One of the most interesting legacies of having spent my childhood in America was the casual racism that permeated everyday life. After having spent my entire adult life in England, the comparative lack of racism astounds me, and I still marvel at the amount of mixed-race couples around as if that was something extraordinary.
At the age of eight, my mother got married, and the new ‘wealth’ brought by having a second income meant that I would be sent to Catholic school, which required tuition. I wasn’t sent there for religious reasons but for safety. The new Catholic school was no more than fifteen minutes by foot from my old public school, but demographically it was worlds apart. At the new school it was purportedly less likely that I’d end up being murdered on the playground there. That new school was totally white.
Ok, to be totally honest, there were a couple of Latinos, but one was Ecuadorian and the other’s family was from Belize. The point was made, however, that they were “not Mexican or Puerto Rican”. These were the bad kind of Latinos, the ones who joined gangs, sprayed graffiti and shot each other outside the 7-11. Ecuador? Belize? Nobody talks about them in the news.
In the final year at St Ferdinand Parish School we got two transfer students, a twin brother and sister. They were black. And they were the first black people we ever saw in six years at the school so far. Most people thought this was big news, but the twins were well-liked, so the news wasn’t spread in an aggressively racist way. These kids were “good” but black was still “dangerous”, so there was a standard reply whenever kids from the neighbourhood would say “I heard you got some black kids at your school now”… I’ll always remember the response, “No! They’re not black, they’re Brazilian”. I guess that not having your ancestors brought up picking cotton in the Alabama sun was safe, no matter what colour your skin actually was.
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