My color is Ecru Cream

Alternative title – A Roze by any other name is still a Roze

I Have Been Weary

The other day, Jill Dennison of Filosofa’s Word posted “A SHARED OPINION …” in which she shared an article by Charles M. Blow of the NY Times, titled “You Have a Right to Weariness.” As usual, Jill’s comments to this article echoed my own thoughts.  It is a great opinion piece for our time of unsettling barrage of news stories. I have been weary.”   It’s not in my nature to ignore world events around me.  My eighth grade Social Studies teacher taught me, “Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” Winston Churchill.  Unfortunately, watching current events unfold makes me feel like I’m watching a train wreck about to happen, but I’ve no superpowers to stop it.

I thought I was Over It

As I attempt a smooth transition to my “Third Act of Life,” I am dealing with feelings and frustrations that I thought I had overcome or mastered years ago.  You see, I am a woman of color, I like to say it’s “Ecru Cream.” I describe Ecru Cream as a very light beige, like raw linen- almost white, but not quite. I lived most of my life that way-almost white.

I  am No One’s Anchor

I was conceived in Puerto Rico, and when my grandparents found out that their 22-year-old, unmarried daughter was pregnant; they sent her to Pennsylvania to stay with her married older sister, Evangeline.  Evangeline had migrated to the States a few of years before when her husband returned from his tour of duty for the US Army.  They bought a house and started a family.  My grandparents decided that Evangeline would be a good role model to help her sister in this situation, and so my journey of life began just outside “the City of Brotherly Love.”

No, I was not an “anchor baby.” My parents were born American citizens in Puerto Rico, and my grandparents were granted citizenship as young adults in 1917.  My grandfather was drafted to the US Military shortly after, just in time for WWI. Brooklyn

Nuyoricans “Passing” for an Opportunity

After I was born, my father came to see us at Aunt Evangeline’s house, and since my mother was “the love of his life;” we moved with him to New York City.  We joined his older sisters and brother who migrated and settled in Brooklyn. My parents seemed to quickly become accustomed to the new culture and way of life while maintaining and blending the traditional customs of the major holidays. We used to tease my mother that she learned how to be “American” by watching “I Love Lucy” and Days of Our Lives.”

My parents socialized very little with friends outside of work so that we spent our weekends and holidays with family.  For the most part, my family is very light skinned; my cousins and I grew up without accents, and our last names did not end in “Z.”  These characteristics gave people an opportunity to get to know us before realizing that we were just an illusion of whiteness.  Yes, we were “passing” as a means to have a chance.

In school, at the church and in the neighborhood, our friends were not Puerto Rican. Our friends were the first or second generation of immigrants.  They were Italians, Irish, French, English, Polish, Canadian, Brazilian or Middle Eastern. Most spoke a second language at home.  Together we navigated the Melting Pot culture of NYC and were absorbed into the American Dream.

Celebrity Magic Shows and Miracle Excelsiors

It wasn’t all easy peasy as my granddaughter likes to say and when I hear the rhetoric, I can’t help but feel a bit of fear and frustration.  I continue to say that DJT is not the problem. He is who he is and who he has been. He didn’t get more obnoxious on the campaign trail. He did gain more visibility. I was not a fan of his before, not as a businessman or as a celebrity. I never watched his reality TV show and rolled my eyes whenever he did a cameo in a movie that took place in NYC.  I was one of those that would have bet my last dollar that he would not get into the White House.  The American people would never vote a con-man into the highest, most powerful office in the country.  By Election Day, I had changed my mind.  I watched how Americans adored his bravado and his magic displays with smoke and mirrors.  I was not surprised by his win at all.  Mostly though, I was hurt.  I continue to feel betrayed by friends and family.

A Christian Education 

I knew race tensions existed, and I was aware the KKK was still alive and well, but the events of the past couple of years reach me at a very personal level. I am reminded of my years as a young adult, my first year away from home in a Christian Bible college.  It was a small Bible College in the North East, about an hour outside of The City.  In was presented as “interdenominational” in promotional events and material.  The leader of my city wide “interdenominational” Christian high school club recommended it highly.  Interdenominational meant that all Christians around the world were welcome. Even though Baptists founded it, the school welcomed students from Presbyterians to Pentecostals in all shapes, sizes, and color.  We had to include a photo with our application.

