When I was in college, I would sometimes have those blissful days on campus that everyone else would get to have, but then they would be interrupted by a phone call. “She’s in the hospital.” My little sister had to be hospitalized for multiple injuries. Playing sports? Rock climbing accident? Trapped in a blizzard from skiing? No, at thirteen she was jumped at school during P.E. Her shoulder was permanently injured, she was seriously bruised and scarred, her back was seriously injured. A group of girls waited for the teacher to go out of sight, kicked her in the back so that she dropped to the ground and then kicked her while she was on the ground. What was her crime? She had a mutual crush on a black boy. She was in junior high.
My little sister has Aspergers, though you wouldn’t know it by looking at her unless you spent a lot of time with her. She’s tall, slender and has a face that carries of the beauty of her Chocktaw ancestors. In the summer she has a beautiful, golden tan, another gift from her blood. She is an especially beautiful girl. She is sassy, smart and immeasurably kind. She rescues animals and when food drives came around she would have given away the food we so desperately needed if we let her, not for extra credit but because it’s the right thing to do. My little sister’s Aspergers is hard to spot because she’s extremely high functioning, but it makes it difficult for her to understand shades of gray in people. She doesn’t understand irony and when she adopts a moral principle she will carry it to her death, in this case almost literally. My little sister doesn’t really understand social dynamics so she didn’t know about the unspoken rule that white girls cannot date the popular black boys. After she was jumped my parents asked me to sit down with her and try to help her understand race. Our fear was that this trauma would fill her with hate and lead her in a dangerous direction. I tried really hard, but for the life of my sister, she didn’t understand why she couldn’t be attracted to the people she grew up with.
At the time, I was trying to get Stanford to admit that there were poor people on campus and then that there were poor kids who didn’t identify with the racially based groups on campus that needed help. One of my friends was severely harassed for being poor and white, at one point she was assaulted and her things were spit on. Stanford simply moved her out of the dorm and then asked the boys for a half-hearted apology, they didn’t have to move, weren’t on academic probation, and could still harass her on campus. I was told that because she was white, their targeted behaviors and language didn’t count as an Act of Intolerance because she didn’t belong to a marginalized group. Our Acts of Intolerance protocol is a good step because it places more serious responsibility on the community. My friend and I fought hard to get class added.
I remember going to focus groups as a very scared and traumatized 18 year old and being told I didn’t exist or that my suffering during my childhood didn’t matter. I felt uncomfortable with the rich students on campus, but I also wasn’t wanted among the people of color on campus either. I didn’t know what to do, I have never lived in a homogenous community. My high school had many things wrong with it but my classmates were amazing. Thoughtful, diverse and kind. I had friends across wide cultural spectrums. We celebrated Polynesian holidays with roasted pigs, Black history month with a thoughtful, student based presentation and Christmas with candy canes and those little snowflakes you make out of white paper because we couldn’t afford decoration. Our student government was run by strong women from every racial group. And before our community was decimated and basically wiped out by NCLB and the depression, we all also dated and married each other. My family has never been and is not all white. My sister in law’s isn’t either, my fiance’s isn’t either. My nephew is Choctaw, German, Indonesian, Mexican and Black. He’s beautiful.
But my classmates didn’t grow up in this kind of the community. Almost none of them grew up among the working classes and those that did were from the major metropolitan cities where there are still neighborhoods and resources. They didn’t think that I existed or that my community existed. They told me I didn’t belong. But what hurt the most was when some students told me that I hated everyone I had ever loved because I was white.
I remember the first boy who ever had a crush on me. It was the boy in 4th grade that I said was a genius and then got in trouble for it because the teacher thought that giving eight year old Mexican boys self esteem wasn’t her job. His name was Hector. He invited me to his home and his mother seemed concerned when she saw me and then gave me lots of food. I was envious because he had a warm home and community to go home to. Every time we got evicted, I moved into a new home and community. All of them had aspects that are beautiful and aspects that are ugly but they all had a mix of people living in them. No one thought I was weird growing up. I was usually the most poor and most disadvantaged kid in the room and I am grateful to all the moms that ever met me and loved me, even when I wasn’t the same color as them.
My family has been like this for as long as we trace back. And if my family had become angry after watching what happened to my sister, it would have been understandable. It still wouldn’t have been ok, but at the end of the day, people don’t care about politics, they care about their families. It’s easy to lecture people on morality when the lives of children you love aren’t involved. However my family didn’t do that, instead they asked me to help her navigate the world better. We understand that many black women feel that it is wrong for white women to date black men. It’s understandable given our country’s history, but that’s not the reason we didn’t become blindly angry. We decided that we didn’t want revenge, we wanted healing.
For most of human history we have fought wars of revenge, which are slightly more moral than wars for money. Prophets in every culture tried to tell people to be kind, to share, to treat everyone as if they are human and to love their neighbors. Often they did this at great risk to themselves. Many gave their lives. The sweet, sensitive people that want this are silenced quickly by those who are not mostly because the sweet ones live by their principles.
So I just want to say this as loudly as I can
You can choose love.
You can choose love.
You can choose love.