The year was 1962, it was summer. My friend, Wally Williams, and I were sitting on the back stairs of his three-decker eating popsicles. For some reason we decided to kiss! I have no idea why, because my love of popsicles was definitely greater than my love of boys… but we did it anyway. It was over as soon as it happened and we happily went back to our melting ice pops.
I wouldn’t kiss another boy for many years and I wouldn’t kiss another black boy for a few more after that.
It was truly the age of innocence.
I had no idea that Wally was different from the other boys at my school. Well except for the fact that he didn’t have a Mom, now that was unusual! He and his brother were being raised by his Dad! …but as far as I was concerned, he was just a boy. I hadn’t been taught to see black or white yet.
The other night my husband and I were watching TV and I remarked to him, how surprised I was to see so many interracial couples living together happily on TV. (I mean look at Olivia Pope for goodness sake, she’s openly sleeping with the President of the United Sates and nobody cares!)
Don’t get me wrong, I think this is an amazingly good thing! I think it’s fabulous and seeing it gives me a sense of hope for the entire human race, but I’m surprised by it and it seems to have happened, over night! The inter-racial couple thing went from being taboo, to being kind of cool and trendy.
Unfortunately for me, I lived in a time when it was a huge “taboo,” and I have the emotional scars to prove it.
I grew up on Belmont Hill, in Worcester, Massachusetts. It was a cornucopia of races, religions and cultural backgrounds. For the most part, nobody really cared what you were. We were tough, inner-city kids and we were all “in it together;” middle class, blue collar families, fighting for a piece of the American Dream.
My parents never asked if my friends were black, white, Italian, Irish… as long as they were “good kids,” that was all that mattered. That is until I reached adolescence and started thinking about boys and dating.
I don’t remember how it started, but I remember my Mom and I having a discussion about dating; specifically, about dating a “coloured” person. (My Mom was from Texas and she used the term, “coloured,” a lot! My brothers and I never tired of asking; “… “Colored? What colour was she, Mom?” Her face would turn red and she’d say; “Black, I meant black.” It was hysterical!)
Anyway, she made it crystal clear to me, that although we were not a prejudiced against anyone, my dating a black guy (or my brother’s dating a black girl) was just not acceptable. I then then heard this gem come out of her mouth… “Blackbirds don’t mate with Bluebirds and Bluebirds don’t mate with Robins… that’s just the way it is.” “Ohhhh, okay Mom, now I get it, thanks!”
Neither of my parents were ever able to adequately explain why it was perfectly okay to have black friends, but not to date them. We agreed to disagree and my brothers and I continued to correct my Mom’s use of the word “coloured” until the day she died. It was still funny, so we continued to do it.
My first love was a nice Italian boy (who ended up being a heroin addict and dying at the age of 40!) My second love was, of course, a black guy… it was inevitable because the whole Blackbird/Bluebird thing, just never made any sense to me! !
It was 1972 and the world (as I knew it) was filled with love, peace and optimism…. there were no colours except those experienced after dropping a tab of Orange Sunshine!
I met him at Elm Park, through my friend Marilyn, but it would be another year or so before we’d meet up again and start dating. To me it was the most natural/normal thing in the world, I was in love and couldn’t care less what people thought.
I was 18, so my parents couldn’t really control what I did or who I dated, but needless to say, they were not happy.
In January 1973, after they had left on their yearly vacation to Ft Lauderdale Beach, I did the honourable thing and eased their pain. I packed my clothes and moved out.
I moved into a tiny one bedroom, 3rd floor apartment, on the wrong side of town. It was furnished with stuff from a friends Grandmother’s house (the Grandmother had just died!) and with hand-me-downs from other friends and stuff from second hand stores.
It didn’t matter… it was mine and I was free!
Even though the civil rights movement had started in the early 60’s, people’s perceptions hadn’t really changed all that much by the 70’s. Great strides in history had been gained in that 10 year span, but it would be decades before I’d see an inter-racial couple on TV!
I remember a world where I was literally spit on, as I walked down the street holding hands with my boyfriend; I remember feeling uncomfortable being blatantly stared at by people, as we sat in a restaurant trying to enjoy a meal; I remember being stopped outside a club by one of my ex-boyfriend’s friends. He was begging me to think about what I was doing and how “disrespectful” this was to my ex-boyfriend! Meanwhile, I’m thinking; “Wait, what?”
As it happened, my older brother Charlie was walking into the club and noticed the confrontation. He stepped in and told the guy, if he didn’t have a problem with who I was dating, than nobody should! I have never been so proud of my brother, as I was that night! Thank you Charlie!
Most people my age didn’t care, but there was this cut off point, and I’d say most people over 30, just could not get past the colour divide.
Things did change, but very slowly in the 80’s and 90’s. However, I remember being out with my Grandson (who is bi-racial) in 2002 and having people stare at us like we both had two heads! …maybe they just thought I was too old to have a 3 year old kid!
The world has changed a lot and thank God for that! I know we still have a very long way to go before people stop judging other people by the colour of their skin or by their gender identity, sexual preference, etc. but believe me we’ve come a long way!
I mean look at Olivia Pope (a black woman), “doing” the President (a white man) right there there on my TV screen!
“Mom…. check this out!!” *laughing*