PS – I was wrong. The difference between being born with black or white skin does shape one’s freedoms. A good education is the key for all people of all colors, especially those born poor. A good education improves life.
I was wrong.
To wake each day, housed in black skin, immediately makes a person a target. For thousands of daily arrows to kill one’s body and soul. I used to wonder who so many Black families lacked a father. As even The Rock said, all men feel the need to protect and feed their families But when a man, and I know as a female, is disrespected, exploited, demeaned and under-paid compared to others, it’s not easy to keep a job to provide food, rent and clothes, as well as health and happiness for one’s family.
I simply quit and changed jobs, eventually becoming a temporary secretary to avoid office politics. Black men do not have this option. Often the only job openings are low-paying and exploitive or in drug or human trafficking. For a man to be a man, it’s logical that Black men abandon their families.
Life overseas was difficult. Especially as a single woman, without a husband to protect me. As a foreigner, few if any laws provide protection for workers – foreign or local. And when a job is connected to housing and a visa – legal residency – quitting a job is not easy. Being fired happened. My last job, so old and fed up with male bosses and their bullying, I challenged the boss. One accidental slip, a response to an unwarranted criticism from a male colleague during a departmental meeting was a soft, “Fuck you.” That resulted in a ‘suspension and investigation’. Nope. No investigation. No proof. I was just left hanging in the wind. (At least the university paid my monthly salary for the torturous five months of no results from the ‘investigation’.)
I’ve always known how difficult life has been for Black people. Once rap music became popular by Black singers, with talk of women as ‘hoes’ and other horrors, I cared much less. Especially, once when vacationing in Chicago, stopping for gas in a car rental, across from me, a driver’s door opened. Rap music blasted glorifying killing cops. That sealed my distaste for today’s Black singers and their gangster royalty. Even Bruno Mars lost my admiration when he did a greedy gangster money, money video.
Being a woman in a man’s world is also hell. Despite 50 years from my college protests, both women and Blacks have been the human sacrifice America offers for its wealth.
Yes, 50 years is much too long for all of us to wait for justice, freedom, health and safety.
Back in 1928, my maternal Irish grandfather cop in Chicago was killed while arresting three Black men for theft. My grandmother and mother forbade prejudice. As an adult, I realized many Black men had been killed by White men. A composition student at Loyola University-Chicago educated me about Black-on-Black violence.
The UK enslaved the Irish for a thousand years. Looking for work in Chicago in the late 1930s, my mother encountered signs: “No Niggers, No Irish, No Dogs”. The Catholic Church in Ireland, then in the USA, mentally enslaved people. Refusing birth control other than rhythm, my mother had seven daughters (I’m the sixth) and six miscarriages.
My paternal ancestors accompanied William Penn to Pennsylvania, then moved to what became Delaware. An unmarried uncle signed the US Declaration of Independence and is famous in Delaware. To my sorrow, he died, emancipating 200 slaves he had owned. Fortunately, I read he had earlier tried to outlaw slavery in Delaware. Unfortunately, my paternal ancestors descended socially when they moved West. My Illinois paternal grandmother married ‘a bad boy’. His cousins ran mob-related activities in Southern Illinois. However, during the Great Depression, they didn’t help my father attend college. Working five jobs, he eventually had to quit after two and a half years.
In summary, I was raised upper lower class – about four steps above white trailer trash. My mother’s life in Chicago kept cultural doors opened while my father’s work ethic was ingrained.
I was the first in my immediate family to earn a Bachelors, and later the only one to earn a Masters. As an undergraduate, I bemoaned my white skin. It disqualified me from some financial aid. I got food stamps that helped, but grew wary telling middle-class White students how I had qualified for that aid. Those feelings increased in San Francisco when a White-privileged person let me know how she had declared bankruptcy, cleverly discharging her college loans before the laws were changed.
After three years in college, I ran out of money and mental health, quit and learned to drink and watch TV at night. To escape a disappointed life like my father, I returned to college on loans. The second semester, I received government aid. I no longer needed to clear tables and refill coffee in the cafeteria; nor choose between beer, a movie, or food. I still refrained from buying clothes, drugs or music or attending rock concerts or anti-war demonstrations against Vietnam. But it was too late to join clubs that would have helped with networking for jobs after college.
Into a recession. A friend advised the best place to be during a recession was in college. I worked seven days a week at two jobs to save money that summer. However, at the Canadian border, around three a.m., the official demanded, as normal, paperwork to prove I had funds to cover two years living in Canada. I didn’t. But I pulled out various papers from my purse and a backpack with bank statements. We were both tired and confused at 3 a.m. so the border control officer waved me in.
Later I got a part-time secretarial job to pay for food and rent, but was reported for deportation. I argued I had received conflicting information about working as a college student in Canada. I lost my source of income, but stayed at college. Then I worked illegally at a strip club which was much less evil-scented than such places in the USA. Until a bartender stole money from my tray. Eventually, that summer I received funds to write a publishing booklet for the Creative Writing Department, while fellow Canadian students fumed an American won the award. “It was the best suggestion,” was the Chairman’s response.