By the end of my first semester, I learned that indeed all that glitters is not gold and whitewashing walls is a quick, effective way to cover up dirt and imperfections.  We learned that the school accepted minorities and international students of color in pairs, one man and one woman.  It was preferable if they were already married.  One of our friends was “spoken to” because people saw her around campus accompanied by a Brown student.  To be truthful, I don’t remember what country he was from, but in my memory, I recall him as perhaps from India or Pakistan.  The girl was so upset by this situation that she did not return next semester.

The Founder and President of the school taught a class on Dispensations. It was in his class that I decided not to come back after my second semester. I did not go back to my local church either.  His beliefs did not resemble the Christianity I learned at home.  His lessons were peppered with digs and condescending, derogatory remarks about other denominations that were not entirely in accord with Baptist dogma. I questioned my beliefs, my faith.  It was years before I returned to an organized religious community.

Who Are My Friends?

There were many other things about the school that made me uncomfortable,but the most hurtful thing occurred after I left the school.  I had become close friends with my roommate and a few of the girls in my dorm.  Gwen, Margaret and I were inseparable.  Margaret and I made plans to visit our boyfriends at a Christian College in New England next semester. I continued to correspond with the girls by snail mail.  One day I received a letter from Margaret.  One line in the message hit me like a gut punch.  “Gwen and I miss you so much; we had to adopt another inner-city girl.”  Wow! I thought we were friends, real friends.  I thought she was my friend because we had a lot in common because I was smart, witty and fun to be around.  She saw me as an inner-city-girl who went to her school on a partial scholarship and lived in her dorm.

Disguised, They Came For the Immigrants…

Years later, I was working at a psychiatric day services program is a New England city nicknamed “The City of Immigrants.”  One day, after the clients left, and we were meeting to review the day’s events and planning.  There was construction going on around us, and the noise prompted a co-worker, Doug, to make some awful comments, similar to DJT’s views, about the men who were working on the project. 

The workers were mostly brown men if I had to guess they were probably from countries in South America and the Caribbean.  “I can’t believe you just said that,” I told him. His response to justify his words was worse. I explained that these men could very well be my cousin, brother, or father.  While he had never been disrespectful to me or made racist comments of our clients in front of me, it hurt me that he thought this way of these people he didn’t even know – just because of the color of their skin and their accents.

Doug was a man that I worked with for several years; we co-facilitated successful groups, we walked together at lunch, had our coffee together, I considered him a close friend.  He finally said, “I’m sorry, I  just wasn’t thinking.”  It didn’t make it any better if anything, it made it worse that he wasn’t thinking about the impact of his words.  Things were never the same between us.

Then They Came for Me…

People forget I am not “white,” I am a woman “of color,” Ecru Cream is my color.  If our country were to continue to erase all the progress made regarding equality for all people; if as a nation we lose respect for basic human rights what is left for us?  What becomes of me, of my family?  If someone comes knocking on my door and drags me away because of a flippant comment I made on Twitter, will my friends stand up for me?  Will they say, “Well, you shouldn’t have said that after all, he is our President.”  I remember the words of Martin Niemoller, “… Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

All this rhetoric brings all these emotions to the surface. DJT did not get to the White House on his own merits.  Witnessing day after day that our lawmakers condone and defend his actions is very draining.  I am reminded again: “…and when an experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  — George Santayana

Hope for Rational Government

The recent elections bring some hope that people realize that the current events are not just politics and business as usual, nor are they healthy for our Democracy.  On the flip side, the recent election shows that there is still lots of work to be done. The numbers were too close for comfort, and there were too many mistakes and too much irregularity at the polls. Yes, I am weary, but I am hoping that tempered and rational thought comes with the new legislators to Congress before we resort to “Hunger Games” for the dignity and survival of the 98%.  

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