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Black Folk

I grew up in a very white middle class neighborhood and had barely even seen any black skin before I was 12. My grandmother used words like "negro" and "colored." I had never heard of the Tulsa race massacre, which had happened only sixty years before. And when I DID learn about it, they didn't call it a massacre, they called it a riot, which seemed to justify the murders.

When I entered an "integrated on purpose" school system, I generally just felt uncomfortable. Black folk looked different. Smelled different. Used different vocabulary and a difference cadence that was hard to follow. They were a lot louder than my family of origin and said things much more directly than I dared. Because I was uncomfortable, my hackles were always up.

When a black girl stole some of my notebook paper, I immediately believed it was because she was racist. Once my mother asked me what I would thought about white people marrying black people and I told her I just thought it would be better for people to keep their races pure. I am ashamed of my ignorance. I am sorry for my assumptions.

By the end of my seven year stint in that system, I loved black people and I was no longer afraid. They made me laugh. They made me smile. My own participation in the systemic oppression of their people made me cry. I was proud to be associated with them and to be involved in their culture.

What changed? It was love from the black folk—a willingness to let me in, inclusion in their conversations, general friendliness and complicated handshakes offered to the awkward white girl. Black folk helped me love black folk.

Here's a cool video on the school I attended:

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