My mom has held many jobs throughout her life: elementary school teacher, juvenile detention officer, youth diversion coordinator. Perhaps one of the most interesting was her tenure at Opportunities Industrialization Centers. OIC was started by the late Reverend Leon Sullivan to provide job skills and employment opportunities for African Americans.
We’ve never really talked about what she did there, but I’m guessing it was some type of employment counseling. In any case this was forty-some years ago, and other than being told about it after the fact, I have no recollection. (I’ll come back to this in a minute).
Let me add that, as a child, race was never discussed–people were people. That I know of, my parents never displayed any latent, or overt, racism. Of the things from my childhood I can be thankful for, this is near the top of the list.
That said, I can’t say that they went out of their way either to expose my brother and I to other cultures. Mine was by-and-large a sheltered, white, suburban, middle-class upbringing.
As one of our core values, despite a similar middle-class setting, my wife and I are trying to instill in our kids the notion that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female–for all are one in Christ Jesus.” That we all stand equal before God, and equal in our need of Jesus.
People are people.
Back to OIC:
As I said, I have no recollection of this time–I was two, or three–but my mom tells me that she brought me with her to work.
The reason is perhaps lost in the mists of time; maybe it was to expose me to different people (one day I’ll write of eating pizza with her clients at a halfway house), or maybe she just couldn’t get a sitter that day? I don’t know. What I do know is:
As (she tells it) we were walking down the slate gray steps–my chubby hand in hers–I started to point, and said–over and over:
“Sanford! Sanford! Sanford!”
Because I was so young, and didn’t have the words, I used the one I knew:
The only African Americans that were real to me were the ones I’d seen on T.V.
Thus they were all “Sanford.”
(Okay, that was a joke–for the five of you old enough to get it).
The way my mom tells it, she clutched my little paw all the harder, and walked probably faster than my stubby legs could carry me.
All the way to her office.
I never again visited OIC.
But, despite our issues over the years, and the lack of a common faith, I can say this: I’m proud of my mom for trying to make a difference.
How about you? How old were you when you first became aware that race was a thing? How has T.V. shaped your reality?