Seeing colour

Writing Self #3 – Racism

I grew up in the North Central neighbourhood of Regina.  Today it is known as a very rough neighbourhood, it was tough when I grew up there too. The school I went to was about 50% white kids and about 50% First Nations or as they were referred to, back then, as Indians. In school we all hung around together in our little groups.  It didn’t seem to really matter to most of the kids, if you were white or First Nations.  If you had the same interests, you hung out together at recess and after school. Most of us were poor, welfare kids and that was our common bond. It was also difficult to understand racism, when you heard First Nations kids calling each other “big Indian” or “squaw’ you didn’t think to much of it. My mom and stepdad had a First Nations friend at the time, and everyone in their group would refer to her as a “squaw” she would laugh about it and make some comment to them about their skin or some such and then everyone would laugh and carry on.  So this too lent itself to not seeing racism for what it was as a kid.

When I was between 11-13 two things happened that gave me some awareness that people of different skin colours were not acceptable.  I began babysitting for people in the neighbourhood to earn extra spending money.  I had two families I regularly babysat for. One family was a white family, the dad was a city policeman and the mom was a nurse so by “traditional’ thought a nice family.  My parents never worried when I was there, if I was later than expected getting home from babysitting from that house it was never an issue.  I never had to be home from their place at certain time even on a school night.  The other couple I babysat for was a mixed race couple the wife was white and the husband was black.  They weren’t what you would consider a professional couple like the first couple I mentioned but they both had good jobs and a decent home.  When I babysat at the second house, I had to be home at a certain time even on weekends, my parents wanted me to call them every couple of hours at least when I was there.  When I would balk at these rules and question why I had to do this I was told they didn’t trust this man. He had never done anything to me or in the neighbourhood that would cause any distrust, he treated me as well as the man from the other couple.   It was because the dad in the second house was black.

The second time it became apparent was when I was dating, as much as an 11-13 year old can and should be dating. I was “going out” with this boy from our class at school.  He didn’t look especially First Nations but he was a bit darker than I was.  I didn’t think much of it, he was good looking, had a long hair and rode a really cool bicycle what more did a 13 year old girl want.  We used to sneak around and meet at the local park, not because I thought it was a problem that he was First Nations but because I wasn’t allowed to date.  One day him and his friends rode by my house and stopped to visit with me and my friend who were sitting outside.  After they were there for about ten or so minutes I all of sudden had to go in and stay in.  My step dad then told me he didn’t want that “indian” hanging around the house.  We had done nothing for my step dad to distrust him it was just because he was ‘indian”.

When I think back to these instance that is when I began to see things differently.  I suddenly was aware of an uneasy feeling I would get when I would walk by men of a different race, something that had never bothered me before.  To this day it still makes me nervous.  The ironic part is that I should be more afraid of white men as they have done me far more harm than any other man of any other race.