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
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.