I went home, transcribed some of the interviews, then I moved to America and for the next 10 years, life chewed me up, and spat me out only now.
It is a debt of honor to finalize this work I called "Are We Tooo White To Be Gypsies?". I hope it speaks to you. What you'll read now are snippets from the entire material, still in the works.
Stan Markowitz and Dottye Burt-Markowitz were my hosts in Baltimore.
Dottye is a consultant on racial equity and organizational development and co-founder of Baltimore Racial Justice.
She always listened to whatever I had to say. I confided in her wisdom, because it seemed she had walked ahead of me two decades ago on the same path of events, or trials you may say.
“I suppose everybody asks you how comes that you had been married to a black man. ‘How could you do such a horrible thing, Dottye? I can’t believe it’s you!’”
“Okay... I met Adam’s father in New York City in 1968, where I moved after I spent four years in Texas going to college. One day I was walking down the street, and this African-American man came up to me and just started a conversation with me. At first I was very cold and I didn’t want to be talking to this person, I didn’t even know who he was or what he wanted so I just answered his questions very short, I kept walking.”
“What was he talking about? The weather?”
“Haha! I don’t remember, just all kinds of things! But he was very charming, very flattering and very charismatic. He just kept walking with me, he just couldn’t stop talking. He didn’t do anything else but he just kept walking with me. So finally I agreed to go and get something to eat or whatever, I don’t even remember very clearly everything what happened ‘cause I since repressed everything and made myself forget but... I started seeing him then and we very quickly fell in love and started living together. And... that was probably in...”
“But what was he?”
“He was an artist... yea, and at that time he was not telling at all what he was doing. Probably dealing drugs and selling art and doing a lot of different things to make money. He didn’t have a regular job. So after we lived together for about 8 months or so, I got pregnant with Adam and then we decided we get married, by this time I already divorced my first husband, so we got married shortly after I found out I was pregnant. Then especially after we were married it became clear that he was really... psychotically jealous and paranoid. It’s started being a very very difficult relationship.
“Before Adam was born because we couldn’t afford to have a baby in New York, it just cost so much money, we moved to Buffalo which was where Adam’s father was from and rented a house there and... and about two weeks after Adam was born... our house got on fire... and that was in the middle of winter, in the middle of a very big blizzard so that it was freezing in the house because they had to knock out a wall and knock out windows and everything to stop the fire. So I flew home to Illinois to my parents and stayed there for a while, then went back to Buffalo, and by the time I got back... things got really really bad, and it was clear that he was... he was just getting worse and worse. He didn’t want to speak to anyone, he was constantly accusing me of being interested in other men, interested in his sons ‘cause he had sons from a previous marriage in Buffalo, just total crazy accusations. And I left him when Adam was about 4 or 5 months old. We went back to Illinois. Then he came to live together for the rest of that year, and things just got even worse and he was obviously very very psychotic at this point, he was like telling me that he’s getting messages from the TV and... making this very veiled threats about killing me.
“So on January first, on Adam’s first birth day, I pretended - and I had been waiting, I knew I had to leave, and I knew I was in danger and Adam was in danger, so for that two months I had been watching for an opportunity to escape. But he was so good at detecting when he thought I might make a move that it was never possible and then on New Year’s day, I said I’m going to the grocery. I had arranged everything ahead of time. I had a friend who had an apartment in Saint Louis and I explained to him what was going on and he said you can use this apartment - he was a co-worker. I went there first for about maybe a week and then I went to my brother’s house, he lived in Indiana which was a few hundred miles away... I didn’t let anyone else know where I was, so that he couldn’t find out and I spent I don’t know how long at my brother’s, weeks, until he finally gave up trying to find me and went back to New York. So that was the last time I ever saw him. When Adam was one year old, so that’s 24 years.”
