Yesterday Is Gone, Today Is Fading And Tomorrow Is Not Promised

Dear Visible Man:

I would appreciate your opinion regarding a heated discussion that I had with my mother.  I am a 21-year old African-American female and I have a brother who is 16 years old.  Recently, I asked my mother what her feelings were should I decide to date a coworker who is white.  My mother replied that as long as he treated me nice and is respectful, she was okay with whoever I choose to date.

My mother, being who she is, gave me the answer I had expected.  However, she added that “your brother better not even think about dating or bringing a white girl to this house.”   I was really shocked by her statement and asked why she held this view about my brother and yet it was okay for me.   My mother explained that having worked many years in corporate America, she’s watched the careers of African-American men be destroyed because of dating or being married to a white woman.  She said that she did not want to see her son go through this and would be passionately against it.

I am really surprised and disappointed in my mother’s views, which I consider to be racist.  I believe that there is no color when the heart decides to fall in love.  Her ignorance has resulted in different standards for my brother and I.

We live in a multi-ethnic neighborhood where my brother and I have attended schools that had a lot of ethnic diversity in student population.  I just don’t understand her contradictions in behavior and actions.  The world is changing.  She should too.

2013, Seattle

 Dear 2013,
      Your concerns raise several interesting and valid points:
  •        Allegations of racism by words of your mother
  •        Concerns of contradictions and different standards for you and your brother
  •       Your concept that the heart does not view color in its decision of attraction
     First, I want to acknowledge your wisdom, spirit and desire to set your own direction, which you view to be different from your mother.   However, I caution you to be careful in the labels you may place upon another’s behavior.   You have stated that your mother’s views are racist.  Let’s first define the terms racism and racist:

·      Racism: the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races
·      Racist: a person who believes that a particular race is superior to another.

     In reviewing your words, there is no indication of any comments by your mother suggesting the superiority or inferiority of any race or ethnic group.  Although she may possess views different from yours, you may want to reflect more on the subject before you label her words or behaviors to be racist.
     I noticed in your comments that your mother worked in corporate America and through her observations:

“…watched the careers of African-American men be destroyed because of dating or being married to a white woman.”

     It may be that your mother is, through her observations and experience, being protective and is concerned as to how interracial dating or marriage could negatively impact your brother’s life and career aspirations.  It may be that in her role as a parent with emotional feelings (love & fear) for her son that she does not want to see him be psychologically wounded by the consequences of choosing an interracial relationship.
     Regarding contradictions and different standards, it would be easy for others to suggest that you may be looking at the world in “rose colored glasses”.   Since you are 21 years old, your mother is probably in her early to mid 40’s.  Consequently, she may be viewing the world from a different reality—one in which there are different standards for men and women (in this case African-American) as to how both sexes will be viewed and received in corporate America.
     Whereas your experience is based on the diversity in your high school education, your mother is speaking of her experience as well.  Rather than view the picture as right versus wrong, it can be seen as a view from different (not opposing) positions.
     An example: Your statement that the heart does not view color in its attraction to another person could be challenged by someone of your mother’s generation stating it is the mind and not the heart that ultimately decides who the person will marry.  Both positions are not opposed to each other and thus, there can be room for common ground i.e. “understanding.”
     Your mother, in her desire to protect her son (your brother) from psychological injury or disastrous career experiences, may be “living in fear.”  I would suggest that a healthier position would be one learning to live with fear instead of living in fear.
     As adolescents move towards young adulthood, parents can be of greater assistance to their children by working through their own transition from directors and supervisors to guides and consultants. The objective is to reinforce self-esteem and self-concept.  In doing that, parents work to respect and accept their children’s choices and decisions as they “come into adulthood” even if they have strong fears or disagreements. It is for the parent to own their fears and learn, just like their children, to learn to live with fear and not live in fear.
     Today is not the world of your parents. It is your world.  Although some may read your words and say that you “should listen to your mother, she knows best” or question whether you are looking at the world in rose colored glasses, it remains your world, and you are entitled to walk your journey.  That would include taking responsibility for your beliefs and learning from lessons provided along the way.
     Regarding your earlier comment about your mother being a racist, let’s explore an incident and behavior that actually demonstrates racism. Fifty years ago this month, on a Sunday morning, in Birmingham Alabama four little “colored” girls were killed in a bombing at a church while they were attending Sunday school.  This was an act of domestic terrorism.
     This occurred at the same time in which police and firefighters used snarling dogs, batons and high-pressured water hoses to attack African-Americans who were protesting for the right to drink from a clean public fountain, try on clothes in a department store or buy a hamburger at a lunch counter reserved for “whites only.”
     Your comments regarding racial diversity in your schooling and the heart not seeing color holds to the words of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream Speech (8/28/63):
       “…that one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”
So 2013, do better with the world.  If you truly believe that “the world is changing,” then prove it.  Show it through your words and actions.  Don’t prove or show your mother or others to be wrong.
Prove and show yourself to be right.
 “Yesterday is gone.  Today is fading.  Tomorrow is not promised.

The Visible Man (1953)

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