Since the day my girls were born into an interracial family, I swore to surround them with as much diversity as possible because I didn’t want them to feel like the odd one out. I didn’t want them to feel like they didn’t belong. I didn’t want them to be called names. I made sure their daycare, schools and Sunday school classes were diverse. I was on a mission to shield them from any racism that I could. Trust me when I say I was determined! I repeatedly played a song by Nicole C. Mullen to them when they were little titled “Black, White, Tan”.
But devastation and failure still hit me in the face like a brick. It happened in the most surprising place, during my daughters first week away at college at MY alma mater, located in the town where I grew up, that I groomed her to go to from a young age.
I’ll never forget that cry on the phone after I hung up with her. She was so excited to go to her first tailgate party on campus only to be rejected because of the color of her skin. It continued day after day and I felt like such a failure that I unknowingly put my daughter directly in the very environment I had spent 18 years trying to protect her from.
Racism is taught.
I grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood and was one of the only two white students in my 3rd grade class. I identified as Native American because my father is full Lumbee Indian. In grade school, I was told by my teacher that my tribe wasn’t ‘real’ because it wasn’t on the federal map. I’ll never forget going home in tears that day. My Irish/French Canadian mother immediately took my hand, took me to the library, checked out a book about the tribe, walked me into class the next day, slammed that book on the teachers desk and said “Don’t you EVER tell my child she’s not a real Lumbee Indian”.
I am blessed with a mom who doesn’t identify a person by the color of their skin. At the age of 8 years old (1956), her best friend Adele, who was black, my mother and my uncle went to the movies near her hometown in Connecticut. She asked the attendant for 3 tickets but was told she could only have two because Adele wasn’t allowed. My mother was mortified and confused. They left and went back home where my grandmother made them popcorn and made them feel like they were at the movies while watching television instead. My mother said her grandmother had a black housekeeper named Rose, but she was Aunt Rose as far as my mom was concerned.
Later at the age of 16 in 1964, my mother married my father. She recalls being stared at to the point of being uncomfortable anywhere she went when visiting his hometown in North Carolina. She was referred to as “that white woman” my dad married because where he was from segregation was in full force and divided by three - white, black and Indian. Schools, bathrooms, laundry mats were all segregated. I found it so odd as a child to look at my father’s yearbook and only see people who looked just like him.
Racism is taught.
Not once growing up in my area or at school did I believe anyone was ‘less’ because of their skin color. My mother was clear by her actions that she loved everyone and I did, too. My father is a quiet, strong man. Many of his employees were black and they were family friends of ours. I do, however, recall a few times where I felt as if there was an underlying lack of acceptance, like when he would comment under his breath about my choice of music and it left me with the feeling that I should stay away from interracial dating until I moved out on my own.
But, it wasn’t until, at the age of 25, when I announced that I was engaged to an African American man, that my feelings were confirmed. I felt so horrible that I put my new love in the line of fire. I began to realize racism is a taught behavior. My father quickly realized he was holding on to what was engrained in him from a young age and that he needed to let it go. I’m proud to say it didn’t take much time for him to ask for forgiveness.
Racism is taught
Ironically, the man I married was raised in a predominantly white area and neighborhood. So his experiences were the opposite of mine, yet the same. Just as I was comfortable around other cultures, so was he.
Oddly, the only prejudice my youngest daughter had experienced was in middle school from other black kids, who claimed she wasn’t’ “black enough”. Just as her father was told he talked “white” and people on the other end of the phone would be surprised he was black. He was educated, a police officer and my daughter loved pop music.
The second time I was caught off guard was when I took my husband to my father’s hometown in 1996 to meet my relatives. I was so excited but that quickly changed. My husband drove the 6 hours with me and my parents in one car. When he pulled up to let us out at the door of the hotel because it was raining, the bellman, who was black, helped retrieve our bags. Once my husband parked and entered the building, the bellman looked at him and said “Wow, they must pay you well”. My husband responded, “Yes, they gave me their daughter”, and left the man staring at him in shock.
After settling in at the hotel, we headed to my uncle’s house, who was a minister. When I excitedly introduced my husband to my aunt, my husband held out his hand to her and she just looked at it and walked away. To this day, I am still mortified for putting him in that situation.
Racism is taught.
When we had our children, my goal was to protect them from this behavior and I felt responsible to monitor their surroundings at all times. Just recently over the past two years, I have dealt with a few racist neighbors at our vacation home. One neighbor posted a political sign out of hatred that faced only my condo, the same man who made the comment, before he met my daughters, that he was happy that I (meaning me) don’t “do the dark stuff”. This man and another neighbor also marched in front of my condo holding a confederate flag as they walked out to their boat parked directly in front of my home, and who repeatedly was overheard commenting “but her girls are polite and pretty”.
There have been so many days like those that as a mother of mixed children I felt I had failed to protect them. But then I realized this week that I raised and taught my children to be strong enough to stand up for what is right when I saw this picture of them in their masks, with posters of “legalize being black” and “ I can’t breathe”, at a protest for George Floyd.
I burst into tears, with pain because my children are hurting, yet also proud to see them embrace their multicultural heritage and to stand up against racial injustice. Today they stand for Black Lives Matter, and at college my oldest daughter wins awards for her work in the indiginous community, and they both unconditionally love their grandmother, “that white woman”.
Racism is taught, yes, but you can learn and teach new things.
Sondra Diggs is a girlfriend relationship advocate, creator of Girlfriend Therapy in a Box and owner of Glitter Me This & Co.
Sondra relates the daily life of todays’ Gen X women to living in a batting cage where life’s obstacles coming at you are non-stop without knowing if they are in the shape of sweet peaches or sour lemons.
She promotes the benefits of investing in strong female friendships, the ones that pick you up, dust you off and get you back in the game and makes this possible through her proven S.M.I.L.E method, leaving women with more joy, sparkles and less anxiety.
Her creation of Girlfriend Therapy in A Box by Glitter Me This & Co. is a personalized, sparkling keepsake gift box that captures the very essence of having her girls by her side to help celebrate and get through life’s up and downs at a moments’notice when you can’t be there in person. The box is designed to make her sparkle, move, indulge, laugh and exhale, but most of all smile.
Through her 25 years as a CPA and corporate CFO, she redefined this standard leadership image by bringing sparkling energy into boardrooms while hosting countless theme events enabling women to leave their worries at the door.
Sondra is a member of the Lumbee Native American tribe, a Washington DC native and has two aspiring daughters.