Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Compare and Contrast

I promised myself that I would write about race. People I respect are asking us all to speak about it. I know I need to listen since my race is the default but once I'd listened some I would write. And then I didn't write. I shared things on social media, I waded into conversation in comments sections, I had email exchanges that I deeply wanted to get out of but I stuck with it.

I didn't write about race, though.

As I postponed writing again today by reading what others have set down I thought about what a privilege it is to be able to postpone it and about how it's really, really not about me.

In the town where I grew up there were three black people who were permanent residents. Our town had a fancy private school so there were other black people around but they weren't part of the town fabric. The B family were close family friends, two kids and their dad. Their mom was white. It was easy to be put out by all four of them because they were exceptional. It wasn't their race it was their talent. All three of them were intensely intelligent, unquestionably beautiful, and stunningly musical. No qualifications. I could never measure up and our smallish group of friends was often held up in contrast to each other.

Now I think about it and realize that, of course they were exceptional. They had to be. When you are the one example in your world of the thing that others use to define you then of course. Of fucking course. You have to do it all better, faster, and in a kinder way.

Mr. B was the band director in the Junior High. He was deeply beloved as were all the fine arts teachers. In a town without a lot of culture they opened doors a lot of residents didn't know existed.  My father was the band director in the high school and the head of the entire department which encompassed the school district. My father yelled at his students when they stepped out of line. Sometimes he slammed his music stand down with both hands. He threw erasers and sometimes chalk. Auntie Blanche, who was a little old lady in tennis shoes even way back then, threw more than one eraser herself when a student was disrespectful. In all my knowledge of the music department lore and all the time I spent with Mr. B I remember him jiggling his music stand forcefully a couple of times. I remember him looking musicians in the eye and speaking to them sternly. I remember him laughing in a rueful, disappointed way at how badly behaved or rehearsed we were.

Which of those three teachers do you think that people often said they were afraid of?

I honestly thought it was just because Mr. B was more authoritative. I hate that I didn't realize how much more went into it.

But it's not about me.

I was always impressed by their family. Now I am even more so. It shouldn't have taken me so long to realize.


Photo: Mark & Earl in New England a very long time ago. 

3 comments: