With everything that's been going on in my life for the past month or so, I have wondered why I haven't cried.  None of it is end-of-the-world, but a lot of it has been emotionally trying: my son's increased misbehavior, kicking him out of the house, the demise of an important relationship. But no tears. Oh, my eyes welled up a few times, but never did overflow. And I wondered why. 

I've always expressed myself quite freely. Tears are so often part of my emotional response that my son learned early to ask, "Are those happy tears, Mommy, or sad tears?" Yet, I hadn't cried since Grandma Eleanor died in December, and even that wasn't a good, hard, cathartic torrent. 

Yesterday evening in Sociology class, the professor showed a 1991 ABC News report about the difference between how people are treated based on skin color. They followed two men for two and a half weeks. The men were the same age, had been friends since childhood, had grown up in the same neighborhood, had almost identical educations and worked for the same company in similar capacities. The only crucial difference between the two was strictly visual: one was white, the other black. 

ABC News paid for them to visit a large, Midwestern city and wired them for sound and followed them with hidden cameras. Each man went about the business of trying to find a job, looking for an apartment, car shopping and some regular daily activities such as clothes shopping and visiting a music store. Sometimes the white man would enter the situation first, followed a few minutes later by the black man. Other times it was reversed. Consistently, the two were treated differently, sometimes subtly, other times blatantly -- such as the job which was open for candidates when the white man applied, but had been "filled" when the black man came in moments after the white man had left. The white guy even went back a few days later and was again told that the position was open.

The same thing happened when apartment hunting: The landlord handed the white guy the keys to a unit and told him to go look around. The same landlord told the black guy that someone had put down a deposit on the unit early that morning.  When car shopping, the white guy was greeted as soon as he stepped on the lot, but the black man waited almost 10 minutes before anyone came out to speak to him, despite making direct eye contact with a salesperson earlier. At another dealership, each man expressed interest in the same vehicle and was "served" by the same salesman. Here's the info each got: 

                                                        Black guy                  White guy

Total cost                                        $9500                        $9000

Down payment required              20-25%                     10-20%                                                                  ($1900 - $2375)     ($900 - $1800) 

At the clothing and shoe stores, the black man was ignored while the white man was greeted and chatted up almost immediately. At the music store, which they visited separately but simultaneously, the black man was shadowed by a salesperson during the entire visit. The white man was not. 

All I could see was my son getting this same 2nd-class treatment from society and I became angry, helpless-feeling and horribly sad. And the tears flowed. My son AJ (left) with his cousin Jeremy

Although it was no cathartic torrent -- I was in a college classroom and trying to maintain decorum -- it was good to know that I can still cry. Perhaps this will open the gates to more open expressions of sorrow in the days to come. I certainly hope so.

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Comments:

Angie...
Jun. 17, 2008 at 3:49 AM

I just loved your posting !

Yesterday I cried, a cathartic torrent,  and more or less for the same reasons that you have stated in your post. It seems totally unjust that after so many years of trying hard to " integrate" and "assimilate", you are being reminded time and again, based in your looks and your accent that  whatever you do, it is just not enough!

Certainly it is hard to maintain decorum when you are being treated as a second class citizen, worst of all, as if you were inhuman. I have endure it all: the killer looks , the blatant  discriminatory treatment at some stores, well,  even insults from white homeless men, who cowardly hide behind their apparent insanity and walk around bitching about.

 The hardest of it all,is when your own kids are the target of these people and their bias. From the playground to the bookstore,  from kindergarden and all the way up to high school, it has been a trip living in a white/ non-white world. 

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