BLACK LIVES MATTER–MY OWN RELATIONSHIP WITH RACE
I had begun writing this article way back on the first day of June, when Black Lives Matter was really coming to the forefront of our collective consciousness. But I benched it because I thought that perhaps people would think that a little white girl had no right to be weighing-in on such matters.
And then yesterday, with the NBA players canceling two days worth of play-off games, while potentially ending the entire season right then and there, I feel that everyone who has been touched by racism should share their stories right now, to make others who have never been affected realize how prevalent this evil is in this country. As the saying goes, silence is compliance.
Throughout my life, first growing up in Brooklyn, then living with my African-American boyfriend in Rhode Island, and worst of all to me, right here in Los Angeles not too long ago, I’ve come up against racism, in very real ways. This article may get a tad long in the tooth, but these are just a few of the incidents I’ve dealt with along the way. I hope you read them all.
BROOKLYN AND RHODE ISLAND AND TRAVELS
From the very start of my life, because both my parents were teachers, (ergo we kids needed someone at home with us,) I was brought up by Edna, my best friend for the first eighteen years of my life, when her death scarred me forever. She was black, so, of course, I just felt like I was part black, too. I didn’t see us as any different from each other. She’s the person I shared all my secrets with, and she taught me the facts of life. My mother and I were also extremely close, and she was thrilled and relieved to share “motherly duties” with Edna.
One day, when I was no more than eleven, the mother of a friend of my brother took me aside to share what she thought was a funny story. She told me that her young son thought Edna was our mother. I wiped the smile right off her stupid face by doing an early version of, “And your point is?” No one ever said anything like that to me again, although I’m sure all the elementary school mothers whispered about the situation all the time. I never realized it might have been hard for Edna to always have to be around those unenlightened white women as my siblings and I were the only ones whose mother couldn’t attend our school functions because she had those in her own school to take care of. Therefore, Edna was the only black person anywhere in our neighborhood. How challenging for her.
Perhaps because of my loving relationship with her, I was always friends with black kids, (when they were around, which was not often enough,) not out of a desire to be a good, normal person, but out of not noticing differences among people. When I was about thirteen, and excitedly had a black friend from Saturday sewing class over, (because we had the most fun together,) her parents kept thanking mine profusely when they picked her up, and I didn’t get their extreme gratitude. What was the big deal? I didn’t realize that races were supposed to be segregated in Brooklyn back then. (And, very shamefully, probably still.) I just liked whom I liked. Period. We’re all equal, (except for the a-holes, of course.)
In high school, I was always friends with the few black kids in my grade. They always jokingly called me “NP,” because they deemed me to have “Negro Potential.” (Their words, not mine, by the way.) It’s a fact I’m still proud of today.
And then the guy who became my best friend when I was sixteen, and my family summered in Rhode Island, became my boyfriend at twenty. That was also so natural for me that I just realized I forgot to state his race here! This was way before interracial couples were so readily accepted as they are today. My white, Jewish, Brooklyn schoolteacher parents and Omar’s African-American ones were all okay with it. But they were about the only ones, outside of our Rhode Island College pals.
When my parents took us out to dinner in Brooklyn, everyone stared. (I’m sure his gigantic afro did not help matters.) I know some of my parents friends talked to them about the situation, like it would ever be changed! My parents stuck up for us all the time. (And they stayed friends with Omar for the rest of their lives, as I have with his entire family.)
Omar and I faced instances of prejudice wherever we went. Once, we drove from Rhode Island to visit his sister in Atlanta, before we commenced a cross-country drive back to Los Angeles, where we were already living. When we told his sister and her boyfriend that we were planning to just go straight across the country, they almost fainted. They pointed-out that a mixed couple absolutely could not travel across the south, something that had never even occurred to either one of us.
And there had been an earlier incident in Brooklyn. We had gone just about fifteen minutes away from my house to pick my brother up from visiting a friend. It was a very white neighborhood, but I had never thought of things like that my entire life. Some white (most likely Irish or Italian) guys outside a bar hit into our car. We got out to survey the damage, and were going to be nice and just let it go because our car was old, but once they got a gander at Omar, they blocked us in, started a fight, and called the police. Remember—they’re the ones who hit us!!! The police came and cited…Omar, of course. I promise you—he did nothing except get hit by the car of another. He subsequently lost his driver’s license in New York over it. We’re just very fortunate that nothing worse happened to us that night, especially in the wake of all the horrors we’re witnessing in 2020.
