|Articles, Autobiography, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, United States on 2014-10-29 01:17Z by Steven|
I was a typical Southie kid, one of six, born to a single mother, raised in a triple-decker, surrounded by Whitey Bulger’s violence and fierce Irish pride. There was only one thing that kept me on the outside: Despite my mother’s claims to the contrary, we were black.
When I was six years old, I was bused to school at John Winthrop Elementary on the Dorchester/Roxbury line. The school was in a mostly black neighborhood, about 3 miles from the South Boston neighborhood where I lived, but even then I understood it as enemy territory.
My mother had made that clear: She was aggressive about her stance against busing, and “those blacks.” By which she didn’t mean us. I was the youngest of six kids, and the darkest, but if you asked my mother, she’d tell you we were Irish. Virginia Roberts was a proud supporter of Jim Kelly and Billy Bulger, hugged them flamboyantly at every St. Paddy’s Day Parade. They would give her a kiss on the cheek. I would cringe. Tall, thin, and attractive, she wore a shamrock brooch on her housecoat. Her kinky hair was usually covered by a kerchief or a wig. Her skin, like mine, was a warm beige in the winter and a deep red-brown in the summer. But we were Irish, she insisted, and nothing else.
Sitting in a neighbor’s kitchen, racial slurs would buzz around like hungry mosquitoes waiting to suck my blood out and leave me cold. Inevitably one would land on my mother. “Why can’t they just stay in their neighborhood? No offense, Ginny,” waving a cigarette at my mother. “You know we don’t mean you!” My mother would swat away their words with indifference; of course they didn’t mean her! She’d scoff right along with them.
When I was a child, the origin of our shared skin tone and hair texture was a mystery. Out on the street, though, kids had theories: “I heard your grandmother was raped by a black man,” they’d say to me, or, “I heard your mother was found on a doorstep and your grandmother took her in.” What was clear to me, even as a little girl, was that my mother wanted no part of our shared racial heritage. The bubble of denial she created for herself was solid Teflon. Everything rolled right off of her and onto me. At home, I was Irish. On the street, I was something different: “jigaboo,” “nigger,” “Oreo,” “Jenny the spook.” These names were spoken to me almost as if they were endearments, nicknames. Nearly everyone in Southie had a nickname.
I was from Southie; I was one of them. I was their black girl…
Read the entire article here.