[continued from above]
Their grandmother (also coincidentally black) was totally supportive towards me as a teacher and person at all times. Never questioned my methods or approach (though many white parents and students did). She just tried her best to get those two wiggly boys to do *some*
practicing and do *some*
of what I asked of them. She was always respectful and deferential to me in a way that made me feel like I had raised her to be an equal without even trying to.
So when I add up all the experiences I've had in my all-too-short (and our lives are all all-too-short) life, I overall have to say that I've learned to not only love black people but respect and want to honor them as well. For they honored me. Except that one darn student with that remark about my fingernails. That stings, even today. I always look at my nails and think, "Oh crap, they're ridgier than ever today." But in my heart, I now realize that she never meant to hurt me. She just loved joking around (including practical jokes) too much to give it a rest. Not the world's most obedient student, let's put it that way!
I could scarcely talk her into sitting on the piano bench, let alone actually trying to play a song. 50-75% of her 30 minutes' lesson time was spent on her rifling through all my papers and files, looking for stuff to make fun of. [shaking head] Talk about incorrigible ...
So you'd think I'd have soon learned to take all her rib jabbing into stride. But I never quite did. That fingernail remark really hurt my feelings, and that can only mean that her opinion mattered a great deal to me.
So the times I've spent with black people have taught me a thing or two about their culture and personalities, but even more than that, I think those times taught me a thing or two about myself. They forced me to see my own weaknesses. They coaxed me into embracing just a little bit of my own humanness. They helped me see that it's okay for me to be imperfect. I don't need to be a perfect teacher. I just need to be a faithful friend.
Oh, but there was one sad time. A black lady was taking lessons from me -- and she was diligent at practicing. But alas, one day we were chatting and the subject of holidays came up. Upon which, I confessed to her that Halloween, rather than Christmas, was my favorite holiday. I even carried on a bit about how/why I loved that holiday, how it's like a celebration of the imagination in my eyes, etc.
Oh dear. Well this was a very Christian black lady with some very hard-core "Christian" views, and her pastor had definitely let her know that Halloween was no less than Satan's personal brainchild. This lady castigated me for the rest of her lesson time, warning me that I'd best learn the value of Christmas and cut it out with this Halloween crap. And then her lesson ended, she left, and I never saw her again.
I did apologize before she left, but the damage had already been done. Sigh. Well that wasn't a race problem, that was definitely a culture problem. Or should I say a church problem. Well whatever.
The point I get from all this is that breaking a race down into cultures isn't good enough. You have to break the cultures down into individual people before you can really understand them, no matter what the color of their skin.
Even from that last sad story, though, I did learn (just a little more) that I have a poor sense of what is and isn't safe to share in a social or public setting. Some sentiments are best kept private within one's own mind, or at least only shared with great caution and care (not wild, carefree enthusiasm). Sad lesson to have to learn.
And there was the young black lady who was Mormon, chose to serve a mission, and was in my ward (read: congregation in typical Christian jargon) when I was ward mission leader. She was a quiet, sad, angry person. I never knew quite how or why, but I supposed that white folks must have somehow wounded her deeply. She never trusted me. She never trusted my motives. I wonder if she was pushed into serving a mission against her will. I'll never know.
In science, it often seems that for each question we answer, ten new questions spring up in its place. That's how the problems of racial/cultural divides seem to be. Whenever I think I've got the answer to one question, I suddenly realize I have ten new indispensable questions on my hands.
Well what the heck, let's complicate the issue by mixing polyamory into the batter. Now I find myself flooded in a sea of questions. By now I almost want to skip the polyamory part and just figure out an answer to the one question: How have black people affected me, and what does that say about me? Am I just naive? Do I just want to believe that I care about black people because I'm ashamed of the church and heritage looming over my own white-centric childhood and background? Do I feel guilty for being white? for being a product of a race that once chained black people against their will, tore black families apart, and made them work harder than the livestock were forced to work?
Sometimes I'm sad that a chasm seems to exist between many black and white people. Sometimes I'm sad (and ashamed) to be white. But then I remember I'm also a hopelessly selfish person, and I feel fortunate to not have to go through the crap that so many black people have to go through.
Do I want them to "come to my poly potlucks" just so I can "apologize" to them in some indirect way? "Sorry about what my people did to your people." Would such an apology even matter after some 150 years after Lincoln was slain?
Some black folks have hurt my feelings. Most of them have helped heal the sickness in my heart (the genetic sickness, and the socially-programmed sickness). But all of them have left an impression in my soul that is eternal.
I'm just humbled and honored to be able to have the kind of opportunity that this thread represents. And when I move (less than a week away now) to Seattle, I hope I'll treat any minority folks I meet there in a way that honors them and doesn't wound them any further. Alas, I'll probably have to learn that skill by trial and error.