In short, don’t humiliate yourself or your race. They hate you. Never forget it.
by Tracy Abel (for AmRen)
I grew up in a suburb of white, middle-class families. My schooling, from elementary school through college, was with people who were also overwhelmingly white and middle class. Like so many others, I was reared to think that “all men are created equal” and that people should be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. Since my ears could hear, I was taught blind faith in color blindness and the virtues of diversity.
My mother is in the medical field and my father worked for the New York City Transit Authority. Both are lifelong Democrats, working people who never had much time to study culture or politics. The only instruction they ever gave me in politics was that the Democratic Party was for the working people and the Republicans were for the rich. My mother taught me never to be judgmental, and to love everyone the same, especially those less fortunate than I. She told me discrimination was wrong and that all people should be treated equally.
I have a bachelor’s degree in sociology. Looking back, all my professors were white and very liberal. College was the first place I ever heard race discussed seriously, and the message was constant: diversity was vitally important and whites were guilty. My fellow students had been brought up just as I had been, so my professors had very fresh meat to feast on. I graduated from college the perfect racial liberal.
Like so many white, middle-class girls from the New York City suburbs, I therefore decided to serve the downtrodden. I knew I could never live well on my salary, but the satisfaction and moral superiority I would enjoy over friends in business would be worth the sacrifice. I would venture into the ghettos, much like an urban Jane Goodall, and protect noble souls from the evils of white privilege and arrogance. I genuinely believed I would be making amends for the terrible acts of my ancestors.
The first job I took as an adult was in the daycare center of a domestic violence shelter on Staten Island, New York. It was part of a network of organizations run by a large charity called Safe Horizon.
This was my first real encounter with blacks and Hispanics. My supervisors were black and Hispanic, the clients were black and Hispanic (I never saw a white woman come in), and I was one of the only white faces in the neighborhood. I felt as though I had to prove to these women and teach their children that white people were not their enemy. I thought that if I could make them see me as a good person and not as a “white person” I could help make the world a better place. I was convinced I had nothing to fear, and that my generosity would certainly be noticed and appreciated.
The women who came in did not have to prove abuse; they just had to show a police report. Later, in conversations with the mothers, I learned that much of the abuse was phony. All they had to do was walk into a precinct and say they had been assaulted. Before I took the job, I could not have imagined that anyone would lie about being abused.
The women could stay rent-free for three months, and then their cases were reevaluated for extension. All they had to do then was seem scared or present some marginally coherent story to get extensions. In some cases, women finagled the system and managed to stay in the shelter for nearly two years. Most got apartments to themselves, though some had private bedrooms but shared a kitchen and living room.
At the daycare center, my job was to take care of the children while the mothers were getting their lives back together. I also helped children get into schools in the neighborhood, as they now lived in a completely new area, and were not supposed to tell anyone where they were for fear the abuser would track them down.
I devoted myself to the children, some of whom, like their mothers, had suffered serious violence. I assumed that these women, who didn’t work, didn’t go to school, and didn’t seem to do much but have lots of children, would be experts in child rearing. Hispanics, especially, who all seem to have large broods and for whom procreation seems to be the center of their lives, would teach Americans new techniques in child care that would be a great lesson for our society.
I was horrified to find that black and Hispanic mothers alike routinely left their children in unchanged diapers until they were covered with feces. They would take children — often younger than 10 — to R-rated, midnight horror movies. They would let children play on busy streets without the slightest concern for their safety. They littered their quarters with pizza boxes, soda cans, filthy clothes, and upturned furniture.
I was shocked but not discouraged. I began spending extra hours after my shift ended, taking care of the children as if they were my own. I would wash their diarrhea-sodden bodies and clean their filthy apartments. I would rock crying, fever-stricken children to sleep while the mothers were out buying malt liquor and cigarettes with their WIC money (Women, Infants, and Children — a food-payments program for poor women with children up to age five), getting ready for a date with whatever ghetto gigolo they were courting that week. I would throw birthday parties for the children and attend school functions because their mothers could not be bothered. This devotion earned me no respect or appreciation. The mothers called me “cracka ass” and “white bitch” while I labored on their behalf.