The Chameleon

Saturday, June 06, 2020

I was thinking about what to write for my post this week when I read yesterday’s very powerful post by the always eloquent Angela Mackintosh. It helped me decide how I wanted to use my voice today. I want to admit that I am a privileged white woman who still has a lot of to learn about what it means to be black in the year 2020.

I am a chameleon. My mother is Hispanic but mostly speaks English. This is not really something I thought much about until just a few years ago. When I was in middle school, my family moved from Texas (where there is a large Hispanic population) to the mountains of western North Carolina. I looked a little different, but my classmates thought I was “exotic.” It made me feel special. I don’t ever remember anyone making fun of me or my mother because our skin was a little darker than theirs. Maybe they did, and I just didn’t know it. We didn’t have a lot of black students at our rural school, and to be honest, I never thought much of it. An old classmate of mine shared a podcast episode this week about the Tulsa Race Riots, and mentioned how we had never learned about it in any of civics or history classes in high school. She was right. I never heard the name Emmett Till until I had long graduated from high school, either. There was a whole segment of our United States history that somehow became whitewashed to us.

Because I didn’t learn about systemic racism or any of these less-talked about events in history, I never considered myself racist. In fact, when my grandmother from Louisiana showed up to my high school graduation and asked my mother loudly in the auditorium where all the “people of color” students were, I was shocked. And yes, she used another word for “people of color.”

But life went on for me. I grew older, and ended up in the suburbs of Charlotte, where black residents are in the minority. My kids attend a small charter school where there isn’t a whole lot of diversity, and it’s because of systemic racism. At our school, we only have one bus route so if you are lucky enough to get into the school by lottery, if your parents have to work full-time and can’t take and pick you up from school, you likely can’t attend.

My kids have learned about Emmett Till, the history of lynchings in the United States and how systemic racism works in their current curriculum, so that’s a start. But, I’ll be honest. After seeing the blatant hatred and racism against anyone who isn’t “white” that has continued to divide the country since the last election, I’ve withdrawn into myself. My son doesn’t really want to tell people he is Hispanic because he has friends who have made jokes about the need to “build the wall.” I’m worried someone will point their finger at me in a store because I “don’t look like I’m from around here.”

And I’m not even black. I read a great, eye-opening article by Lori Lakin Hutcherson that explained white privilege. I have it. My kids have it. My husband has it. My husband doesn’t have to put a stuffed animal in the back of our car to show that he is a “family man” and not a “drug dealer” when he gets pulled over by the police in his nice sedan. I don’t have people question that I actually made it through college because of the color of my skin. I’ve never had a teacher point out that I’m the only person of color in a classroom. Yes, all these things happened in the article I mentioned above. I also know there are people in neighboring communities who have called the police because black men were jogging in their neighborhood, or in one case, taking a walk around the block with their children. These black men LIVED in the neighborhood.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m trying to gain the courage to learn more about how I can be a part of the change. Simply saying, “I’m not racist,” is not going to cut it. I need to do more, be more, make sure my children are more. I have to get outside of my comfort zone and know that I will be verbally attacked for standing up for #BlackLivesMatter. It’s a sad state of our country that I have to admit. But I’m willing to educate myself and make those sacrifices. It’s the least I can do, or things are never going to change.

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor from North Carolina. Learn more at


Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--What is the lyrics of that folk song (that you're too young to remember;)?

A time to cast away stones. A time to gather stones together.

It's no longer time to stay silent, to cast our voices to the wind and nowhere else. It's time for our voices to gather together, and it's time to use our words like stones to batter down the walls of injustice.

(If this was not such a serious post, I would bring up how in your photo, you look like you're in your 20s. As Billy Crystal would say, "You look maaahvelous!")

Margo Dill said...

I am so glad you were inspired by Angela, who is amazing and inspires us every single day. Whenever she tells stories of her past, I am mesmerized.

