Cherese Smith is an English student of Professor Sarah Zale at Shoreline Community College in Shoreline, Washington. She read and responded to the YES! Magazine article, "Why My Dad's Going Green," by Kate Sheppard. She is the college/university winner for our Fall 2011 writing competition.
Writing Prompt: Has anyone close to you—a friend or family member—chosen to distance themselves from you or sever the relationship because of what you believe? What was the issue? How did you feel? Were you able to resolve it?
The Racist in the Room
We’re taught in schools and society that we should all be considered the same, regardless of the color of our skin. What then, when the message at home isn’t congruent with that of what we are taught in school? My grandmother and I have argued about this a great deal. In the YES! Magazine article by Kate Sheppard, “Why My Dad’s Going Green,” she experienced a similar situation. Kate’s father disapproved of her beliefs concerning politics and the environment, just the way my grandmother disapproved of my beliefs having to do with race. Although I was brought up in the same fashion as my grandmother was raised, the economic circumstances we grew up in may account for our differing views. Throughout these experiences with my grandmother, I have learned how people become racist.
I love my grandmother with all my heart. She has shown me more love and compassion than anyone in my life. On the other hand, I was watching a documentary on the civil rights movement in Little Rock, Arkansas, and I saw the same anger from the white students that I’ve seen in my grandmother. I cried for most of the film. I realized that my grandmother has shown me more hate than anyone I’ve ever met.
Growing up, I had a good friend named Rudy. My grandmother hated him because he was Mexican. One day, Rudy was standing on the other side of my fence, and we were talking. My grandmother was coming home from the store, saw him talking to me, and tried to run him over with her van. He hopped over the fence and ran away. We were only ten years old. Her hatred was obvious to everyone around her.
She made me feel horrible inside every time I would try to talk to her about this problem. She would call me a spic lover, and tell me not to call her Grandma anymore. She even removed me from her will when she found out that I had a crush on a Hispanic boy.
When I was eighteen, my family and I went out to dinner. We were sitting at a booth, and on the other side, there was a Hispanic family.The family had a little baby girl who kept popping her head up and looking at us from the other side of the booth. My boyfriend at the time had no idea how racist my grandmother was. He turned to the baby and said, “Oh! What a cute baby!” He turned back around only to see my grandmother’s face filled with anger, and she started making disgusted noises with her mouth. She said,“That’s a slimy nasty baby!”
“Stop talking like that Grandma! It’s just a little baby!” I hissed quietly. She looked at me, stood up, and said, “Ohhhhh. I forgot. You think they are human!” She started shouting all kinds of obscenities about Hispanics as she stormed out of the restaurant.
My grandmother was not always like this. She used to be so happy. Living in Las Vegas, we could smell when it was going to rain. We would walk outside, take a deep breath in through our noses, and my grandmother would say, “Do you smell that, kids? It’s going to rain!” She would giggle and laugh as she chased us through the hot Vegas rain.
My grandmother moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, in 1952. She had no college education so she did manual labor at a construction site. Later, she opened Morlite Window Cleaning and received a lot of business from the casinos. She worked hard.
Things started to change in Las Vegas as the Hispanic population grew. Hispanic people were willing to do the same work for less pay. My grandmother began to resent Hispanics because her customers were leaving for cheaper prices. The more business she lost, the more sad and angry she became. It changed her; she let her anger and resentment turn her into a bigot.
Before I learned the practice of compassionate listening, I never really listened to my grandmother. I just thought she was racist and that was that. I believed she had no right to feel the way she does. This journey has been—well—hard. Slowly, through compassionate listening, I have begun to understand that by resenting my grandmother for her hate and racism, I have made myself part of the problem. I am now part of the solution.