts both the physical and mental health of black people in America and yet there is so much vitriol surrounding movements like Black Lives Matter or Taking a Knee to protest the injustices occurring to people of color every day. It seems that many people not only don’t want to admit that there is a privilege to being white in America, they want to force a situation where people of color are not even allowed to voice how this discrepancy is impacting their families and themselves. So on top of robbing people of color of equal treatment, they want to rob them of their voices as well. It’s an attitude of, “How dare you stick-up for yourself!”
Every day I look at the news, and I become increasingly worried about my family. I get nervous when my husband leaves the house, or when my kids are out on their own. My husband has been stopped in our town for no reason other than his skin color, surrounded by multiple cops cars, all while trying to pick up the kids from daycare. The stop ended only after the policeman saw his address on his license, “Oh! You live here. How long have you lived here? You can go.” He’s been pulled over coming out of the driveway because he, “fit the description.” The police called me to ask me who he was to me and why he was out so late. Being that I was pregnant and had a late night craving, I explained that he was getting me something to eat. Insane. I see people calling police on people of color BBQing, swimming at the pool, kids selling water, working at their landscaping jobs. It’s getting worse than ever.
My three lives have taken on even more consequence in this current climate. I hope that people wake up and realize that these differences are only skin deep and all of the fear and hatred people of darker complections endure is ridiculous. Black and brown skin isn’t a weapon. People in general and police specifically shouldn’t “fear for their lives” merely because they are dealing with a person of color. The only way to deal with the problem is to expose it – not shout it down, not prevent it from coming to light. We should not allow divisive rhetoric to turn us against each other. We Americans at least profess to be better than that. The land of the free and the home of the brave should be brave enough to come to grips with its terrible past and how that past has affected the present so that it can indeed be free for all people.
As a Christian I find myself dealing with the same problems in the church. It’s heartbreaking to see other people who profess to be Christians spewing hatred at people of different skin tones and nationalities. Christians themselves benefit from Christ’s inclusivity of people of different nationalities and races. He not only accepted gentiles, but He purposefully reached out to non-Jews. We need to recognize this and do what Jesus would do – come together – all people – all races.
For now, I’m thankful that I can still be me while being all three, but I wish my children and husband could live like I do when I am out without them.