I have a lot of commonality with you except I lived in St. Louis growing up, and black students, most, attended the middle school and high school because of desegregation. In my core friend group, my friend Kelly (who I've written about before because she lost her battle with scleroderma a few years ago) and I were just friends like my friend Kristin and me were just friends. The only difference Kelly was black and lived in a different section of the city, and Kristin was white and lived in the district. But it was NOT the only difference--I just didn't understand because I was young and naive. It was different for Kelly, of course, only I don't think she knew how to put language to it yet--to the feelings she felt when people weren't out and out calling her names but were not treating her the same. Our parents socialized--her parents invited mine to dinner. I am so lucky to have had this experience and to remember this amazing friend.

But when we got to college--we were suitemates, and I can't remember what had happened--something racist that caused protests--Kelly said that I didn't understand. Kelly blamed me for things I wasn't doing but that white people were doing. But now looking back (and we made it through this--I got to go to the hospital and say good-bye to her hours before she died), I was a part of the systematic racism-i just didn't know it. In college, Kelly was starting to realize it and put language to it and fight it. And luckily because we had a bond and our families were supportive and bonded, we made it through this rift, and probably came out stronger on the other side--both of us realizing it.

Gosh, I hadn't thought about that for a long time. I still stand by my belief that none of us can understand what it feels like to walk in another person's shoes, and when we start trying to do that more, and only then, will the world start to change. I am hoping that I am teaching Katie that. I have talked to her about the protests and George Floyd. She is 9. I tried to do it in an age appropriate way. But is there an age appropriate way to talk about this hate and racism? I don't know.

So I've written a blog post myself in this comment--SORRY. But thank you for making me think this morning. Hugs.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Like Angela, I live in an area that is very mixed. Unlike where Angela lives, they have not figured out how to be cool about it.

When we moved in, over a dozen years ago, someone stopped in front of the house and called out, "It is so good to see white people moving into the area again."

It is so easy to forget how widespread these attitudes are. I'm trying to remember the quote from Maya Angelou's Letter to My Daughter:

“Macon, Georgia, is down south, New York City is up south."

It is so easy to consider racism something that is Down There and not here and in each of us.


Marcia Peterson said...

Renee, thank you for sharing this. I stand with you.
As you pointed out, as moms we have a role to play with the kids we are raising. I am heartened by what I see with my (now college-aged) kids and their friends--what they stand for and the actions they take.

Renee Roberson said...

Thank you everyone for sharing your stories! I think the common theme here is that if you aren't walking in another person's shoes, you can't know their whole story, even if you are the most well-intentioned person in the world. As Sioux pointed out, it's time to use our voices for change, even when it's hard.

As I type this, I've just returned from a very peaceful protest in our town (encouraged by my daughter and her friends) that included our town's police officers and people of all ethnicities and colors. My daughter said it gave her hope, hearing the black speakers they had lined up sharing their stories and the police officers showing their support.

I was hesitant to share this post because of some of the nastiness I've seen all over social media this week. A lot of white bloggers/influencers I follow were basically attacked if they didn't use their platforms to speak up for #blacklivesmatter, and in some cases, if they did try to say something, their words were twisted and they were attacked all over again. We're talking cooking and lifestyle bloggers who may have never even realized they weren't catering to followers of a variety of enthnicities. And the attacks were coming from white and black followers, so it was awful to watch happen and made me fearful of sharing my own thoughts.

I find it so sad that those of us of mixed race have had periods in our lives where we were embarrassed of our families and our heritage. And it sounds like a lot of it comes from the schoolyard, so to speak. Where do children learn these racial slurs to make up the songs and chants? It has to be at home.

Cathy C. Hall said...

A writer friend of mine--who identifies as a Christian in an interracial marriage--spoke about his thoughts on the current events and asked his teenage daughter to share what she had told him earlier about peace.

As it happens, harmony is another word for peace, she said. But when it comes to music, harmony is not one voice. That's kind of boring, the one-song.

To make beautiful, interesting music, the seemingly disparate voices have to come together. In my choir, we sing 4 part harmonies and sometimes 8 part harmonies. It's always better the more harmonies we have.

My friend's daughter used a simple analogy but it's one I think we can all understand. It's not an either-or world we live in. It's and.

And just like my choir will spend months getting a complicated song from lousy to awesome, I expect we have lots of work to do. Together, diligently, respectfully.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

The One Song vs Harmony. Love that way of looking at it. Of couse, I also sing in a choir so I'm likely more than a bit biased.

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