The Color of Strawberries (or, Sometimes Racism Isn’t)

My grandmother hated strawberries the most.

She loved to eat them of course, ripe and sweet and seeded with sunlight and good soil.  Tucked into neat mounds cuddled in black plastic and covered with pale woodchips.  But she hated the harvesting.  Bending low, crawling forward inch by inch on scabbed knees as a hunched spine searched beneath sundial leaves for full red fruit.

This is all I know about her.  This, and that she is the womb source of my graceful hands, long-fingered and elegant.  A lady’s hands, gentle and precise and as regal as a doctor in his whites bringing dainty tools to the lip of unfolded flesh.  Bending low, shivering in the cold dawn and sweating in noon’s scolding, all in the same layers because catching cold from the damp and sunburn across chapped skin is equally as bad.  After all, you wouldn’t want to look like you worked in the fields, now, would you?  Bending low… picking strawberries.

I imagine her in that starched box of a birthing room (shouldn’t there have been smoke? shadows? offerings? prayers, beads, feathers… the sharp and permeating odor of sweat and something infinitely more primal?) turning to my grandfather to say something, graceful lady’s fingers splayed across a fighting belly.  “Please, no Spanish,” people (doctors) occasionally (often) say.  “We speak English here.”  And then he marked her White on a cold clipboard.  And then my abuelito, with his mechanic’s hands, his scoundrel’s ways, his activist heart medalled with WWII ribbons and trauma, he who might not even have been in the room at all but perhaps at el bar, or perhaps at his sancha’s, or perhaps at home working on the rusty ol’ Ranchero.  My grandfather he, too, marked as White.  Each of their three brown daughters: White. White. White.  We speak English here.

Sometime’s racism isn’t cruel names and seats on a bus.  Sometimes racism is making native blood foreign on native soil, marking it foreign en su clipboards and computers y su census, and then saying that the real foreign is, in fact, the true native.  The native that attempted to tame a continent, at the expense of the native that tended it.

Did I lose you?  Let me try again:  We speak English here.  But we don’t speak Spanish here, either.  There were and are other languages, other tongues that made native sounds that had been coaxed from infant lips since time and Creator first placed us on this soil, this earth, this island planet.  Spanish arrived and poured into our bloodstreams and mouths and forced its way into our street signs and city names and last names, toppled our temples and erected imbalanced churches rooted in disregarded blood, and all perhaps never knowing that one day our children would be told please, no Spanish.  We speak English here.

But sometimes racism isn’t genocide.  Sometimes its simply being born.  Not just born white, but born light- directly benefiting from generations of colonization.  From whole continental regions enslaved.  You didn’t say anything racist, you didn’t do anything racist, and no, your life hasn’t been simple and easy.  And we must all remember that your struggle is something that nobody can take away from you, that nobody can or should invalidate by the crime of comparison.  But it is still true sometimes racism is as simple as being born a color that means that no court of law will ever doubt you, and that no court of law will ever second-guess you.  Why?  Because that court of law looks like you.  It is here to defend you.  Sometimes racism is nothing more than being born able to trust in that… and enjoying the luxury (read: the privilege) of not having to realize that it is not the same for everyone.

Sometimes racism isn’t slavery and lynchings.  Sometimes its telling yourself that someone’s level of education or their fluency in your language is an indicator of their level of intelligence (allow me to educate you: it isn’t).

Sometimes racism isn’t segregation, separate movie theaters or bathrooms.  Sometimes its interrupting a conversation because you “just have a quick question,” but all the while you scold your children doing for the same.  If its two White people its bad manners.  If its two people of color its only ever “a quick question.”

Sometime’s racism isn’t “being racist.”  Sometimes racism is simply never asking yourself if you maybe are.  Because race is something that happens to somebody else… right?

Sometimes racism is thinking you have something to say when really there is something that you need to hear.

Sometimes it is writing the story of your grandmother and reducing it to nothing but the story of a wronged woman.

Sometimes, racism is me.

Bending low.

Picking strawberries.

Thinking of nothing but how sweet is the fruit of the fields.

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