Three Lessons My Mother Taught Me on Race

This summer has been a whirlwind of events touched by many things but the biggest event for me was the passing of my mother on July 14th. I have been reflecting on the lessons Mumsey taught me especially the ones related to race. My mother’s life serves as an example of what everyday people can do to improve race relations and interrupt the racism that occurs every day in America.  My mother was not in the limelight of American race relations or famous as a civil rights worker on race and racism. These, however, are three lessons she left.

Lesson 1: We are one family made of many skin colors. My mother’s mantra for as long as I can remember is that we belong to one human family even though there are people who want to separate us into different racial categories. Mumsey always said that separating us by race was old fashioned thinking and we needed to think and act towards the future of oneness. She was not colorblind however. A favorite quote that is branded in my brain is that “we are the flowers of one garden”. She always talked about the beauty of the various skin tones, hair types and facial shapes. I am sure she wanted me to feel good about how I looked.

Lesson 2: Make real friendships across the color line. My mother was so amazing with making friends from many different races and cultures! Our house was always full of people having rich conversations about solving the world’s problems and she would be sure to keep them in good food and desserts. Since part of this time was during Jim Crow and after, with many Americans living in racially segregated neighborhoods, my mother’s integrated social gatherings were not popular with the friends she grew up with and they dropped her. Losing these friendships caused her pain but she never looked back. By the time it was the mid- 1960’s she had new friendships that she loved and valued.

Lesson 3: Be courageous. If anything, Mumsey was fearless. She quietly went about her business of ending racism within her sphere of influence. She invited her friends black, native and others into establishments that were known to be white only. She purposely walked into “colored only” restrooms while traveling in the south. She made a stand many times to stop racism and discrimination from happening when it crossed her path and affected her family and friends. Just recently, posted a practical lesson that white people can do to make the world a better place shared by Dr. Joy Degruy. It is a worthy lesson we all can learn from and do.

Of course, Mumsey had the privilege as a white woman not to do this work but she had the will and courage to choose a path that many of her white contemporaries did not do. The path she chose influenced me such that my world is tempered through a lens of racial oneness. A oneness that includes an acceptance and celebration of the integration of all the racial and cultural diversity that makes us who we are as human beings.  No one skin color is better than another and we need to continue to work hard to dismantle the structures and white privilege that exist to keep racism alive and well. If Mumsey were alive today, she would keep pressing forward and give us the encouragement to never give up. She would always quote her old friend Agnes Brawley, from Milwaukee, “The problem with race relations today is that we don’t have enough relations”! This was true back in 1950 and still is today. Thank you Mumsey for never giving up! This is your legacy.