Category Archives: racism

“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

Racism and the innocent mind…

This is an excerpt from my book:

When I was four we moved to East Islip on Long Island in the state of New York. I don’t remember much about it, except that our house had a little pond with a bridge over it in the back yard, and the beach we went to in the summer was segregated — although I didn’t know what that meant at the time. I recall pressing my nose up against a chain link fence and seeing people with brown skin on the other side. I was fascinated. I had never seen a person with brown skin. I didn’t understand why we couldn’t go over there and play with them. They were different, so I reasoned that they must be special.

What I didn’t remember — Ma told me this story many years later — was that when we were still living in Cleveland and I was just a toddler, one day she took me and Bertie to the dime store and we sat down at the soda fountain for something to eat. There was a big black man working behind the counter, wiping up our place with a damp rag. I had never seen a black person before, and I pointed and cried in delight, “Ma, look at the brown man!” My mother cringed with embarrassment, and the man behind the counter swore, threw his rag down on the floor, and stomped out of the store. I wish I could have said, “Wait! Wait! Some day I’ll marry two black men and be a jazz musician!” Too late.


Filed under racism