By Lisa St. Hill
I grew up privileged-not by wealth but by a small familial neighborhood in Brooklyn comprised of families that were Jewish, Italian, Puerto-Rican, Mexican, Argentinian, West-Indian more.
This privilege was in the security, love and communal rearing hat in retrospect, the rapid evolution of technology expanded across the globe since then pales in comparison to the simple alchemy of the affect of a group of loving, knowledgable self aware parents which build a community.
On that one block led by the tough mothers, we were a tight crew of kids that developed a positive respect, admiration and appreciation for people of other cultures and religions.
Our main concern was if you knew how to play a pick up game of handball, roller-skate, or hit a ball out the schoolyard park. Your political affiliation and the flag on your home didn’t matter in the annual neighborhood game of dodgeball. The mothers looked out for all of us and if they saw us act out of line with anyone else we knew sooner or later we had to answer for our behavior to our mothers.
One of my fondest memories was running home from school to watch the wedding of Luke and Laura on General Hospital and as always when I hit the corner across the street from my home I could smell the cooking my mom left for me before work. My next door neighbor sat on her porch and waved hello to me like clockwork. I was a latchkey kid just like all my friends, and my brothers who would be home soon, reluctantly to watch me but never did they shirk their responsibility to me.
Indifference, racism and foul talk wasn’t allowed in our home and especially not by any of our friends. Which is why our home became the place to hang out because you were guaranteed a great west-indian meal if you didn’t have food at your own home, a good lesson in manners if you were lacking and a seat on our couch to watch t.v. on any of the only four networks at the time. My mother who was an original frontline worker, was strict, loving, exceptionally intelligent and a nurse at one of the toughest hospitals at the time in the United States. I learned strength, independence and respect from my mother and from my neighborhood-security.
I am a mother now of sons and a runner and my neighborhood has changed. Residing in a place of privilege through my husband’s memories, I’ve learned of all his childhood favorite places which are no different than mine, The favorite candy shop or hangout place. In the runners culture we have an unwritten code of awareness amid our meditations; to be mindful of our distance, wave hello and be safe-security; this is a privilege. Two years ago on one of my runs going home in my neighborhood,
I saw a young white male roll down his window, poke his out far out and yell out to me
“Aunt Jemima!!!” speeding away leaving me in fear in that moment to wonder is he going to come back and attack me? Is he going to bring more people to harm me? Wait, he’s white though. In this place of privilege the first thing I thought of was who was his mother? Does she know her son is out on the road stoking racist fear? That was my privilege, knowing I was raised with more love than the hate that young white man chose to give to me. The infamous Neiman Marcus headscarf which illicited this rage in this poor fellow, ironically is the same headscarf Carrie wore on Sex in the City hobbling down Madison Avenue in her Manolo Blahniks! What made me look different than SJP? Hmmm. Cut to today, June 2020, Aunt Jemima, has made the news in a historical take down of centuries old American racist tropes.
As a mother my job is to teach my son’s respect of all cultures, life, health, a higher power and of your fellow man and woman. Even more so now that young man who shouted that racial epithet who’s purpose was to scare me didn’t take my power or make me feel inferior, or stop me from running with my fellow joggers. It made me stronger. I came from a mother who raised sons who played professional baseball, one drafted; A cousin, a congresswoman who ran for the democratic nomination for the presidency becoming the first major party african american candidate to do so-Shirley (St.Hill) Chisholm. I love my country, I love my rich heritage of British and West African cultures. I’m self actualized enough to know it is not by tolerance but by self-love we raise our sons.
I was privileged to have a mother who personified this example of loving humanity unconditionally without expectation or recognition but because it was the right thing to do. Privilege.