But I don’t want to be White!
While I was a young child, my mother was approached and she agreed to allow our family home to be used for the training of ‘selected’ Black females in the Portland, Oregon area. The ‘trainers’ were Black women who knew the ways, dress, styles, etc. of White women as a result of working in the homes of White folk. The training provided was to make us young Black females ‘White like’ in our ways, tastes, and more.
The Black women who provided the training sessions were ‘pillars’ of Portland’s Black community. The young Black females who had been ‘selected’ for such trainings were carefully hand-selected by the trainers. These identified young Black females were expected to grow in refinement, etc. so as to enhance the uplifting of Blacks specifically in the Portland area. I, the youngest of all, was expected to be included in the sessions only because the sessions were to take place in our family’s relatively large and spacious home located in the Irvington district of northeast Portland.
The day of the first session at our home soon arrived – as did the ladies and the ‘selected’ young Black females. The ladies wore hats and long gloves signifying refinement and culture and the seriousness and importance of the sessions. We, the trainees, were ushered to our seats around my family’s long dining room table. My mother – a fabulous cook by heart — had prepared a meal for all to indulge in following the session.
The ladies proceeded to explain to us the reasons for the trainings and what they expected our futures to look like. My mother stood by and listened with appreciative anticipation. She felt privileged that her home had been chosen for the sessions. Mom had never been a part of the Black social scene or so-called upper-crust happenings in Black Portland, therefore, to have been asked for the use of our home was a privilege in her eyes.
Following the talk session, the actual training began. As I listened and observed the training routines, I knew that what was happening was not something I wanted to be a part of. I was directed to stand up and began; however, I refused to get up from my chair at the table. A couple of the women inquired as to whether I felt ill; I responded with a simple “no”. My mother appeared puzzled and stepped forth as she asked me what was wrong. In panic mode I responded with “But I don’t want to be White”.
The ladies laughed and chuckled before imploring me, again, to do the routines the other young Black females before me had done. Again, I responded with the words “But I don’t want to be White”. The ladies looked back and forth at each other and then back and forth at me. They again expressed that it was important that I and the other young Black females learn to be White-like in order to uplift ourselves in the eyes of White folk. They again explained that our futures would be greatly enhanced because we would be acting like White women….
In my young mind, although I knew why the Black women felt such a need, the why did not override my refusal. I repeated my infamous words “But I don’t want to be White”.
Finally, my mother – who was very angry as a result of my refusal to participate — ordered me to get up from the table and to sit on the floor. My mother explained that the seats at the table were for the young women who were participating in the training.
Even though I wanted to leave the dining area, my mother said that I would sit on the floor during each and every session unless I agreed to participate in the training. I sat my buns on the floor and leaned my back against the French doors which separated the dining area from the entry-waiting area in our home. As I sat there, I listened and observed while thinking thoughts that I dare not put to print in this blog.
A couple of the women implored my mother to not be angry with me. They told my mother that I was probably too young to fully understand….’ One of the ladies continued to look back and forth at me as she spoke lovingly about ‘Little Lulu’s stubbornness’. My mother, however, was quite upset with me and I knew that I would be in ‘real’ trouble once the ladies and the other young Black females left our house.
To my mother’s angst, I repeatedly sat on the floor in the dining area and I consistently refused to participate each and every time the training sessions were held at our house. Always, the ladies gave me opportunity to participate and always I responded with the words “But I don’t want to be White”.
Many years later, I learned that my ‘young’ refusal to participate and my words “But I don’t want to be White” became the never-ending ‘talk’ amongst our Black adults of the time. And, I was accorded special respect and admiration and made privy to much as a result of my wisdom and refusal to become White-like….
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