MARIE: A REPRINT

Six years ago, I wrote a blog about a Black woman who, with her family, lived in a predominantly upper middle class, White neighborhood.

My purpose then was to establish that, much though some of us would like racism to be a thing of the past, it remains an ongoing reality….in both overt and subtle ways.

Over the past weeks I have again had several people tell me, in different ways, that racism either rarely exists or no longer exists at all.  And, a few days ago, while mentioning this to a friend (who has a more realistic opinion of racism) I mentioned I had written the blog – which I then sent him a copy of.

With that in mind, I thought I’d also reprint it here – as a reminder of the way things really are.

I hope you find it useful:

“MARIE” – A BLACK FAMILY IN A WHITE ENVIRONMENT

Ken Berwitz

I had a very interesting and very informative conversation today with “Marie” (not her real name), a Black woman who, with her husband and children, lives in an upper middle class Central New Jersey neighborhood.

I would like to tell you a little about what we discussed.

Marie is an educated woman who works as a health care professional and also as a real estate agent. While I did not ask about her husband’s occupation or their financial circumstances, I believe she works at two jobs so that her children can go to private schools and have the greatest opportunity to “get ahead”.

Marie is originally from the Carribean, and lived in Brooklyn before moving to New Jersey. Her family migrated to the United States because they felt there was more opportunity here than her native country.

Let me stop and point out that, if I were talking about a White family – say, with the female head of household born in Ireland – there would not be much of a story here. Get an education, work hard to give the children advantages the parents did not have, live in a nice suburban neighborhood etc. Standard-issue stuff.

But we are talking about a Black family. So there are major differences.

One of them is that Marie instructs her older son never to wear a hoodie when he goes to the mall.

Why?  Because, as a Black teenager, he is constantly looked at with concern, suspicion and even fear – not because of what he does, but purely on the basis of skin color. And a hoodie will cause him to be singled out that much more.

Further, Marie believes that, with or without a hoodie, he would probably be a prime suspect if there is a problem at that mall.

And while she feels he is somewhat less likely to be seen this way when with his White friends, the ingoing, negative racial assumptions always hang over him. Needless to say this causes her a great deal of stress and anxiety.

On the other end of the spectrum, she is also troubled by the fact that her sons’ Black friends have sometimes accused them of acting “too White”.

Interestingly, Marie feels that her children are not as aware of racial prejudice as she is – because they have grown up in a mixed-race environment, have always had White friends, and don’t pick up on some of the race-involved subtleties she does.

She has no doubt they will have to deal with race issues soon enough, and has tried to warn them so they will not be shocked when it happens. But she is not sure the message is getting through. For example, she has noticed incidents where certain children in the neighborhood will say hello to friends who are with her children, but conspicuously avoid saying hello to them. It exasperates her that they don’t seem to notice – probably because they have so many White friends it doesn’t hit them the same way.

How ironic that it probably is due to Marie and her husband’s success in shielding their children from this kind of prejudice, that causes them to be less comprehending of when it occurs.

For Marie herself, being Black in a primarily White upper middle class neighborhood has its own set of issues. One of the most frequent is how often she is mistaken for a domestic worker instead of a homeowner.

There have been instances – more than a few of them – when Marie is outside and someone, such as a worker or deliveryman, asks if she would get the woman of the house. Her way of dealing with it is to say “Hold on, I’ll get her for you”, walk into the house, close the door — then open the door and say “Hello, I’m the woman of the house, what can I do for you”?

It is clever, diplomatic, dignified…and undoubtedly hurts every time it happens.

Just as it hurts when she acknowledges that, even after all the years there, some people clearly see her family as a blight on the neighborhood – not because of their qualities as human beings, but because they are Black.

I hope to have more conversations with Marie about being Black in a vastly White environment…and will tell you about them if/when they take place.

The more White people know about what it is like to be Black – even upper middle class Black – the more we can hope that understanding will eventually prevail over prejudice.

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