My German grandmother told me as a child: “Never play with Negroes, Jews, wops or half-breeds.” My mother was less vociferous about such matters, but she still didn’t encourage fraternizing with Meridian, the only “half-breed” in our elementary school. I never told my relatives that Ignatious, a black boy, spit in my face. I had never paid any attention to him (maybe that was the cause of the projectile), but I’ll never forget the look of hatred on his face. I continued my aloofness to black people all through high school and college, but in grad school I was studying to be a social worker, so paying attention became a prerequisite for my future.

The first time I paid attention was on a home visit to take a psycho-social history of a teenage boy who was admitted to the state hospital for shooting kerosene into his veins. A poor black community (that meant “bad”), a narrow street of rowhouses, no place to park. I walked a block to the house, stepping over broken glass, garbage and a few spent bullets. His mother answered the door, a haggard flat affect greeting me, “Yes, Miss Woodring, come in.” I went into the kitchen and put my notebook on the table. Immediately, roaches swarmed over my papers and hands. She seemed oblivious. I flicked them on the floor, trying to be oblivious as well. Although I was supposed to be a non-judgmental evaluator, the only thing that came to mind was exterminator companies and fear that I would be bringing this dreadful swarm home. The interview was shorter than most, and my supervisor told me so. Telling her about the roaches would have been futile—“get used to it,” she would have said.

In the summer of 1964, I was a camp counselor awaiting the arrival of underprivileged kids from Brooklyn and Harlem. The staff stood in line as the buses discharged swarms of young black girls. With open arms, they ran to us screaming, “Yay!!!!!!!!!” as if their little lives had just begun on a new planet. I had never been touched by a black person before, and now I was being hugged by dozens of them.

The next summer I lived in New York City, a dream come true. I idealized the city as being free, liberal, exciting. Although I had learned in school about its’ inequities and suffering, I was determined to rush into it like those camp kids did—with open arms and yelling, “Yay!!” In the first hour in the land of the free, I came upon two black men who were trying to break into my car. Apparently having shed more of my fear and loathing of the “black man” than I thought, I walked up to both of them and said, “Excuse me, sirs!” They turned around, looked at me with “What the fu—” expressions and quickly ran down the street. My roommate was a summer intern at a settlement house and brought home her co-worker, Darnell, a black male social worker, for me to meet. The uniformed doorman at our apartment building had always been quite polite to me. That is until I dated Darnell. He looked at me with disdain and never said, “Good morning” to me again. After a few dates, I realized the futility of continuing a bi-racial relationship even in New York City. I ended our brief tryst with a poem I wrote to him questioning why he only dated white women (according to my roommate).

I never questioned my motives for dating him until years later: I was trying to show the world I was free, liberal, exciting.

When we first married, my husband and I moved into a mixed neighborhood in a large city. One could say the block was integrated: we were the only white folks on it. Our middle-class black neighbors complained about the obese black woman who moved up from the south with her seven children: “She’s bringing the neighborhood down.” It was my first understanding that not all blacks were for confraternal solidarity.

I discovered feminism in the 1970’s. I was immersed in a middle/upper class white woman’s world. Rarely did any of us talk about the plight of black women (or lesbians for that matter). I read Michelle Wallace’s book, Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman, with amazement. She was a black feminist! Although I recommended the book to my black female clients, I seemed to be the only one enamored by it.

A white woman friend of mine dated a black man. Her next-door neighbor was a Nazi with excerpts from Mein Kampf tattooed on his bald head. He came to her door one day and threatened, “Get rid of your n— or watch him hang from my oak tree!” She obeyed.

As a psychotherapist for battered women, I heard the suffering of black women at the hands of black men. One woman was beaten nearly to death. She was roused out of unconsciousness by her four-year-old daughter, “Mommy, are you dead?” Another lost three of her sons to gang violence. Horrid tales of child rape, violent pimps and drug dealers enlisting boys as young as nine to do their evil work.

A black woman friend read this poem and commented, “I hope Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean only white people should care about them.”

We mused, “Would it be better for a black or a white person to ask such a question?”