Ebony and Ivory

I went to see that new Jackie Robinson movie yesterday. I snuck out in the middle of the day and went to the fancy theatre that has super cushy recliners. It was all fine and dandy until I spilled an entire Coke Zero on my pants. But I’m a tough broad so I just ignored the soaking wet denim. I was actually wearing a raincoat but do you think I spilled the Coke on that? Of course not.

The movie was good, if formulaic. It’s always so crazy to see how racist people used to be. (I’m sure there are still incredibly racist normal people–normal, as in “not skinheads”–but it’s got to be pretty underground.)  When I see movies like 42 or The Help it’s very hard to understand that’s how things were for black people not that long ago. Part of me wonders if was really that bad because how could people have been so hateful because of someone’s skin color?

I grew up in a different environment than most white people, I guess.  Detroit, where I was born and raised, is mostly black. I lived in the first suburb north of the city. It was lower- to middle-class and was probably the first stop when people wanted to move on up from Detroit proper. I would say that the schools I went to were pretty evenly split between black and white, especially as I entered my teen years. Unlike the South, though, there really was no sort of “us vs. them” mentality. The most popular boys in my fifth grade class were Jahmod (A black kid) and Jason (a Jewish kid). (Oh yeah, there was a huge Jewish population in our town too. Which meant white Christians were totally the minority. We loved Jewish kids because that meant we got a whole bunch of Jewish holidays off of school too; not just the regular Christian ones.) Being Mormon and white? Super minority. I was pretty much the only one in middle and high school.

The mall closest to our house was called Northland and was the first modern shopping mall in America.  I remember going there and being the only white person I’d see. It didn’t make me feel uncomfortable or weird; it just was the way it was. I took Mister to that same mall when we went back to visit Detroit for my dad’s funeral back in the early 90’s. Man, did he almost have a heart attack! Being from Portland, OR, he was never exposed to many black people. He thought for sure someone was going to attack us. I just laughed and told him how I’d been shopping there dozens of times by myself at night. I can only blame the media for giving him the idea that young black men are all thugs; how else would he have developed that opinion?

We had lots of black people at church. Our bishop was eventually a black man, as were some of my primary teachers and Young Women Leaders. Our ward spread deep into Detroit and we had a real variety of members.Not just blacks but some members of Arabic descent too. It all seemed completely normal. I don’t recall the race card ever being mentioned.

When I look back on the relations between blacks and whites growing up, I wonder if maybe I was just clueless. But I remember blacks and whites sitting at the same tables at lunch; blacks and whites going to dances together and hanging out. Maybe our town was unique or maybe I just remember things differently, being a white girl.


*Yep, that’s me, Jennie Hildegard Davis, in the third row of the school picture; rocking the braces and feathered bangs. Viva Eighth Grade!


| Filed under IMO, School

2 thoughts on “Ebony and Ivory

  1. Hilde, this was a GREAT post! How true it was for our area of Detroit! Your yearbook post shows it as it was!

    I never felt weird around black people once they were actually a normal part of my view (growing up in Utah in the 50’s, however, I never even SAW a black person until 7th grade, and then she was a block away!) In fact, in 1967, I innocently volunteered to be “THE integration” into an all black elementary school in Florida, when the rest of the teachers threatened to resign if they were forced to be the one-and-only token white in a black school. At the time I thought, “Sheesh! What’s the big deal?” It turned out to be a wonderful AND eye-opening experience.

    As the song in South Pacific asserts, “You have to be carefully taught to hate, before you’re 6 or 7 or 8.”

  2. I remember it that way too, Hildie. Up until 4th grade when Ingrid Middleton (who was black) moved away, my core friendship group included 1 other white girl, 2 black girls, and a Japanese girl. I was also good friends with Arabics, Chaldeans, a few East Indians, and some Jews. It was so diverse, but it never occured to me that there was anything strange about that. I didn’t know what prejucide was, having been raised by parents who taught us to be kind and respectful to everyone. I have often wondered too as an adult if I saw the world through rose-colored glasses back then. But hearing you say the same thing makes me think the racial divide just wasn’t that big where we lived.

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