a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Freedom to Live

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Freedom to Live

SUMMARY: Following yesterday's Freedom to Roam--but with a different demographic.
From a facebook discussion about racism, homophobia, and the like, since the riots and protests have dominated the news for the last 2 weeks: June 13, 2020

The discussion was long and good. Trying to summarize:  The Civil War wasn't really that long ago--people may still be around who talked to people who had stories from their childhood.  My family wasn't from the south, but my mom up until she died shortly before 2020 could talk about things that her grandparents did as children--she was born in the '20s, so her grandparents would've been born in the 1850s or '60s. Attitudes die hard, and much of the south is still proud about seceding from the Union over state's rights. (They'll also claim it wasn't about slavery. Right. Read some of their secession statements.)

Jim Crow laws existed through most of my elementary school years until the Civil  Rights Act of 1964.

Loving vs Virginia, striking down anti-miscegenation laws (you can't marry outside your "race"), came as I neared my Junior High School years.

This, from my life, somewhere between those two events. Nothing dramatic in some ways, but oh so telling.

When I was in roughly K-1st grade, we lived in a well-integrated neighborhood in southern California. It wasn't something I thought about; it was just that way. My good friend next door from kindergarten spoke English pretty good; her parents were OK at it, her grandparents who lived with them spoke only Japanese as far as I can recall. I had only a vague idea about what or where Japan was, so it didn't matter.

The family that moved in with kids our age, none of whom spoke much English at all, I think were glad to encounter my mom who did her best with a Spanish-English dictionary to welcome them and get to know them and assist as needed after their flight from Cuba with nothing. Mom did try to explain about Castro and how badly he treated his people, either trapping them in Cuba or imprisoning them for trying to leave or, when they left, as with this family, confiscating everything they owned, including the woman's wedding ring. That they were Cuban was meaningless. That Castro was a bad man was the message.

The black family in an apartment between all of them also had a son my age who was in my K class. We were all just kids.

My class back then. Who's a blonde female minority of one? I never noticed that, either.
Then we moved to a growing town in Colorado, then in the mid-'60s to an IBM town north of New York City.

As far as could tell at my age, they both seemed pretty much like everywhere else I lived. [In retrospect: other than the couple of years described above: white, middle-class professionals, no divorces, I'm not sure I even knew what divorce was.]

A family moved in next door to us with five girls  our ages. (We also were 5 girls.) They were black. You can't help but notice that in a world of light-colored faces, but it didn't matter one way or another to me. Was friends with the girl my age and somewhat less with the other ages, which is normal. Had her over for sleepovers a couple of times--that's what we kids did as an excuse to stay up late, I suppose; so, different friends, different weeks.

Visited her home often. One day when I went over there, she introduced me to her grandmother. I said, "Your grandmother? But she's white?" And she said something like, yeah, so? I just had to process it for several seconds, then fumbled a bit, realizing that I had just embarrassed myself, and decided, yeah, so? I had certainly picked up the world view from somewhere (probably in southern CA, just from my experience, not anyone told me) that  people married people who looked like them. Had never had an opportunity to see otherwise. Now i did have the opportunity, and that was that. I was in 5th or 6th grade.

But it speaks to how segregation, whether mandated or societal, enforces assumptions about how people should live.

Same timeframe. Had started to spend time with a girl from a couple of blocks over. We'd play together-- barbies or read comics or just doing whatever kids do. (She wasn't into my other favorites like cowboys or Batman or Green Lantern or climbing and exploring.)  One day while I was with her, a couple of other girls called me from behind another house to come over for a minute.  I did, and they said, why are you playing with her? She's Jewish!  I knew that Jewish was a different religion, because when my girl scout troop went caroling in the neighborhood, we sang different songs for the Jewish houses (dreidels and the like). We knew which houses they were because all the kids knew all the other kids.  We were all in classes together--there were only 2 classes of each grade level, and each year was a different mix of us.

But I didn't know that that meant I  shouldn't play with someone. I have no idea what I said to them or asked them. I have no idea what they told me about why. I think I ran home and asked my mom, leaving my poor friend behind. And I think I got some explanation that those girls were not nice people and being Jewish was just like anything else that any people are--just one descriptor and nothing to affect whether I played with them or not.  I'm pretty sure that I didn't understand then that my dad's dad had been born into a Jewish household.

So, anyway, the girl and I continued our friendship and were best friends until we moved away.

The only photo I ever took of my best friend
while living in NY.
Oh! Found this in my dad's photos. Us at Halloween.
I think because I wanted to use my grampa's former
magician outfit, and she had a fancy white dress.
I made the hat myself.  Also: Sam the family dog.

So much peer pressure is out there, and if it comes from your parents instead of, or in addition to, your neighbors, it could be powerful.

Here in Silicon Valley, we had only two black families in my neighborhood with kids who went to my Jr High and High School.  Encountered the ones my age and was a casual friend of one; didn't think about it, she was just another kid working in the school library with me. Doesn't mean that I wasn't becoming fully aware-- the "race" riots of 1967 and 1968 were the year before we left NY, and I learned a lot when MLK Jr was killed, and I learned more when our class' trip to Washington DC was postponed because of the  additional race riots and protests.

And here we are in 2020, still repeating. And repeating. And repeating.  As protests exploded around the world at another needless death of a black man.

Disclaimer: Written all in one flow from the brain. It's long. Maybe a little interesting and/or relevant.


  1. And here's where our childhoods, so similar in so many ways, is different. I grew up in totally white communities. I never knew, or even saw, anyone different than our family growing up until I got to college. But you and I have had similar thoughts, though you express them far more eloquently...that the Civil War WASN'T that far back in history. I thought that a lot during the race riots in Detroit in the 60s, that it had only been a hundred years, and my grandma at the time was nearing 100, so almost IN HER LIFETIME! I still think that way though it's been 60 more years.

    1. The class photo you see represents maybe 2 years of my life. What I remember before that: A couple of years in a rural area where my dad taught math & science at the high school; only people I remember were the white family upstairs with a boy my age and the doctor who lived in the next house over (seemed like a long way away to a 2-to-3 year old) whose daughter Suzanne Lazar was my best friend; they were Polish is all I remember (and white).
      Next my parents managed a lodge owned by the Adirondak Mountain Club, which was pretty elite, and in fact we left when my parents got into it with the owners about a young black man that they hired... that's a different story.
      Even the 2 black gals my age at the high school were only peripherally aware of each other, if at all. What we did have was a growing population of Chicano students (as they called themselves), none of whom I ever recall being in a class I was in, and a few kids of Asian descent who were born or at least raised here so there were no foreign accents; they were in my classes and some among my friends.

      So, still, pretty white.

      Sounds like your grandma had a good long life. That's pretty cool.