I was born and raised the youngest of a family in a working class neighborhood of Kansas City. My single mother worked as a nurse supporting my sister, brother and I. Her demanding schedule necessitated frequent babysitting, but we were stil very close with one another.
We were good kids, albeit a bit untamed, in a loving family. We watched and memorized catchphrases from Different Strokes, Dukes Of Hazard, Fraggle Rock, Good Times, Mork And Mindy and superhero cartoons. I wanted a happy meal every weekend and usually was given one. We spent hours with Frogger and Pacman on the Atari 2600.
We could play outside in our neighborhood with all the other boys, girls and dogs all day long until well after dark. We shared dirty jokes, toy guns and Star Wars figurines. I often wore my weird Superman Underoos over my clothes in public, but absolutley no one cared in what was certainly a diverse population.
My older brother’s first best friends were two black boys a couple blocks away. Mine were a white girl next door and a Vietnamese kid a few houses down. We were all welcome in each others’ homes. This seemed natural and normal to us as children of the Star Trek generation, yet we were curious.
I remember how patient my mother was as we peppered her with all kinds of ridiculous questions only very little young persons come up with, but one of her answers regarding race remains vivid after all these years.
My brother had asked if his best friends were any different from us in our white family. My mom, ever thoughtful, took a moment before replying.
“We all bleed red.” She paused, then continued. “We might look a little different, like people with blonde or brown hair do, but we’re all the same on the inside.” Pause again. “But we aren’t always treated the same because mean people think they’re better than other people. Those people are wrong. Don’t listen to them and be friends with anyone you want, no matter what they look like.”
My mother passed in 1984, succumbing to lung and brain cancer. Her answer, “We all bleed red,” reflects not only her compassion and empathy, but her career in administering treatment to physical trauma as a nurse at a hospital.
To become a better ally, I challenge myself to continue listening and learning about both the history and ongoing adversities, aggressions and injustices facing people of color in this nation. I know racism and bigotry is taught. Looking back at my early personal experiences, I must thank my mom for not teaching it to us.