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[Sticky] Ism’s: colorism, racism, sexism, ageism

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By: Martha Wallace


It is 2020, why does it still remain so difficult for outrage over the killing of Black men and women to be the tipping point for national protests challenging state violence? I am deeply appalled by the absurdity of those who are charged with ‘serving and protecting citizens’ continually being the perpetrators. This is a defining moment in time for people of color.  Does my melanated skin make me, my family, friends less of a citizen? Throughout my life I have been forced to deal with ism’s: colorism, racism, sexism, ageism and various acts of discrimination.

As a child in Cleveland I recall the Hough Riots in 1966, the gargantuan National Guard vehicles, rumbling through the community, shaking the earth, rattling windows as they rolled through neighborhoods. Our elders shielded us from the violence and the reasons for it, in the era where children should be seen but not heard.

When I was very young, I rode a train to Atlanta, it was so exciting, I was with my grandma. Living in the “Inner City” of Cleveland we rarely saw white folks, unless it was the insurance man, the Jewish man that owned a Deli nearby, or the Arabs that owned the neighborhood grocery store. When we arrived in Atlanta Granny said “don't look no white folks in the face and only go to places that said for “colored only.”

When I visited with cousins I saw them going to back doors to make purchases, with their heads bowed and very humble. I was very young, and I followed suit when it came to not questioning adults. I was so glad to meet my southern cousins, but also glad to return home where we had indoor plumbing and faces smiling back at me regardless of skin color.

Sadly, we were shielded from the struggle, civil rights, racism, bigotry.  We had friends that were of multiple cultures and races and our world was good or so I thought.

Years passed and I became enlightened, I was attending a prestigious women's college, I worked in the writing center during extended hours near finals. I commuted to school on public transportation.

When we worked late, we could get a ride to the train station from one of our police officers. This time it was a white man probably around my age. After greeting me he asked “Why are you here so late? Are you one of the custodians in the dorms, or do you work in Molly’s? (an eatery in the student center)

Why was it so difficult to consider that I was a student? When I told him I was a student, a writer, he laughed and asked how that would help me contribute to society and be able to be a tax paying, self-sufficient member of society. I was stunned...little did he know that I had worked over twenty years in various aspects of banking, I was an advocate for children, and a community volunteer. To him I was a cook or janitorial worker. Imagine his face when I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a standing ovation.

Imagine a person looking at you not knowing anything about your character and qualifications making stereotypical assumptions. Don’t judge.

When working in the operations center at a certain bank, (being the only person of color in my department) a delivery person strolled up to my desk with a bunch of boxes, stating he had an order for me. I didn't order anything, we had an older white lady, the executive secretary who took care of that. Bertha was a sweet friendly southern belle who loved to tell us about “Daddy’s boats, homes, wonderful parties at the Savannah estate…” Until I met her, I had never met a white woman named Bertha.

So, the guy handed me an invoice and said, “It’s your order, says right here to deliver to Bertha.”  Imagine his chagrin, when the real Bertha came to sign for the delivery, all 4’9'' in kitten heels and a summer floral sundress with silver curls and fingers bearing beautiful gemstones on her perfectly manicured hands.

One of my sons, who is now an educator, was working at a national pharmacy chain while in high school. He was approached by one of the assistant managers as he was stocking shelves.  The man, hands in his pockets and rocking on his heels, asked him “How does it feel living in a ghetto?”  

We have never lived in a ghetto, and my son was hurt and offended.

Every neighborhood that my children were raised in was very diverse and they had friends of all skin tones, cultures and ethnicities. When I picked him up from work that night, he asked me” Mom, why do white people think all black people live in ghettos?”

Needless to say, we had a very interesting family conversation that evening.

I worked for a national safe company that serviced ATM’s, bank drive in equipment and installed and security systems. I was the only woman of color there in the office. I dispatched technicians on service calls all over the State of Georgia. I was very good at my job. Once some of the bigots that worked there discovered that I was black. They refused to take service calls of any scheduling from me. They said they were not taking orders from a black woman. So management took them out of my schedules and had one of the white women in the office handle them separately. She was not a dispatcher. So much more indignities were my day to day situations. It became so bad that I filed a suit with the EEOC. Suddenly they had no funds to pay for a suite, the company shut down. How much do you want to bet that they reopened under another name.

While still living in Cleveland, I worked as a cashier for a convenience store chain. Within a couple of years, I rose to training manager. I ran my stores with such excellence that I was selected to train new managers. It was a pleasurable and rewarding occupation until one of my male trainees questioned his pay. My district manager met with me and we researched the issue. That's when I found out that all of the male trainees were making twice as much as I was. When I questioned it, my district manager told me” You don't need to work, you have a husband that can support you. You are taking a man's job!” He stormed out of my office.

So many injustices, misunderstandings, inequities…I could go on and on. But I won’t.

It never seems to go away.  Yet I am grateful that I can have friends from all over this globe, without the limits that those “isms” put upon me.  I am in the human race and believe all humans have basic human rights, and deserve to be treated respectfully and fairly.

In May, 2020, Martha Wallace published her food memoir A Sampling of Life, One Taste at a Time

This topic was modified 1 year ago by Nawab

Barbara Behrens
 Barbara Behrens
(@Barbara Behrens)
Joined: 1 year ago
Posts: 1

I'm sorry you have to deal with this in your life. Keep speaking. So many of us who were born white are making an effort to really listen and personally examine how we might have contributed so we can help turn this around.

Nawab liked

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