The Race Project: Locksley Orr and Moriel Rothman-Zecher
Earlier this year WYSO invited local community members to have a one on one conversation with a person from a different race, color or ethnicity. In the first episode of The Race Project, we hear Locksley Orr and Moriel Rothman-Zecher.
Moriel Rothman-Zecher (MRZ): My name is Moriel Rothman-Zecher. I'm a novelist and poet. I was born in Jerusalem. I'm Jewish and I'm white.
Locksley Orr (LO): I am Locksley Orr, a Black woman who moved to Yellow Springs from New York City. I'm a chef who owned a Caribbean restaurant here over 10 years ago.
MRZ: Locksley, I've known you for a long time. Mostly because I know your eldest daughter. I met her probably a year or two after I moved to town. So maybe I was eight or nine. And I remember thinking, oh, wow, she's really pretty and she's really nice and she's really funny. And then thinking to myself, are white people allowed to date Black people?
LO: I distinctly remember one day combing Niquelle's hair and I remembered that she liked you. And I was like, aww. And it didn't have anything to do with Black or white. And I was like, that's not going to work. I was like, Jews and Blacks don't get married — again, I didn't realize it was that age, but she was really intense about it. And I was like don't get so intense about it.
MRZ: I think you're right. I mean, my parents certainly would not have been racial, but religious. My parents from a very young age, they said to me, you know you can date whoever you want, of course, but we hope that you marry a Jewish woman. But if she'd been a Black Jewish woman, I think they would have been comfortable and at peace with that, or..and they also would not have been at peace with a white Christian woman. I never got to see...
LO: Well, that makes me feel better because I know because I felt I felt ignorant thinking in it. Mori, what's the most important disadvantage you feel because of your race? Disadvantage.
MRZ: So Locksley, you and I have been part of this discussion group that started off in the framework of this thing called Courageous Conversations. Courageous Conversations is this nation initiative, but I only know it in a local context. It's basically to bring together diverse members, 12 diverse members from the community explicitly to talk directly about race and racism. And I like that question. There is a sort of a disadvantage of ignorance that a lot of white people in this country, myself included, have. We don't see the world as truly. We don't see the world as fully. We're walking around with these blinders up.
LO: One of the things about being hesitant about eve being part of the Courageous Conversations group was that group was mostly white. There were only three Black people in the group.
MRZ: When you're the only person of your race in a group. Do you feel afraid or calm or comfortable or tense?
LO: I never feel afraid. I feel tense and awkward because it's always — I am almost always the only Black person in the room, in the circles that I'm in. I mean, I think I'm a master at camouflage [laughs].
MRZ: Can you tell me more about what it feels like when a white person says to you, 'I don't think of you as Black?'
LO: At this stage of the game. I'm polite, but I want to say that was a stupid thing to say. I should have said and what does that look like? What what would have made you think that I was Black? You know, that I'm not showing you now. Okay Mori, what's the biggest lie we as Americans tell each other about race?
MRZ: In my opinion, the biggest lie about race is that it's a fixed reality. Race is a fiction. It's a myth. Well, white people called themselves white, called African people Black said this race is a real thing and it justifies slavery, oppression, brutality, murder. And racism, of course, is very real. But the idea that there are separate races which have fixed characteristics and fixed ways of being and acting and seeing and doing, I think is the biggest lie we tell ourselves and we tell our each other and we tell our kids,
LO: My kids are old enough for me to have grandchildren in a little while so I don't know if anything's going to change so much. I was on Dayton Street when the Trump parade came through. Oh, my gosh. I saw a truck or two come through with big flags and big Trump Pence signs on it. And then I noticed that it wasn't one or two trucks. They just kept coming and coming and coming. Trucks with big flags and big signs and honking their horns. And people had on Trump masks inside, you know, the ones the rubber ones so was it like down on their head. It was scary. It was infuriating. I was so pissed off. And all generations — there were kids inside those cars, little kids inside those cars. I saw a lot of older people, you know, in these cars and all looking so proud and laughing at us. And then I realized that they also were also on the sidewalk. They were young girls, but they were part of them, you know, and cheering them on. And you could tell that they knew them. And it was just terrible. And that's when I thought, oh, God, this is this is bad.
Additional production support from David Sietz, Angela Moore, Jack Long and Meghan Malas. This story was produced at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.