Monday, November 16, 2015

Racial discrimination within my family

Yesterday was my mother's 99th birthday.  I've been thinking some about my dad lately, now that he's been gone for about 10 years.  It has always been a conundrum why he was such a splendid father to me and my eldest sister, Susan, and an abusive father to my middle sister, Bonnie.

We all heard over and over how Bonnie used to bemoan how dad treated her differently and discriminated against her.  I never saw it until my dad was almost dead, at age 90, when my 2 elder sisters helped him to the bathroom, one under each arm to support him.  He graciously thanked Susan and sneered at Bonnie.  That's when my mother disclosed that she had noticed his discrimination for Bonnie early on and tried to reason with him about it.  He just responded that he found Bonnie to be annoying.

And Bonnie WAS annoying!  Typical of the second child, if they can't get positive attention, then they demand negative attention, better than no attention at all.  Yes, Bonnie was annoying.  As a young child, I remember teaming up with my older sister against Bonnie and taunting her.  As an adult, I apologized to her for that.  But Bonnie was molded into a much different person than me even though we had the same parents due to my father's emotionally abusive discrimination of her.  For over a decade, I have been pondering why my dad did this, and I finally got an answer yesterday.

We are New York Jews.  All of our ancestors came from Eastern and Western Europe.  We are Caucasians with blue or brown eyes, frequently hooked noses, mostly with curly or wavy European hair.  Both my parents fit that description, and all of my grandparents, as well.  But not Bonnie.  Bonnie was born with dark skin, the typical deep blue eyes of the Cohen side of the family, and kinky nearly black hair.  For the first time in my life, I realized that my dad disliked her from the day she was born because she had dark skin.

I remember the horror in my brother-in-law's face when he gazed upon his newborn son, Barry.  I was also with Ronnie the day he gazed upon his first-born, Lori.  Lori's head and part of her forehead was bashed in from the forceps assisted birth.  Ronnie was beaming with pride at his wrinkled infant with a bashed-in head.  But when he gazed upon newborn son Barry, he was struck with horror and disgust.  Barry was born pinto.  He had dark skin and light skin right across the middle of his face.  One side of his neck was light skinned, and the other side was dark.  I could understand it as horror of a deformed, imperfect baby, but Lori was imperfect and deformed, and Ronnie's response was very different.

Today I am thinking that both my dad and Ronnie were more offended by having a child with dark skin.  As I recall the racial attitudes of my parents, my mom said she grew up in NYC with all the races and didn't see much difference.  But my dad was more surreptitious with his attitudes.  Both he and Ronnie felt Blacks were lazy, untrustworthy, and  inferior.  Could it be that they gazed down at their 100% Jewish newborns and saw a Negro?

Bonnie has since gotten vitiligo and her face lost it's Middle Eastern hue to become colorlessly white.  But in her youth, her beauty was striking by those blue eyes in contrast with her dark skin and dark Jewfro.  I was proud of her striking Moroccan-like beauty.  It never even occurred to me at the time that she was "different" or "other" because of the color of her skin being so different from mine.  There was no doubt as to her heritage since she was the spitting image of our grandmother Rose, except with dark skin.  She looked more like the Cohen side of the family than any of us.

I'm not sure my sister Bonnie has ever known happiness.  She hates when I write personal things about her for the public to see.  That's why I am writing it here in my blog, since nearly no one ever reads my blog.  And also, I will skip the details of Bonnie's sources of anguish.  Let's just say that her life might have been much happier if our father had treated her with as much love as Susan and me.  Thankfully, our mother had enough love for us all.  Even in my mother's self-indulgent years, she still made it a hard and fast principal to treat us all equally.

Some might question my right to judge that Bonnie isn't happy as she gazes at the East River from her luxury Manhattan apartment with obscene amounts of money to spend and 2 employed sons and 5 healthy grand-children.  But I think I know my sister Bonnie, and even if happiness was right in front of her, she wouldn't accept it, because our father rejected her. 

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