The following semester, I was given the opportunity to teach a composition class. Finally I was financially stable.
On and on and on. Lacking White privilege middle-class social skills, and retaining my lower class aggressiveness against injustice, my move from legal secretary into the college arena proved unsuccessful. I quit the college job, moved to L.A. and resumed being a legal secretary. When given a choice between teaching English as a Foreign Language outside L.A. or Saudi Arabia, I chose Saudi Arabia. I respected Islam having read an excellent book about it in high school. Additionally as a child I had wanted to be a cabin boy with Magellan when he circumnavigated the world.
Finally, I was middle-class. But I was still White and an American. I constantly found people projecting onto me their television images of privileged suburban two-story homes with two-car garages and landscaped front and back yards. People constantly overcharged me for both large and petty purchases. And projected anger, disguised jealousy I presumed, at my White American privilege.
Finally, I created a retort: “I’m sorry my ancestors moved to America and yours didn’t.”
I was too poor to retire in the USA, so taught in Turkey to consider it. Unfortunately, I watched Turkey’s leader turn into a dictator. I travelled to Ireland. Too expensive! Reading and experiencing bad weather were two different realities. I chose Portugal, where I felt kindred spirits may be more welcoming. I have avoided being dirt poor in the USA to being lower-middle class in Portugal, without a car. However, I am still White and American.
Then White privileged Americans retired to my small town in Portugal and drove rental prices sky high. I moved from that town west of Lisbon to a town across the Tagus River, south of Lisbon. Two years later, again, White privileged Americans are moving here, driving rental prices up. I often tell people I’m from a poor American background. I guess there aren’t that many of us travelling. Even I hate playing tourist: it’s just too darn expensive!
I had saved money in my USA college retirement fund. Matched to Social Security of $800 monthly (not paying into Social Security as a low-paid teacher overseas), I have chosen to live well for ten years then die. Dying at 76 avoids many old age medical, financial and mental problems. Dirt poverty in old age is to be avoided at all costs.
So yes, I am White and American. Yes, I have been somewhat privileged because of my skin color. I worked and paid my own tuition in high school. I worked and was poor in college but knew education was my salvation. I was able, with a Masters, to experience many world cultures, fulfilling a deep desire to understand human nature. I’ve had a few Black friends as I haven’t encountered many of them as colleagues.
In 1964, with the Civil Rights Movement, I was shocked that Americans were forbidden jobs because they were Black, as my mother had been because she was Irish. That Blacks, even though they are full-fledged American citizens, were refused American freedom and discriminated, poorly educated, exploited by nearly everyone in the USA – that the USA was not free for everyone. At 14, this disillusion with my own country and adults was horrifying.
Recently, I was ashamed to learn my Declaration of Independence signer ancestor had owned slaves.
Coming from a family of Chicago policemen – my uncle was a cop too and five of his seven sons were cops – and now two Arizona grand-nephews are cops – I am appalled that the police have not been held accountable, BY LAW, for their actions. I am appalled that even today, some cops, despite their stressful jobs, think it’s their right to beat up, illegally arrest, harm and kill Blacks, Hispanics and others.
In Portugal, as a woman, I am safe, as I was in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman – 15 years. I never felt safe in America, as do many women of every color. In Portugal, I watch the news in deep-seated, hoping for change. But what I see is Trump/Pence/McDonnell/and the 1% destroying my birthplace.
Yes, I understand that not everyone is born with enough intelligence to be able to think rationally. Yes, I understand many are motivated by survival disguised as fear and anger, and prejudice against ‘others/strangers’ – a normal, biologically ingrained part of humanity. I once interviewed a BBC London manager. He said, “We give the people what we think they need. Unlike you Americans who give people what they want.” Realizing now that at least 20% of Americans, millions, are physically unable to think, are ruled by emotions, and are unable to filter truth from fiction, while the 1% manipulates them, I now understand that BBC manager.
Yes, I was right to think education was my life-saver. It is everyone’s life-saver. It needs to be equalized across the country.
And yes, the 1% should be looted of their billions, won by government laws hidden to the public, and by family trusts passing on untaxed millions to grand and great-grandchildren. Gates should now bequeath its computer operating system into the public domain. Corporations should share profits with workers, not just CEOs (this was changed by government laws – let’s rechange it!)
Why in the world do Americans need drugs imported from around the world? Why can’t Americans be happy with beer and television and a decent life? Why can’t parents enjoy and be entertained by their kids? Because the Republicans and Trump/Pence/McDonnell and the 1% have robbed them of this possible reality. RETURN IT!
PS: And yes, marihuana makes most television seem Shakespearean. And a cocaine high of 20 minutes is nothing compared to making love for hours. And yes, covid-19 feels like the Black Plague death dancing at life. And yes, I probably won’t live long enough to see society change for the better in the future. And yes, I protested against the National Guard on campus, and like millions, was shocked by the Kent State murder of four anti-Vietnam War demonstrators. And yes, I am still White but do not feel privileged because I missed the USA culture of political correctness and lived paycheck-to-paycheck most of my life in the USA. And yes, it is with great sorrow to watch the United States of America kill itself.