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Confronting Racism at Home


Confronting Racism at Home

My explorations at this time are thus narrowed to my maternal side, which is a little easier to trace. This choice is both a matter of convenience but also a function of having spent a great deal of my childhood with “Pop” – my beloved maternal grandfather. My family took regular trips from our tiny apartment in Gravesend, Brooklyn to Jamaica, Queens (a neighborhood in one of New York City’s five boroughs), where we’d visit my grandfather, his sister, and brother (my second aunt and uncle). By this time (the late 1980s to early 90s) Jamaica was a predominantly black neighborhood.

I have recently begun situating my family in social and historical context by having a series of conversations with my grandfather about race. Upon undertaking this work, I knew right away that my family tree and the history in which it is situated was going to look rather different from that produced by other white academics, and possibly many white preservice teachers. I begin this work knowing some key components about my grandfather, his family, and his life as it intersected with my childhood:

My grandfather was poor as a child; he grew up in Jamaica, Queens, and has spent the last couple of decades living in a trailer park in Florida.Homeownership and other assets were negligible, and never passed down as any form of a meaningful inheritance from which later generations would benefit. Indeed, there wasn’t anything to pass down. In fact, I am not aware of any inheritance, large or small, from which any one person in my family may have benefitted. I remember how my mother told me that her grandmother (Pop’s mother-in-law) suggested that, upon her death, her five grandchildren take themselves out to dinner, as she was not able to leave behind much more than the price of a meal.

Some of my most powerful childhood memories of my grandfather, however, are narrated by his racism. As I was growing up, Pop would make his beliefs about people of color known. From his point of view, the influx of people of color into Jamaica, Queens was solely responsible for the neighborhood “turning bad” (his words) prior to his exit from…

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