What is My Personal Story?
I think it is important that you understand what I am trying to convey with the art that I create in my collection: “We Are All One Family”.
I am white. I grew up in a housing project in Richmond, CA in the 1940’s. The housing units were segregated by skin color. Whites and people of color lived in separate buildings in the project. The "working poor", like my parents who did not have an 8th grade education, lived amid alcoholics, petty thieves, and prostitutes in the “white only” designated units and the “colored” designated units, alike.
Our public school was a row of one-story connected trailer-like wooden building – one for each classroom. There was no school library and, in fact, we did not even have the word “library” in our vocabulary. Despite these issues, there was one major benefit: I went to school at an early age in a world that was desegregated. Students of Chinese descent and students of African descent were in my classes. We were all just children and friends. Skin color meant no more to us than eye or hair color. To us, one skin color was not better or worse than another.
But, then in 1950, my parents moved to St. Louis. We no longer lived in a housing project; we now lived in a building that could only be described as a slum. When we turned out the lights in the evening, hundreds of large roaches emerged from under the baseboards and swarmed over everything. It was not unusual to get out of bed in the morning and find a few crushed roaches in the bed. In my neighborhood, we were all poor to lower middle-class. Yet, housing was still segregated. Public schools were segregated. Department store lunch counters were segregated. Movie theaters were segregated. Bathrooms were segregated. People of color and whites could not marry each other. And, on and on. The children and parents that I came in contact with appeared to think this was the natural order of things and should not be changed. Coming from a different paradigm, I was confused as to why this was going on.
Sadly, there are many people living today who still hold this as a truth – that one group of people is better than another just because of skin color. I want my art to help change this perception. My art focuses on depicting the common emotions and bonds that all people experience regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.
Now Let’s Do a Quick Dive into Genetic Genealogy!
I am my family’s historian and, because of that, have for the past six years been a student of genetic genealogy.
I think everyone should have their DNA analyzed through National Geographic to understand who they are in relationship to other people on our planet. National Geographic’s DNA test, unlike Ancestry, 23andMe and the rest, shows you your deep genetic history back over 300,000 years.
If female, you learn that your mitochondria DNA, like the mitochondria of all female humans on this planet today, is directly descended from a woman who lived 180,000 years ago in the Riff Valley in what is today Ethiopia.
If you are male, your Y-chromosome DNA, like the Y-chromosome DNA of all male humans on this planet today, can be traced back to a man who lived 300,000 years ago also in the Riff Valley.
Somewhere around 180,000 years ago the descendants of this man mated with our female ancestor. And because of that, we, their descendants, exist. That is not to say that these two people were the only humans alive at that time, just that, for whatever reason, their descendants were the only humans to survive to modern times.
Therefore, we all started out from the same place on Earth, from the same great-great-etc grandparents, and all looking the same. Skin color and facial feature changes evolved over time as our ancestors migrated to different parts of the world and faced different environments to which they had to adapt.
With genetic testing kits being commonplace today, the belief is that our DNA can sort us into categories like the “five races:” African, European, Asian, Oceania, and Native American. However, all these test companies are doing is sorting us back to the migration patterns of our ancestors over the last 300 – 500 years. There is no scientific evidence that supports the concept of race. In fact, the term “race” has no scientific underpinnings. Classification of groups of people by “race” is merely a means to justify subjugation of those groups.
From our genetic history, we know that All People Are Related. We Are All One Family. We are all entitled to respect and equality in rights and opportunities. However, we know that the playing field is no way level in the US even today. Overt racism is easy to recognize and denounce. Unfortunately, racism and segregation also exist in subtle ways that are not so easily recognized. Recommended reading: "The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America", by Richard Rothstein and "The New Jim Crow (Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness) by Michelle Alexander.
In this Blog, I decided to feature an artwork from my collection "We Are All One Family!" sub-collection "African". This image is of an African mother and her child with the words below the image: "I wouldn't change my child for the world, but I wish I could change the world for my child." As for me, I, too, wish I could change the world! Hopefully my artwork will help a little to change a few hearts and minds.
Now Your Turn
What was your experience with segregation and racism when you were growing up? What about today? Please contact me at Lescrog@aol.com. I would love to know your story.
Also, please let me know of topics you would like discussed.
Until next month, stay safe and well!