“Do you have papers saying he died?“
“No, but I’m sure he has died by now, because he was already so... I mean a lot of his psychosis may had been psychological but it also had mixed in the signs of alcoholism and the kind of psychosis that comes with advanced alcoholism. I don’t think he could have lived that many more years. When Adam tried to find him, we checked in... there is a place you can go to research death certificates by name and they said, no you have to know when the person died hahaha, so that was no help, because we had no idea what date to tell them so... we couldn’t find anything.”
“By that time intermarriage was accepted?”
“Well, no. There were laws in many states against mixed race marriages, until the sixties. It was just a few years after the supreme court had declared those laws unconstitutional so it was still a taboo thing to marry across race. Except that we lived in New York City, and New York is very different from most of the rest of the country. There were a lot of mixed couples, and you weren’t seen as so much of an outsider or alienated as much in New York. Especially where we lived which was close to the Village, where a lot of people who were different for different reasons lived. So we didn’t have a lot of problems around being a mixed couple there at all. When I moved down to Illinois and I was raising Adam by myself, people there were much less accepting, and much more shocked to see a white woman with a mixed child. Very few people would actually come up and say something. Sometimes that would happen, maybe young people. I remember a girl coming one time and close up looking at Adam, looking at me and saying ‘Is he yours?!’ But that didn’t happen very often. Usually people would stare and they would look disapproving or they would look curious or puzzled or whatever... A lot of times, especially if I actually met the person when Adam was with me and indulged in some conversation, so that they had some sense of me as person, they would kind of twist things and their perception, they would decide in their own mind that Adam must be something else. They would ask me if he was Italian or if he was Spanish, anything but black, anything that African-American. It happened a lot that people would assume that he was some other nationality other than African-American. Because at that time his hair was still with loose curls it wasn’t so tight as it is now. When he was young he could have been a lot of different things so people would, they would project on him what they wanted him to be, because they didn’t want to accept that he was half African-American. So that was the most frequently experience.”
“How you reacted when he experienced racism? We live in Hungary now and when I drop Alex to kindergarten we speak in Romanian. A child one day asked us what weird language did we speak, because we should speak Hungarian! My adrenaline went high as I was trying to protect Alexander, and I was about to attack and maul that Hungarian kid, like a beast. I told him, ‘My child speaks three languages because he's a smart child and I speak four, can you do the same?!’ I hated his parents, thinking about the nationalistic comments they made in front of their four year old child. I felt insecure, ‘Oh, my God, I have to go, I have to leave this country, I don’t want my baby to be here!’ ”
“But where to go...haha!”
“I don’t know how to solve this because I might do more damage to him than those kids do to him, because I lose control. I don’t know what might come out of my mouth. What did you do?”
“It’s very hard because there’s no way not to have these feelings. It’s outrageous, it’s so unjust that people would treat a child that way and have these attitudes. I think there’s no way to not have these feelings. And sometimes I think it’s not the worst thing to just let somebody know bluntly how you feel about what they said. But a lot of times people are just very unaware. They’ve not had any experience, they‘ve been taught certain things. I really learned a lot more from Adam about how to deal with these things after he was older than I have figured it out myself, because he was much more tolerant of white people who’d grown up being taught racism. He would go by his gut feeling about the person. ’Is this a person I can talk to? Who’s open, who’s basically a decent person but all they know at this point is what they’ve been taught and what their experiences have been?’ If he felt it was that kind of person, he would be very patient even if they made very racist, ignorant comments. He would just answer back or ask them questions to make them think and look at their own thought processes and believes, and think about whether what they’ve been taught was really matching the reality that they were learning about. If it was a person who is not interested in learning or changing or growing, that they were more interested in hanging on to their prejudices and attitudes then he would mostly just reject them like: ’This person’s not worth wasting my time on. Why should I even bother and waste my energy trying to show them how stupid they are because they don’t want to learn anything.’ He would very early when he would meet someone make that judgment, and then decide whether to try to relate to that person and try to engage them in looking at the racism or to either reject them, ignore them or tell them off. Just tell them very bluntly what he thought. So, I’ve learned a lot from him about doing that.
