I’ve spent most of my life perplexed by America’s problem with race.
When I was five, my father died. From one day to the next, my mother went from being a homemaker and caretaker to my sick father, to sole breadwinner.
We lived in a small town by the river where there was only one black family in town that I could remember. My mom was friends with this lady, Miss Bunny. Miss Bunny would watch me after school that first year after Daddy’s passing because my mom was cleaning hotels and sewing for people.
I liked going to Miss Bunny’s house. Her family was sweet, and it felt good to be around normal people. My mom would shut her door at night and cry over Daddy’s death until she fell asleep.
But when I grew older we moved to another nearby town.
When I was around eight, we bumped into Miss Bunny again. We were at a little five-and-dime department store in the town where we used to live. Miss Bunny saw me, got on her knees, wrapped her arms around me and kissed my cheek. Then she whispered in my ear: “Don’t ever tell any white folks an old black woman kissed you. They may not like that. No white girl is ever gonna kiss you if she finds out.”
Miss Bunny was making light of things. But those words really hit me hard, even at such a young age. By then my mom was always hanging around with black ladies from work. I couldn’t understand why Miss Bunny’s kiss was such a big deal. Later when we moved to St Louis, I understood why.
Not too long ago, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump came to my neck of the woods here in Texas for a rally. I used to be a journalist overseas, and I really miss it. My wife prodded me to go to the Trump rally because there was going to be a protest at the same time. She knows how much I miss “the game.”
So I went with my cameras, notepad, and a pen to interview people. Not for any news outlet but perhaps for my own understanding of the Trump phenomenon.
Now let me back up a bit. My wife is South American. My oldest son was born in Argentina (with a Portuguese name). Still, all of my children have Spanish names, in one way or another. We are also a Spanish-speaking household, in fact. I think Latin culture is healthier for raising children. And that’s why Trump scares me.
What I learned at the Trump rally, and the related anti-Trump protest, depressed me. We are a divided nation. There was one good thing to come out of Trump. I met three black guys who were there to observe Trump like me. We’ve become friends, in fact. I can thank Donald for that, at least.
Now I’m not here to tell you how African Americans, Native Americans, or other People of Color feel about Trump and racial profiling.
All I can tell you is what racism feels like for someone who isn’t a POC.
As a white (or mostly white) American, who passes for a “foreigner” and speaks Spanish (and sometimes Portuguese in public), what I’ve experienced has been humiliating, and infuriating.
It’s also been ironic. Let me explain something. Some of my ancestors were Choctaws in the woodlands of the modern day South-east. My other forefathers came to the colonies in the 1730s. Their children fought with George Washington in the Revolutionary War. Even my paternal grandfather was an immigrant. He came from Europe as a stowaway on a cattle boat. He married a woman who died in childbirth. The only thing he knew about her was that she was “mostly Indian.”
But since getting married, I’ve got to get a taste of what racism is.
My wife is from Argentina. We met and married there. We still speak Spanish together. I feel as comfortable in Spanish as I do in English. But I don’t look like your typical gringo. In Latin America, that helped me blend in. But even here in Texas where the hispanic community is growing, it can be complicated.
There have been times when my family and I were out and about and we’ve gotten a taste of the growing anti-Hispanic sentiment growing in this country. Sometimes it is subtle. Sometimes it isn’t. And sometimes it even comes from the African American community.
Businessmen have followed my children in stores because they think being a Latino means you are a thief. We had a white American family at the pool move away and guard their belongings when they heard us speaking in Spanish.
My wife is one of the most intelligent people I’ve met. Her English is perfect, and here is another irony. She’s whiter than me. She’s like 99.9% European descent. You’d think the racists would be happy about that. But of course they ain’t.
Americans are not very generous when it comes to foreign speakers. If you ask my wife, she’ll say its gotten worse with the rise of Trump.
There’s a lot more I’d like to say about race and racism. But I’ll tell my kids how I feel, and maybe they’ll take that to heart.
I would like to see Miss Bunny again. I’d like to tell her a lot of things, especially the fact that I found a white girl who didn’t care that a sweet black lady kissed me one time.
Tom Darin Liskey spent nearly a decade working as a journalist in Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi. His fiction and non fiction have appeared in theCrime Factory, Driftwood Press, Mount Island, The Burnside Writers Collective, Sassafras Literary Magazine, and Biostories, among others. His photographs have been published in Hobo Camp Review, Roadside Fiction, Blue Hour Magazine, Synesthesia Literary Journal, andMidwestern Gothic. He lives in Texas where he tells his children that he has done worse things for less money.
More work by this artist:
- Manager’s Special
- Five Photographs by Tom Darin Liskey in Issue 2.1