I grew up as a white girl in a sleepy little all-white town. It was comfortable. Everyone looked like me, spoke like me, (and for the most part) lived like me.
It really was a great place to grow up in so many ways. There were small classrooms and a fabulous school system. People helped each other out…always. Everyone knew everyone. As a teenager, I hated that. As an adult, I think it protected me more than I understood.
My parents weren’t from this little town. My father grew up in southeastern Kentucky and my mother in surrounding towns in northwest Ohio. We weren’t considered to be “locals”. This little town consisted of several families that had lived there for generations. My family was not one of them.
Not that I wasn’t accepted on any level, I was. However, there was a “family” element to the community that I wasn’t privy to because of this. Those who grew up there probably never, ever felt this way because well…how could they? They didn’t grow up with my experience.
The first family “of color” moved into our town when I was in junior high. They were a transracial family with three children. The oldest child was my age. Her mother’s family (white) WAS one of the small town families; however, she was treated as if she were not. I didn’t get it then. My parents raised me to see color, but to not think anything of it. I saw her as my friend.
We did all sorts of pre-teen things together. Our time together consisted of sleepovers, giggling about nonsense, listening to Debbie Gibson, torturing her little brother, and even making our own “Babysitters Club”. (LOL it’s true.) I loved her.
But I saw how this “girl with the black father” was treated in our school. She was teased by people who I thought would never have had it in them to do so. These same people who (prior to this) I was so comfortable around. It stunned me. I looked at them differently. It was a side of them that I never knew existed.
Her family didn’t stay long. I think they were only there for two years, if my memory serves me correctly. I was heartbroken. I knew why. It was the first time I had ever encountered racism face-to-face.
A few years later when I was in high school, a black family had moved into town. They were all younger than me. I didn’t know them as well because of it and I didn’t witness their experiences. I’ve always been curious to hear from them on this. I know that they were more accepted than my friend, yet I’m sure that they endured a great deal of their own.
Their family stayed. I believe all of the children graduated from that school, but I’m not altogether sure. It changed that town, I do believe.
Twenty-one years have passed (gasp!) since I walked through those doors for the last time in my cap and gown. I’ve seen many locals since, and with the internet, I’m blessed to be in contact with many more. Things are different now. People change. Even those that we don’t think have it in them to do so.
And not everyone changes, no. Don’t think I’m that naïve. I’m sure there are some racists still living in that town (as there are in every town in America). I’m sure that anyone in that town who is of a different race could list at least a few instances where they have felt their differences.
It’s just good to see that there has been this growth in the community. Yet I know there is room for more. There is always room for more. In every small town, in every big city, in every state in this country people are living lives so similar yet so different.
How do you make the change? Stand up. Step outside of your box for what is right. It doesn’t have to be a giant movement. It can be something as small as stepping in when you see an injustice in your child’s school. Those little things matter. Those little things that you may not think make a change? They do. They make all of the difference in the world.
It isn’t easy. I’ll be the first to say it isn’t easy. I know how hard it is to go against the grain that first time. Once you do it that first time, it gets easier. You feel the difference you are making. Your children are watching and they are learning how to change this world as well. Show them what is right. Show them that what is right is always, ALWAYS worth it.
The First Local to Take a Black Boy to Prom