I experienced many similar race incidents over the years, but there are two episodes out here in LA that still chap my hide to this day. The first one came when I was about twenty-one. I had been very dear friends with a wealthy Greek family out here; the girl and I looked like twins, so, of course we loved each other. The younger brother and I were fun pals, and the older bro had a slight crush on me. The fam was very big in Greek society, so the kids had to get permission from their parents to be friends with me! Crazy, I know, but oh well. I had been to their home in Bel-Air, (of course!,) and then one week-end, I was invited to a party there, just us kids, not the grown-ups. I told the girl that I was thrilled because Omar would be moving out here the day before, and they could finally meet him. She got really flustered and hurried off the phone. She called me back the next day, and explained that they had to uninvite me because they just could not have a black guy at their party. She apologized profusely and said that’s just how it was in Greek society. (And according to NBA superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose nickname is “The Greek Freak,” it still is!) It was hard for me to understand, but I have always given her credit for being brave enough to at least be honest with me.
The same cannot be said for a Jewish friend I had back then, “had” being the operative word here. In that same summer as the party above, this one called and invited me to her pool party for that day, which most of our mutual pals would be attending. I loved fetes like that! I told her I was thrilled because “Omar and I love pool parties,” and that we’d see her in a little while. She sounded strange and hurried off the phone. As we were excitedly getting ready, she called about ten minutes later and said the party was off because she had to go visit her aunt. How weird, I thought, that she had planned a whole party and invited everyone without knowing she had family obligations that day!
But Omar knew what was happening right away. He said that he had expected that second call. So I made us drive over to her house anyway, and stood outside, where we could see the pool, and, of course, the party was still on. Only with all white people. I was apoplectic! But Omar was used to it. I never spoke to her again. After I didn’t answer even one of her many calls, she finally got the hint that our friendship was over.
I didn’t even bump into her until many years later. I’ll never forget it—it was in front of the Mark Taper Forum, on an opening night. She ran right up to me, with a big hello. She said she had missed me and thought of me often, and wondered why we had drifted apart. Without skipping a beat, I said, “Oh, that’s because you’re a racist bitch.” Right before I turned and walked away, I was happy to her mouth drop open and her lose a couple of shades of her white skin.
And guess what? Both those former pals are also named…Karen! [Note: I’m not promoting the idiotic use of my name to indicate bad women—I’m just commenting on the coincidence of all of us having the same name. That’s all.]
Perhaps the worst incident with racism came at notoriously-racist (at least back then) Disneyland. Omar and I had taken a couple of his friends, both white guys, there for the day. We were on Tom Sawyer’s Island. I was sitting on a rock, Bobby and Mike were standing at the water’s edge, (with Mike perhaps smoking a roach; that bit has always been in dispute,) and Omar was standing alone off to the side, nowhere near those other two. All of a sudden, I heard two security guards say, “Let’s go get that guy!,” and point at Omar! I jumped up to run over and warn him, but my foot got stuck in a hole, causing me to take a very bad spill. [Sidebar: That’s what set-off all my orthopedic issues for the rest of my life.] The guards grabbed Omar, asked if he was with “those guys,” and…threw him out of the park! Not the three of us white people, only the black guy, who was doing nothing but standing there, minding his own business! (We all left with him, of course. Duh.)
Many years later, (and not so long ago, actually, when I would have thought that racism was a thing of the past, at least here in socially-conscious Los Angeles,) when I was doing my TV show, I became a “promoter,” (which meant I was in charge of a few nights,) in several dance clubs in town, mainly in Beverly Hills. Many of the owners (all Caucasian, of course,) consistently had a problem with my guest list, because it was usually around two-thirds African-American. I had fight after fight with them over it, even though they were making money hand over fist on my nights. They didn’t want to fire me because they were fans of my show, and were afraid that I’d malign them on air, but as soon as my white male partners figured-out how to oust me, they did. Even though my dancing days were far from behind me then, I was lucky to get out of the biz.
And now it’s 2020 and America is still going through all this. Although the existence of way too many evil cops doesn’t mean entire forces are of like minds, at least their heinous crimes have brought much-needed attention to the issue of racism in this country. Yes, professional sportsmen sitting-out some games doesn’t really solve the problem, but at least it’s a way-overdue start. Let the solution begin with each and every one of us. Please.