The Color of Me
I was born on June 29, 1973 in Collins, Mississippi. I am the only child of the youngest child, on my Mother’s side. I am, at 40-years old, a white male living still in Mississippi. I am not multi-racial – both parents are white. I do have Native American somewhere in my ancestry but that had been diluted by the time it reached my generation. Yet, today, I begin a series of posts I’ve chosen to call The Color of Me.
I begin this series by saying that I have no idea what it is like to be another race or ethnic background.
I can’t comment on being African American, Asian, Asian American or any other category (label) that we – or society – chooses. I do not profess to claim to be something that I am not or do I profess to know something that I don’t.
I profess, instead, to tell my own story because no one owns it more than I do.
I do not “wish I was black” any more than I “wish I was (fill in the blank). I do not wish to be anything but me. (Yes, in the 1980s I WAS asked if I wanted to be black simply because I had the GASP!!! audacity to have friends who were not the same skin color as me.)
I hope that those who might read these words would be both enlightened and inspired. As it has been written…do we not all bleed red?
The Color of Me: Year One
I was sick at birth and almost died. I was sent via helicopter from Collins to Hattiesburg, MS becuase of a breathing issue – or lack of. After being sent home, my parents both worked. Someone needed to serve as a babysitter during the day. They chose to hire a woman named Willie Mae Fairley to babysit.
As my story goes, she stayed with me at my home for several weeks/months before asking my Mother if she could babysit me while working also at my Grandparents mom-and-pop grocery store. My Mother agreed.
You may wonder why I wasn’t in the care of my grandparents instead but they were both active with their own responsibilities. To be honest, I am sure there are reasons but I am happy as my early childhood defined who I am today.
In Living Color
I would like to make you aware of something that you see in the picture above.
Mrs. Willie Mae Fairley was an African-American woman.
This is a key factor to my story.
Why? Did it make her more or less of a person? No. It did not. I did not know there was a “difference” for years.
My parents chose not to mention that fact and, by doing so, did not imprint upon me all the usual stereotypes that goes along with a woman of color raising a white child. Did they do in on purpose? Was it a mere omittance? Would it have made a difference if it did in how it shaped my world view?
I only knew that I would go see my Grandparents and Mama Mae. To me, she was as much family as were they and, when she went home around 2pm or 3pm daily, I thought she went home just as an Aunt would come visit and then go home.
I didn’t care that she was black. I didn’t care that I was white. I knew who cared for me and that was all that mattered to a small child.
Through the Years
I was observant and began to notice things that I didn’t like as I grew older. For example, I never questioned why she would eat lunch after my grandparents. I assumed it was because someone needed to work in the front store area while the others ate. After all, it was a business; however, I mentioned it once and was told, “Well, Mama Mae gets to eat after we do.”
I don’t know what made me think it was wrong or what made me disagree but I didn’t like that answer. So, in my way, I guess even at that young age – maybe eight-to-eleven? – I chose to be different by taking my plate into the store area to eat with her.
The image is clear of me sitting on a stool with my plate and glass bottled Coke sat on a long freezer talking to her as she sit rocking in one of two rockers.
The Covered Dish
I learned later in life that my mother did lie about something when it came to Mama Mae. You see, I was a VERY picky eater and my mother often worried that I didn’t get enough to eat. So, to get me to eat, Mama Mae would cook something and my mother would bring it home for me to eat. The bowl was greenish/purple/white and tin foil would be placed over whatever was cooked inside. Taking the tin-foil off to discover what she had cooked for me was a treat – even if it was something I didn’t normally like.
What was the lie? Probably 70% of the time the food inside was prepared by my Mother. She said this was the only way she could make sure I ate because, if I thought Mama Mae cooked it, I would eat it. Now, I wasn’t mad at the lie. Instead, I think this is a testament of the power of someone who chose to treat a child not as a job but, obvious by my devotion, as her own.
I even bit one of my Aunts one day when I thought Mama Mae would be left alone at the store. Yes, I bit her. No joke. I bit her.
She didn’t work for my grandparents any longer by the time I was in high school. She was getting older and had a very large family of her own. So, when probably most teenagers would have forgotten about a childhood babysitter, I did not. I would visit her and call just as if she were my family because, you want to know what? She was.
My first prom. Guess who I went to see first? My Grandparents or her? (No offense to my grandparents but I think you guessed the answer.)
High School Differences
It was during my teenage years that I started to notice that we still categorized people based on race. My high school still had dual everything in the yearbook.
- Most School Spirit – Black & White, Male & Female.
- Mr & Mrs.? Black & White, Male & Female.
It was during those years that I first saw that my blindness to color made me different. Unfortunately, I found that it also separated me. Remember the “Do you wish you were black?” Well, it happened more than once and by both adults and peers. Did it impact me? No, not in the ways that mattered to me.
Was I on the yearbook staff? No..not quite.
Was I in the Hall of Fame? No..not quite.
Do all of those things matter 20+ years later? No..not quite.
I had friends of both colors and had a very enjoyable high school experience. In the summer after my eighth grade year I met someone named Curtis Magee. Upon first meeting him, I told someone: Who is that dude? I can tell you now..something about him…he and I are not going to get along.
His story will be told later. Let’s just say that I was wrong about not getting along. Let’s just say that there are people in this world and in your life that you are supposed to meet.
I was blessed. I was blinded.
Yes, Mama Mae blinded me.
Her care…her attention..her love…exterminated (had to put in a Doctor Who reference…sorry) the divide seen by most people. It instilled in my inner being an ability to see people for people and not of their color. It allowed me to see beyond assumed prejudices and discover people who wouldn’t have changed me otherwise.
It could be said that this may have been the most impactful in the impact on the color of me.