Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Personal Look at Color

Even growing up in Texas I never saw skin color, not as a child or a teenager in the 50s. I was aware that blacks lived in their own section of town, they couldn’t eat in restaurants around town and they certainly didn’t go to school with me and my friends. But my family owned a restaurant and while blacks couldn’t eat there, they could work there and serve other blacks on a porch off the kitchen. However, when we had parties at Christmas for the employees, it was for all of the employees , we locked the front door of the restaurant and the cooks and dishwashers (they were people, not machines in those days), came out front and we all sat together and ate goodies, exchanged gifts and laughed together.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I went to college for two years, couldn’t decide what I wanted to do with my life, so I left college and went to work. One of those jobs was for a photographer. His assistant was a black man who had a Master’s Degree in Literature, but his job as a white business owner’s assistant was still a step up in those days. We became very good friends and caused a lot of head turning when we walked down the street together, laughing and talking on our way to the bus stop – it probably was a good thing we took different buses because we couldn’t sit together. I never understood prejudice – not then and certainly not now.

In the early 60s I had decided that I wanted to teach school and returned to college. I worked part time for the first six months and shared a house with a good friend of mine. She was from Germany and was a fencer and one weekend she invited me to a fencing tournament that was being held in Dallas. It was there that I met my future husband. He was a member of the Modern Pentathlon Team. It was an Olympic sport primarily designed for those in the military and he was stationed in San Antonio, the team had come to Dallas for the competition. And he was black.

At the time he was dating my housemate from Germany who was white, so when I say they dated that meant that he came to our house for an evening. They couldn’t go anywhere together, so they’d either have dinner at home or they would go to a drive-in and hope no one called the police. After the competition was over and he returned to San Antonio, they would talk on the phone and he would occasionally drive up to Dallas for a weekend. It didn’t take long for this to get really old for both of them and they finally stopped seeing each other.

But he and I continued to talk and to correspond after I returned to college full time and eventually we began to travel back and forth between my university town of Denton and San Antonio. We could go places on the base at Fort Sam Houston.

I graduated from the university two years later and accepted a teaching job in San Antonio at a Catholic girl’s school. We were still limited to dining or going to movies on the base or eating at my apartment or to parties given by local friends and that kept us busy. We occasionally thumbed our noses at society in general by eating at drive-in or going to a drive-in movie. We still turned lots of heads although it was mainly because people weren’t totally sure just what he was – he had almost as mixed a heritage as I did and wasn’t your “ordinary black man”, whatever that means.

He went to the Olympics the next year and when he returned a Silver Medalist, I had a celebration at my apartment and invited all my students. Oh, my, what a fan club they were! I nearly choked with laughter when I overheard two of them talking and giggling talking about how handsome he was and “didn’t he have the greatest tan”! It just never occurred to them that he could be black.

We married soon after that. My parents loved him in spite of a few relatives that refused to have me in their homes anymore. They came to California for our wedding – we couldn’t get married in Texas because it was still against the law at the time. But I walked down the aisle on my father’s arm in a beautiful wedding gown with my head held high and one big smile on my face.

Over the next five years we had four children who got progressively lighter skinned – to the point that to this day no one knows what their heritage is although they’ve never made any attempt to hide their background and they are, and always have been, outrageously proud of their father, as they should be.

We were married for over twenty years, we eventually did get a divorce, but it had nothing to do with race or color – that was easy to deal with, the old hurts and pain from earlier times, with parents and situations neither of us had any control over had left both of us damaged emotionally. But we have remained good friends and have stayed in touch over the years. The children feel very comfortable with both of us and we do all get together now and then.

I have no regrets nor do I think he has. He was a wonderful father and friend. It’s not about color, it’s about being a human being – we don’t all have the same color of eyes or hair so what’s the big thing about the color of ones skin? I didn’t understand it when I was a child and I don’t understand it today.

I’m not voting for Obama because he’s black, but because he has a vision for this country at a time when we desperately need a new vision. Isn’t it time that we put the color of a person’s skin in the same category as having different color eyes or hair? Isn’t it time we look beyond such small, petty and ridiculous reasons and look at the person within? I want desperately to believe that time has come for most of us and I desperately hope that I am right.

8 comments:

clairz said...

Amazing to think that within our own lifetime marriage between people of different races was against the law in Texas (and lots of other places). I knew it, but these days especially it's hard to imagine.

In our family, our children's children are a beautiful coffee color. Perhaps someday everyone will be.

Thank you, as always, for sharing this part of your story.

mako said...

Sylvia,

This was great.
Our boys have German father and Japanese mother. Sometimes people look at them like what type of mix are they. I think any mixes are interesting mix. They are the mix of their mother and father.

Thanks.

Margie's Musings said...

What an interesting story and how brave of you not to let public pressure destroy what you had.

lilalia said...

I sure hope your sentiments are shared by many. Obama's is not only a vision needed in America, but in other countries as well.

Judy said...

Sylvia, Thanks for sharing this story. I think it is wonderful. I mirror your feelings exactly. I will never forget one time back in the sixties when my husband and I took a trip through Alabama and I saw three restrooms on the side of a service station. One said for men, one for women, and one for blacks. I could not believe my eyes. That bothered me for years. I knew there was predjudice but I guess it really hit me that day.

Deborah Godin said...

What a beautiful essay on love and life and our common history. As a white female who was once part of an interracial couple (not black but Native) I know something about prejudice too. I look forward to the day when we can all be treated equally in all areas of life, and celebrate each other for who we are, including our different races and cultures.

Suzann said...

Thank you for sharing this personal story. It is beautiful and hurtful at the same time - we don't think about a time when an interracial couple could not be seen in public together.

pticester said...

"Isn’t it time we look beyond such small, petty and ridiculous reasons and look at the person within?"

Yes, maam - it certainly is!