"In a way Adam was pretty sheltered from very blatant racist experiences, because we lived in small university towns where his school mates and their parents were professors and there were children of all different races from different countries, so all the children were used to people being different.
"Once he got into school, there were not a lot of incidents that I was aware of. And part of the reason I didn’t know a lot of times about when things did happen to him, is he started very early protecting me... I guess very early on he saw how upset I would get when people were prejudiced against him or against me because I was a white woman who had this sexual relationship with a black man. And he started hiding from me when racist things would happen to him. We talked about this over the years and he told me that he often didn’t tell me things that happened when he was in school, or playing out, because he knew it would upset me. So I think it’s important to figure out a way to deal with the racism that comes from other people in a way that says it’s okay for us to talk about this. ‘cause I regret that Adam felt like he had to protect me. Is this making sense?”
“Yes, yes. But me I lose control, I fear I could be violent!”
“Also my ex-husband was Romanian, but I live now in Hungary, and we talk both languages... and always comes the question ‘Was your husband Hungarian or Romanian?’ They have prejudice against Romanians, and when I say ‘Romanian’ then oh, you know, their reaction is that I’m inferior to them because I married a Romanian! I want to strangle them! Whatever reaction they have it’s not the right one, because why do they ask at all?!”
“Oh, yeah right! The only thing worst than a black person is a white woman who would marry a black person. That's the attitude here, in those times especially. To be considered lower than someone who’s black was to be willing to marry or go to bed with someone who’s black. Especially for a woman. For a white man it was okay as long as he didn’t marry because he was exploiting the woman, but for a white woman to go to bed with a black man lowered her lower than anybody else. That’s the way people thought about it... So it was definitely not only racism against Adam. I grew up in one of the most racist cities in the country where people were very overt about their racism and they discussed these things all the time, so I knew exactly what people were thinking when they saw me with Adam and they knew that he was half black.”
“Another thing was that I never could be in a relationship with a Hungarian man afterwards because they always had this thought of ’How could you!?’”
“Yeah, yeah I went through. For a long time after I left Adam’s father, I only dated black men... For several years. Because I just felt furious to even imagine that a white man was thinking about me and Adam that way. In fact once I dated a white man who was really a crazy person, he was very rich and very sick! Even though we gone out maybe twice he decided he wanted to marry me. And the way he told me this was ’I decided I want to marry you, I’m crazy about you, I really want to marry you, I really want to marry you in spite of the fact that you have this child!‘ Haha, right! ‘That really made me want to marry you!’ hahaha! Can you believe he would say that and think that I wouldn't want to have anything to do with him?! But that’s the way those people think. It was ridiculous. It took me a long time to be willing to date white men at all because of that.”
"I dated a black man once, but it was a lot of stress. Things which you never thought before, what are my girl friends thinking of me, or my co-workers, since for sure they’d changed their attitude towards me because I dated a black man, and all this stress made me wonder, 'Does my partner realize how much I care for him?'”
“What did you think?
“I don’t think he realized.”
“Where was he from originally?”
“From Africa. Touring with a British circus as an acrobat. The skinheads beat him up in the subway.”
“I don’t know, I couldn’t even guess how he would think about it, but I think in this country I think an African-American person is completely aware of what a white person is dealing with to be in a sexual relationship with them. But what black people here experiences by virtue of being black it’s so much more profound and all encompassing that I think it’s not any comparison. I could have any moment return to a white world and take advantage of the fact that I’m white and not deal everyday with the things that he had to deal with, that he could never escape from because he’s black. So there’s always a lot of privilege. You can be aware that you have it and use it responsibly but you can’t get rid of it. I can’t say ’well, yes I’m white but I understand about racism, I think it’s bad and I do everything I can to fight against racism, therefore I don’t have white privileges.' No matter how much I give up to do some of the things I do I always have the choice of using my white privilege if I want to or if I need to. It’s a big difference between what a white person, whatever the relationship is with a black person, whether it’s in marriage or friendship or whatever, there’s always a way in which what I sacrifice or the price I pay is less than or it’s a different kind of price and there’s elements of choice in it that a person who is black, doesn’t have. I think my friends who I work with understand a lot of things that I have to deal with are very problematic and very difficult, I think they appreciate it, but I don’t expect them to be terribly grateful to me for doing it, because I still benefited more from being white than I ever had to give up for being active against racism.”
