Ironically enough, my first encounter with racism had to do with myself. Let me explain!
But, first, go back and read part one of this series.
I didn't get very many birthday parties when I was a kid. In fact, I got a sum total of two. The first one was during first grade. My mom actually gave me a party at McDonald's, which is probably something that I wanted to do because what kid doesn't want to do that? Okay, kids these days probably don't want to do that so much but, back in the 70s, it was a cool, new thing to do. The problem was that, due to the cost, I was limited to something like only five friends. Or four. Some small number. It meant making some hard choices as to whom to invite.
Three of the people were a given. Two of them, the boys, were my best friends all through elementary school. Well, that elementary school, at any rate. The other was a girl who would end being my longest running friend. Basically, she and I grew up together from kindergarten until we graduated high school. Of course, I didn't know that was going to be the case in first grade, but it says something, I suppose, that she was one of my best friends even then. All three of them were at that party.
There may or may not have been one other person there but, if there was, I can't remember who it was.
The issue, though, arose over the "last person" I invited.
I remember the discussion with my mother about whom I was going to invite. On the list were the three (or four) people who ended up coming, and I had one more person to go. I was conflicted. I could either invite Derrick, a black boy in my class at school and next in line on the "friend scale" after the people I had already invited, or I could invite Chris, a boy who had lived down the block from me before we'd moved and had gone to my school until he moved. He had been one of my close playmates for a couple of years, but I hadn't seen him since he left my school. Playdates weren't a thing back in 1977 so inviting him to my party seemed to be the only way to get to see him again. I ended up choosing Chris over Derrick.
That turned into a problem. Chris didn't show up to the party, so my mom wanted me to call Derrick to see if he could come because she had to pay for the guest whether there was a person there or not. So there we were at the party and my mom was telling me to call Derrick and also telling me about how upset Derrick had been not to be invited and that Derrick's mom had even called her and said that I didn't invite Derrick because he was black. Basically, my mom was shifting the racism comment onto me.
Of course, she hadn't told me any of this ahead of time. She waited until we were actually having the party. Evidently, she'd suspected Chris wasn't going to show because his mother hadn't RSVP'd, and my mom was upset about wasting the money. The problem is that I can't remember whom she'd wanted me to invite in the first place. I remember there being a discussion about it, but the only part I remember is that I wanted Chris to be at the party more than I wanted Derrick at the part because it had been close to a year since I'd seen him.
The party was... traumatic. The only thing I remember is being on the phone, listening to it ringing and ringing, and my mom telling me that I didn't invite Derrick because he was black. And crying. I was pretty horrified, too, at the thought that Derrick would think I left him out because he was black, which just wasn't true. And, of course, no one answered the phone. Because Derrick's mom had taken him to do something fun and special because he didn't get invited to my party. The party I can't remember.
I don't remember our friendship being the same after that, and I have always always felt bad about what happened over that birthday party. Sure, yeah, I know it wasn't my fault. I was barely over a hand old. But that doesn't change the emotion involved. In general, when they ask that question about things you would change in your past if you could, I don't have a lot of those things, but this is one. I would certainly go back and invite Derrick instead. If I'd known how important it was to him, I wouldn't have cared about Chris being there at all.
But I didn't know.
It was this relationship, though, that inspired the character of Derrik in "Christmas on the Corner." See, I did grow up in the South, and I did have black friends. Let me rephrase that: I had friends who also happened to be black, because I never thought of my friends in colors. They were just my friends. Derrik is a reflection of that dynamic and, I think, an important one. But Sam won't be having any birthday parties that Derrik doesn't get invited to.
About writing. And reading. And being published. Or not published. On working on being published. Tangents into the pop culture world to come. Especially about movies. And comic books. And movies from comic books.
Monday, March 23, 2015
Growing Up In the Race Divide (part 2)
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That was actually a really crappy thing for your mom to do to you.ReplyDelete
I do live in the South now, plus I've lived all across the USA and in several foreign countries. People are people to me.
Alex C: Yeah, I have to wonder what she was thinking at the time. Maybe it was just a lack of realization about what she was doing? I don't know.Delete
I'm really sad that your mom did that to you. But I can certainly understand it. Especially at that age, it would be so hard to explain your innocence in that situation. :(ReplyDelete
Alex H: I don't think she tried to explain that. At least, I don't remember anything like that. Maybe I was too traumatized to process anything else.Delete
Wow, that really sucks. I couldn't imagine having to go through that... on your birthday... at that age. And as I was reading this, I was wondering if that had anything to do with the book Derrik.ReplyDelete
I have a friend who happens to be black, and his race has nothing to do with it. He likes nerdy stuff, like dungeons and dragons and PC games and comic books. And so do I. I've had someone tell me they figured he was just my friend because it 'made me look cooler and more accepting.' Uh, no.
ABftS: The first book is centered around the family, but I want the rest to be more representative of the reality of Shreveport in the 80s.Delete
And I'll be getting to my friends like that probably in part 4.
I can understand your reasoning behind wanting to invite Chris over Derrick. It was too bad that you were so limited in the number you could invite and that you were required to pay for a set number even though they all weren't there.ReplyDelete
A lot of times I think parents make the kid issues worse by interfering and injecting their comments.
When I was little not only did I not know any blacks, there weren't any McDonald's so my parties were always at home and it didn't matter if there were no shows. We did have a Jack-in-the-Box near to us but I don't think any kids ever go to a Jack-in-the-Box for a birthday party--not then or now.
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Lee: I don't know if fast food places even still do birthday parties. I was about to say that I haven't seen one in over a decade but, then, I haven't really been in any fast food places in the last seven years or so,Delete
If there's money involved I'm sure many of them will still do it. Then there's Chucky Cheese and places like that. I think that's were a lot of parents do their kids' parties.Delete
Oh, I know Chuck E Cheese still does it, but I wouldn't call Chuck's place, exactly, a fast food joint.Delete
Ah, now I feel bad for Derrik. And this is telling, but there was only one black family in our neighborhood when I was growing up. One of their kids, a boy, was in my class, and was very well liked. I have no idea what birthday parties he was invited to or not, though. It doesn't always occur to you to think in terms of exclusion when you're a kid.ReplyDelete
L.G.: No, it doesn't, because kids rarely think that way (unless they've been taught to).Delete
And don't worry; story Derrik will make out better than real Derrick.
I can't believe your mom put that on you. Of course a six year old boy who's white isn't going to think about race. Unless his mom heaps the guilt onto him...ReplyDelete
Jeanne: Well, maybe it helped me overall, though it wasn't intentional helping. It certainly made me more aware of and sensitive to issues of inequality.Delete
Wow :( I'm surprised at BOTH mothers. I get that your mom was probably freaked out that the accusation had been thrown out there. Nobody likes to be accused of racism. I'm surprised someone (the other mother) would jump to a conclusion that it was racist and call your mom about it. Then again, maybe it had happened before legitimately. I grew up in an area where white was the minority, so I never ran into this, because, well, only one of my friends was white. Kids don't think about these things. They just want to play.ReplyDelete
Shannon: I have no way of knowing, having been only six at the time. Or seven. However you want to look at it.Delete
Kids do just want to play and would play with aliens if that was the option. It's all very The Fox and the Hound.
Oh, man, I'm sorry that happened to you.
I think we are the sum total of all the things that happened to us, so that probably helped make you the good person you are today, but to be a kid and go through that. I choked up a bit when you said you don't remember the party.
Briane: Yeah, all those kinds of things make us who we are and, maybe, if that one thing hadn't happened, I wouldn't be mindful of racial inequities.Delete