It was in 1944 and I was visiting my southern cousin in Miami, FL. We finished our roller skating that night and were headed back to her house by bus. A small black grandmother got on with her packages and stood in the aisle. I got up to give her my seat. Being a teenager from New York, I didn’t know that the South had an unwritten law in those days that blacks could only sit in the back seat of the bus and the back seat was filled. My cousin said she wouldn’t take the offered seat and… she didn’t. I felt terrible.
I felt terrible because prior to this, when I was about 8 yrs. old, my older brother (10) and I did a terrible thing. While our mother shopped, we sat in the car in a parking lot in Freeport. A black man walked by the car and we used the “N” word and then ducked down so as not to be seen. But he knew the voices were ours and he came to the car. He scolded us until we were ashamed and that guilt has remained…all this time. I have no idea where we heard that word ….. certainly, not from our parents.
Now, in 2012, I offer an apology, to that man long gone and to all black people. I want to be able to see each other as just plain people not as black, tan white or yellow. It felt so good this past holiday, when on four separate occasions, kind words were spoken to me by men and women of color. It was so infectious; I found I wanted to do the same thing to the strangers I met. In other words, the love expressed to me was being passed along to others. Let’s promise to un-see each other’s skin color. It’s really only a wrapping of what is underneath.
copyright June T. Bassemir 2012