“I work with Gypsy groups. What I found very difficult was to be accepted by them. My idea was that I tried to help the whole ethnic group... But I was working with individuals, sometimes I had the feeling that I became a scapegoat for all the wrongs they got along centuries from the whites.”
“When you’re a member of the dominant culture and you’re working with either a group or individuals who are part of a group that has been oppressed and discriminated against and devalued by this dominant culture, it’s such a problematic thing to build healthy relationships. There’s generations of history working against it. When I meet an African-American person for the first time, there’s no way I don’t carry with me my whiteness. Everything they’ve experienced of racism it’s attached to that whiteness, it doesn’t make any difference how hard I worked myself, how much I fight against racism and the fact that I have a child who is half African-American, none of those things really make any difference in that moment, in that place.
“The only thing that really matters is what happens between me and those people from that time on, and I can only expect initially that based on their experience they will not trust me, they will be ready for me, even if for a while I seem like a true ally and I seem not racist, they will be ready for me to change and to show that after all I really do harbor some racist believes or I really don’t see black people as intelligent or worthwhile of, that I really do think I am superior. They expect that sooner or later that will come out. And in a way that’s really unfair to me, but it’s the reality. And it’s not only realistic for black people to make those assumptions or to have those expectations of me, but it would be stupid of them not to. Because their very livelihood, their job, their status in this place and sometimes their very life depends on their being prepared for those kinds of things to happen, and to not trust me.
“So it’s very very complex and all I can do is to try to be myself, be aware and sensitive to the racial dynamics in the situation and to not try to patronize or pacify or condescend or be untrue to myself in a situation, but to try to be in that balance between being sensitive but also being honest. And it’s very hard... The longer I know someone, and we had a chance to work together and they’ve had a chance to test me in different situations, then the closer we get to a place where there is some real trust. But I would say that, with all of the black people that I’ve worked with and been in organizations with and have friendships with, that the number of people who I would expect to have a really a true deep level of trust with me in the way that my white friends do, is very, very, very small... Because it’s so much to overcome these daily thoughts of racism on black people in this country. It’s expecting a lot to expect them to trust me.
“What becomes really important is being honest and clear about things. When I work with an organization I try to make sure that we discuss very clear am I doing this strictly as a volunteer, am I going to be paid and how much, so that there’s not an opportunity for me to feel like I’ve been taken advantage of, or for them to feel like I came in here presenting myself one way and then I turned it around and expect something else. I’m really in it for myself and not because of them.
"And is also this whole element of wanting to help people who have been oppressed which is probably the trickiest thing of all, because there’s a whole history of 'missionary' approach to things, of this attitude of ‘Oh, these poor people! I want to help them! I can help them because I know how to do things, I know what they need.' There’s this attitude of wanting to help from people who come with the attitude ’I can help because I’m really superior. And I can help them because I know better than they do, I can give them things!' and no understanding of why would a person do that, what do they getting out of it. When I’m working with other white people who are doing anti-racism work or social service work or whatever, one of the things that I really look for is what is the understanding of why they are doing this. And if they have this missionary attitude like ‘Oh, I’m here to save these people because they can’t of course save themselves because they’re so inferior,' then I see that as very dangerous.
"I’m doing this because it’s important to me, not because I have some special abilities to save someone from a situation that they’re not capable of saving themselves from. For me it’s important to be in a society where there isn’t this injustice of racism that’s existed in this country from the beginning and I want to work with the people who’ve been oppressed by that system because I don’t want to live in it either. The whole history of this missionary complex also complicates things because people also don’t know what my motivation is when I’m in a new place and I might be one of these people who’s coming to save somebody, because I think I’m so special and capable of doing it, haha!”
