Dr. Sheron's Blog
Money does not prevent racism
I chuckled and cringed at recent the essay from The Washington Post, Facing Racism Despite Elite Upbringing by Lawrence Otis Graham. Graham is a good writer. I read his books Our Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class (19990). He was meticulously chronicled the Black upper crust in previous well- written books. They depict the safety net that black communities constructed to insulate themselves from America’s hatred, such as sororities, fraternities, Boules and debutante balls.
Graham chronicled his wealthy, ivy-league educated attempt to protect their children from racism. He and his wife believed that if their three children spoke with crisp diction, dressed in preppy clothes, attended expensive schools and “maintained the air of quiet dignity” they would be exempt from the degradation of being called “niggers.” In other words, author Graham he did not want his children to be confused with the pant sagging, hoodie wearing, loud, Ebonics speaking ghetto kids that are the stereotypical image of us. Here is where I cringed. It can be inferred that such young people can and should be called niggers, due to their poverty and lack of exposure to the finer things in life.
Despite the best efforts their money could buy, the Graham’s oldest son, 15 was called a nigger while at an elite New England boarding school during the summer. Traumatized, the boy is “still leery today” and “is worried about being perceived as racially odd or different.” Here is where I chuckled, sadly. Money does not vaccinate us from racism. The Grahams were way off base to think that their “tony Park Avenue apartment in NY and their house in a liberal NY suburb”, somehow made the above the reach of racism.
Every black person in America will have an occasion to be called a nigger or some other offensive word. Some of us will be called a nigger to our faces. Others of us will be called that behind our backs by people we thought we could trust. Being racially insulted is an inescapable fact- almost a sick rite of passage in America. We set ourselves up for failure when we believe that an exterior coating like elite living will insulate us.
I don’t blame the Grahams for trying to protect their children. That’s what all good parents try to do. Every generation of Black parent in America hopes that their efforts will raise their children above the racial ruckus and liberate them from racism. Parents sacrifice and chart ways to create safe platforms where their kids will be treated as equals. My parents did that. Both had college degrees and built a solid middle class lifestyle for me (their only child) in Charlotte, NC. They grew up in the rancid, racist Jim Crow days of separate and far from equal. To ensure I would never feel the wrath of a southern segregationist, they kept me far away parts of town where they knew the vocal racists lived. Instead they wrapped me the insular and comfortable black social/civic life that Graham writes about in his books.
My parents were not naïve. They knew that one day racism would catch me, so they warned and prepared me. It did. While vacationing in Florida, an older Anglo man told me “nigger, get out of my way.” We were at the front door of a restaurant, both walking toward the front door. I knew my manners, and stepped ahead of him to hold open the door that he may enter first, respecting my elders.
I was stunned, but not surprised by his words. My folks told me it would happen, and it did. Being called a “nigger” at the age of 12 removed my racial innocence and gave rise to the callous I needed on my soul in order to survive and thrive in a nation disparities and racial conflicts. My two sons, 22 and 26 grew up on the best that my husband and I could give them. They knew that despite the right clothes, the right friends, proper English, and fancy schools, racism lurks. They were trained to be prepared to be called a nigger, but to know, that is not who they are. The experience is just one of the bumps along the road of life for us.
Lawrence Otis Graham authored the essay. He was meticulously chronicled the Black upper crust in previous well- written books. They depict the safety net that black communities constructed to insulate themselves from America’s hatred, such as sororities, fraternities, and debutante balls.