“I am not a racist”

blackwhitehands“I am not a racist.”

It’s so easy for a white person like me to say that and think I actually know what I’m saying. But is it true? I was raised in a white community in Connecticut in the 1950s, and there were racists there. Even my mother was a racist, although she would never admit it. There was only one black family in our town at that time.

But when I was 13 years old, I fell in love with jazz and decided I wanted to play jazz piano. Suddenly, almost all my heroes were black people. I worshiped them, collected photos of them, and of course bought their records and listened to them. This opened up a whole new world for me.

During the following decades, after I began to play professionally, I worked with many black players, and also had many black friends over the years. I had two marriages to black men, the first one back in the 1960s, when mixed marriages weren’t common at all. I continued to consider black musicians my heroes and mentors.

Then, in the 1990s, I moved to Brazil, to Rio de Janeiro, where there is a large black population. I felt right at home. I believed there couldn’t be anyone less racist than me. But recently I’ve been reading a book called Growing up Black, by Jay David, and it’s a serious wake-up call. The book is a collection of black childhood experiences, including some well-known names, throughout American history.

Reading the stories of what it was like for these people to grow up in America rattled me to the core. I realized that no matter how many black friends, colleagues, and even husbands I had, I would never, ever understand and certainly never feel what it was like to be a black person in America or anywhere else.

I used to take pride in the fact that I was “color blind.” Now I see it differently. It isn’t for me to “unsee” the blackness of my black friends, consciously or otherwise. To do so, I believe, would dishonor them. The best I can do in my ignorance is to love them with all my heart and soul.







Filed under racism, Uncategorized

10 responses to ““I am not a racist”

  1. Libby

    As you know I had black boyfriends as well–In the 60’s in Boston!! I was treated with isolation by my former friends! Did not care..I was in an isolated “community” on the racetrack..Much later in the 90’s–much different–treated with respect…I learned from a black client (older woman) when she called me racist just because I was white! That was an eye opener for me..so angry..then I realized that must be what it felt like to be black! where I am now there is very few black people–none in Dundee but in Penn Yan and Watkins Glen—was 1 black family here when I was in school…still quite of bit “racism” around here as a result of no contact or social experiences with blacks!

  2. I think I would feel uncomfortable now if I had to go back and live in a mostly white community, especially after living in Brazil for nearly 20 years!

  3. This is wonderful. I agree with your conclusions. Amen.

  4. Thanks for a wonderful entry, Amy. When I hear people say “I don’t see color,” I think “Wow! You are missing so much!!!” I am speaking as someone who has to put on really dark lipstick so I will show up in my passport picture.

  5. thanks for this Amy — one thing I tell people a lot is that being “color blind” is about the worst thing you can tell a black person (or any person for that matter). you are making us invisible. it reminds me of the feelings of the protagonist in Invisible Man by Ellison. it’s not cool at all.

    you are a sweetheart though and a woman who is always growing and learning. i love that you came to this realization and shared it with everyone. kisses.

  6. Thanks my dear chum! You’re the sweetheart!

  7. Brian McMillen

    Hi Amy,

    As Thurgood Marshall said, “I never had to look in the mirror to be reminded I’m black.” I relate to your words, and just listen when a black person expresses themselves about their experience. How can I judge?? I guess the same goes for any other person. We lead complex lives as individuals, but the black community has its own broad stereotypes, as we know.

    Anyway, thanks for sending. What’s happening in your world? Long time no chat! Glad it’s spring and hoping for our American Spring, the big purge.

    love from Brian

    • Hi Brian, thanks for that Thurgood Marshall quote…that’s a good one!
      Not a whole lot happening in my world…some translation work, a little work on my band charts, and reading a lot of spiritual stuff and contemplating…winter will be here soon. I can imagine that spring up your way is quite glorious! xoxo

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