How It Was

A Personal Reflection on the Shadows of Racism in My Life

by Alice Feeley, RDC

 

City takeover. Enough blocks, enough ground

for eight hundred ninety six apartments,

all public housing.  I was a toddler

when we lost our family brownstone, still playing

in great grandfather’s garden.  Gossip was

the mayor needed housing for black people

coming from the south to vote for him.  I never knew

their names or what they left behind.

Before we moved out there was a holdup on our stoop.

Daddy targeted at gunpoint.

Mama kept teaching at the local public school

that turned all black.  The children brought her back

from our new neighborhood where white prevailed.

Botanic Gardens, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Prospect Park,

 

and parochial school where we heard

how the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves.

Nothing more to be said about blacks.  Nothing to be said

about neighborhoods.  We knew where whites

and blacks belonged, not together.

A sprinkling of black faces

shared high school classes.with hundreds of white girls.

Dolores and I played trombone together, shared the walk

down Eastern Parkway after practice.,

never stopped for coffee or a smoke,

never saw each other’s homes.

 

One beloved black girl in my suburban college.

survived by making everyone laugh..

Did anyone ever know what she felt?  It was then I met Ralph,

The Invisible Man.  Read him, reread him

Felt suffering, confusion, injustice, shame.

Never really heard or understood the invitation. 

High school teacher in the 60’s, my bedtime reading

was Malcolm X, James Baldwin too.  Listened to King

and watched DC burn. My graduate school

in the black Northeast where Sunday streets

filled with church going folks dressed in their finest.

Not safe to walk around at night we were told.

Why was that so easy to believe?

 

Back in the Bronx exceptional black girls traveled

for a chance to join  majority white classes.

Some truly excelled and Karen got elected

VP of  Student Council.  But unrest rippled

invisible but catching.  Not far away

a black clergyman’s community center was burned to the ground.

No one knew anything.  No one was responsible.

In Harlem I was embarrassed for older, hard working people

who came, tired and faithful, to our nightly  GED classes.

I didn’t know anything.

 

 

 

 

Decades of administration, teaching,  counseling,

spiritual direction.   Black voices in short supply.

White Doris and black David struggled

to stay married, couldn’t make it for son Colin.

Black Paula and white Roger still together,

promised they’d never have children.

Special college program for single women parenting

on welfare.  No queens there.  Lots of fear

overshadowing some big successes.  Hope

couldn’t let go of her worry for two teenage sons

stopped by police at a bus stop.  Linda, so very bright, 

couldn’t forget her time in jail.  And then Diane.

She wore makeup, best clothes and costume jewelry,

armor for food stamp shoppers at the super  market.

Graduate Karina processed entrance fees at the local museum,

proud her daughter graduated college. 

Laureen was a lawyer’s right hand person up to  retirement.

How did I dare feel proud when I didn’t wonder

what making it in a white world cost or meant for each of them.

If only the rest had worked as hard.

 

 

Interfaith efforts to overcome homelessness, hopelessness.

Education initiatives, organized outreach

political action, advocacy for the disadvantaged

the underprivileged,

missing the color, the system

of advantage, of privilege.

Colleagues of color.

Energized new people to be thankful for.

Social worker Pat, home health aide Ivy,

Human resources pro, Dorothy.

Maya Angelou filled the university gym.

I thrilled to see a black man and his family

step across the  stage as  First Family.

I may have gasped as the righteous spat out

cruel, ignorant, deadly comments for eight years.

My silence never set the record straight.