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Austin, United States

I have spent most of my career as a French professor and a research librarian, and have been reinventing myself as a writer. I’m...

"I've been this color all my life!"

It’s been an interesting day. Things have been taking a strange turn. here and there. Awaking to fog, one of my favorite kinds of weather. I was able to capture a few cool photos. It was a really unusual day – overcast all day. We don’t see much of that here. I enjoyed every moment of it! There’s a light rain outside right now, another delicious event. Another thing we have seen so little of in the past year. Thank God for the change! Ah, I am savoring the dripping sounds of rain. At least I think it’s rain…. I used to have an upstairs neighbor who did the unthinkable off the balcony. While I found it detestable, I have to say I also found it humorous. Kept the critters away. Kept me away too. I’d avoid the patio at those times….

Ah, there is variety in life! My mother in her wisdom used to say, “It takes all kinds!”. Speaking of kinds. I got into an interesting discussion with a lady on the bus today. She had very nice wavy, almost curly blond locks, a very presentable lady. We began talking about jobs, and she said she needed a job and had been applying, but they wouldn’t consider her because she was black. Are you sure, I asked her. She said oh, yeah! She had called about one job and asked if it was still open, and the lady said, Yes, come on in. So she did. As soon as the lady saw her and she asked about the job, the lady said, “We just filled it!”. Being suspicious, my new friend had a lady of a different color call and ask about the job, and the reply was, “Yes, it’s still open! Come right on in!” Hm. It does sound suspicious, doesn’t it? Then I said, “Maybe they weren’t the same lady, the one on the phone and the one you saw in person.” Oh, no, she replied, they were the SAME WOMAN! Hm. Then my new friend began talking about how hard it is to find a job if you’re black. I replied that it is hard to find a job period! She said, oh no, it’s harder if you’re black and a woman! That hit me kind of hard since I’m a woman. And I have been unemployed for some time. I began to wonder if maybe I was also black and hadn’t realized it yet. Tell me more, I said.

Well, my friend then advised me to see the movie, “The Help”, because she said it was just like that! I have not seen the movie. But I’ve lived the life. I’ve been “the help” for as long as I can remember. Well, at least the past umpteen years. Come to think of it, I was “the help” when I was growing up, because my mom didn’t see very well. But to tell the truth, I think it was good for me, and I enjoyed it…mostly. It was fun. Then in her later years, I was also her help, after she had a few strokes. We enjoyed that time too. So I could really relate to what the blond was saying. So I tried to say again that the economy was bad and that everyone was having trouble finding a job. She said, “Oh no! I know how it is! I’ve been this color all my life! If you’re black and a woman, that’s about the only kind of job you can get! My mother told me how it was when she was young.” At these words, I knew I liked this lady! (I remembered those days, but I didn’t tell her that. At least I think I remember those days….. I could swear I do, but I can’t quite remember.)

What struck me was the humanity of that sentence: “I’ve been this color all my life!” She did add later, “And it’s not going to change!” I found that funny, and so did a few other people on the bus! I replied, “I know, I’m not going to either. But you know, we white girls go out in the sun to get a tan, to look more like you! Isn’t that a kick?” She looked at me and said, “You know what? I was just saying that to a Cajun friend of mine YESTERDAY!” “I’M Cajun”, I told her. I told her that I would hire her right away…if I were doing the hiring. I would have, too. She had motivation, spunk, initiative, and a realistic grasp of the situation… apparently…and I liked her. And she was very interesting to talk to as well. Someone ought to give that lady a job. I don’t think you’d regret it. She looks like a great employee to me. But I was quite taken with her remark, “I’ve been this color all my life!” It spoke to me of years of struggle and suffering, of a humanity that goes on in all of us underneath the skin. Of course, most of us are not exempt from suffering at some point in our lives. “I’ve been this color all my life! It’s not going to change!” I wouldn’t want to change her. I liked her just the way she was. We both agreed that skin color has nothing to do with anything. She rightly said, “It’s not the color of your skin. It’s who you really are.” That’s a truth, an eternal one.

She also said that if you were over 45, forget finding a job. I had already heard that, over and over again, from different people. I see older guys out on street corners washing car windows for a buck or flying signs. There is a general malaise right now in the land. Or maybe it’s just Austin, with a huge pool of student workers from which employers may choose, and they’re all bright, motivated, young, fresh, full of energy. Wait a minute…I might be talking myself out of a job….

Still, as I have pondered the blond’s remarks, I had to think of how many times someone has been slighted to make them feel that they are being rebuffed because of the color of their skin. At the same time, I can say that it also works in reverse. Have you ever been one of 3 white people at, say, a Howling Wolf concert? (It was an accident.) :)) I can tell you, THAT is an experience you won’t soon forget! For one thing, the audience MOVES, swaying to and fro to the music. But I digress, kind of….

John Kennedy wrote of the ways in which diverse peoples, people of various races and national origins, have enriched American culture. And it’s a truth. On yet another bus today, I met a very inspiring black lady who began talking to me about black youth in places like Chicago and Detroit. We were talking about education, and she spoke of a mentality among some children that they don’t have to listen to the teacher, and about some of the tragedies that have occurred. I told her that I thought it was important to start out getting these young people to look at their own unique talents and to ponder how they might develop and apply those talents for the good of society, of mankind, and for their own achievement, how they might make the world a better place. Each one of us can make a difference where we are planted. But I was thinking about how creative some of these kids are. I’ve seen some great art work, for example. These kids could perhaps take an interest in architecture and build beautiful buildings. All it takes is someone to motivate them and help them find a place to study and work and learn. If you can give them a vision of the future, of what they can be, then you are on your way to doing something wonderful for them. But the girl told me that some of these kids had lots of issues, some anger issues and so forth. Then I thought perhaps a journal or diary which they could write in every day might be a great way of working out these things. Tell them at the beginning of the year that they can look at the beginning and end of their diary for the year to see what kind of progress they made. This can inspire youth to make some kind of progress.

She must have thought I was living in a dream world, because she said it was not an ideal situation. She gave me concrete examples of things that had happened to teachers. I decided I was not cut out for Chicago or Detroit. I probably do not understand the scope of the problem. But I love working with kids, and I figure maybe teachers who are better able to succeed in such environments as these difficult places, might be able to use some of these strategies. I know of at least one kid who took my words to heart and went to college. He became an engineer. He put aside gang ideals and set out to do something different in the world. I don’t know what ever became of him after that, because I lost touch when I moved away from that city. But I’m sure he is a success story.

I have to say that after those 2 conversations, I feel humbled and ignorant of so many things. Of course, I have felt that way before…. We all can find ourselves out of our element and feel a bit awkward. But these two women gave me something to ponder today. And something to add to my prayer list. May God bless the poor and help the needy and troubled. And may he get she and me a job…even a little one, Lord! I need to pay my bills.

And she may be black and I may be white, but I’m in the same boat with her. So may God bless us both!

But I’m keeping the neighbors awake again. Gotta run! Bye!

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