“Maybe this is where things went wrong. But I came to work with them not feeling superior or missionary but because I have computer skills, language skills and I wanted them to put it to good use! Of course there were beautiful moments but overall they patronized me and pushed me around. Gradually I was turned into a broom. Pretentious airs. I was dealing with ‘alpha males’!”
“Oh, yea, that gets very complicated, because it’s not just racism, but there’s sexism, and those two get mixed together in these very odd ways. ‘cause I‘d experienced that kind of thing too in working with a black man who has a very sexist attitude towards women. All women, whether they are black or white or whoever. And he's in a relationship with me where I’m part of the dominant culture on race but he is part of the dominant culture on gender and he’s acting out those attitudes. Because I’m a woman, whatever I say can be ignored, or it has to be said by a man first before it’s credible.
"That’s part of what I’m saying you still have to be yourself, you can’t have these attitudes and I think this is hard especially in stages when people go through a lot of feelings of guilt and shame. There is a tendency to just accept unfairness toward yourself because you think ‘oh, I’m white and white people have done such terrible things! I can’t stand up to this person.' And that’s terrible too, because then you are really saying this person has to be treated in this special way like a child because they’re not capable of working with me person to person. And you’re working out of guilt rather than a real relationship and that’s very hard. Because people who’ve been discriminated and oppressed learned lots of ways to cope with it, and one of the ways is to manipulate people who feel guilty, haha! And some people are very very good at that.
“To me it’s a constant struggle of examining because there is always a new level of my own uncovering of racist attitudes and beliefs that I still have somewhere, and always finding new ways that things have been taught to me, and that I’ve incorporated, that I was not aware of before, so I have to be willing to keep looking at that, but not allow someone to manipulate me because I’m white and they can use this guilt thing on me. So at the same time that I have to admit that I am capable of doing something racist, so I have to be able to listen to somebody accuse me of that, I also have to be able to examine whether I believe it’s true or not, and to say that person if I honestly believe ‘No, I was not being racist, this was an interaction between us,' or ‘I did this for reasons that had nothing to do with racist believes and attitudes.’ I have to able to say that too. It’s a very challenging thing to be in. It’s also very exciting and rewarding ‘cause you’re really having to grow and change and become a better person all the time because you have to face these things, haha! So to me it’s a very worthwhile struggle, but it’s a struggle. It’s definitely a struggle.”
“I’ve asked today a lawyer what he thinks about the affirmative action being cut off, ‘Very good’ he said. ‘Why?’ ‘Because, you know, the minorities were allowed to catch-up and now it’s enough with the catching up, now they have to compete.”
“Yeah... It’s amazing because people who had been to college, are supposed to be able to analyze information and make sense of it. How can they say this in spite of the fact that any measure you look at, things are worse now than they ever were. If you look at the average income, blacks compared to whites, if you look at health indices, infant mortality rate all of those things are getting worse, not better. So for an intelligent person to say ‘they’ve caught up!’ it’s mind baffling! Are you so stupid that you can’t look at these facts?! And understand there’s not been a catching up. What there’s been is some African-Americans and other minorities have been allowed to move into the upper middle class, so you can point to people who were doing better on an individual basis, but on the society basis you can’t point to any facts that say that there’s been any catching up or any equality. These people enrage me, because what does their degree mean when they can’t think anymore clearly than that? It means nothing. It means they buy the propaganda and the lies and they have no ability to think for themselves. Because they benefit. They benefit. They’re not being for the affirmative action. They’ll be much better off. They won’t have to compete with the skilled intelligent black person or Latino person or woman - the woman seemed to be forgotten in a lot of this too... So it’s worse than hypocrisy, it’s a deliberate delusion...”
Well, here you have it: If you’d like to throw a bit of money my way to keep my endeavors going, and also enable me to spread the money to my various causes, speaking up against racism being one of them, I’d be grateful.
Thanks go to my family for their quiet support.
April 8th, 2013