Monday, August 16, 2010

What I learned from my mother: remember you're a White

My mother, at the end of the day, was a sophisticated Smith College graduate and shrewd professional. But deep down she was a woman who grew up in Dayton, OH during the Great Depression and as a result possessed a sturdy, frugal set of ethical principles that she lived by -- although maybe not so self-consciously -- each and every day she was a parent.

One such edifying gem was something she invariably imparted to her children whenever we were about to embark upon a meaningful social occasion. Simply put, "Remember you're a White."

Practically, this was a reminder to abide in public situations by our oft-reinforced family etiquette as well as an admonishment not let ourselves be subverted by another code of behavior. But as a child it was also a sort of spiritual booster. Meaning, real or imagined, that our family was something to bank on, that we could go proudly into the world believing we were part of something unique and sacred.

So, to this day my mother's injunction reminds me -- and I suspect the same is true for my sisters Gretchen and Tish -- that I have a special identity bound up with my family and its history, and that awareness helps me stand tall, insular, and proud.