Racism Kisses Me Goodnight

By Marty Pottenger ©1988

My father said "Look at all those black people riding in that car. Look at them!" He wasn't really talking to anyone as far as I could tell, but demanding that everyone pay attention to him. Probably something his folks had done. We were driving along South Shore Drive in the city part of Chicago. I was maybe five, six.

I looked out the window and there was this car with alot of black people in it. Only he hadn't called them black people. I figured that it must be because there were so many of them, in one car. That that must be what he was upset about. His voice sounded disgusted and scared, like he thought he was better but he better not say it too loud. Ugly pride. Not pride-pride. Pride was something you felt good about, like knowing the alphabet or spelling your name.

Alot of black people looking like they were having a good time together/ in a car/ on that road/ the name my father called them/ their blue car/ my father's tone/ I could feel my mother get scared/ what was he going to do/ her fear/ he was mean/ our black car/ my grandparent's car/ some of the people in the other car looking at me looking at them/ shame/ my father didn't like them/ they had too many people in their car/ and they looked like they were having a too good time/ which I wasn't/ and we weren't/ six children and two adults in this one car/ driving down South Shore Drive.

And this man, tucking me in at night, coming home after a week of travel, to find our mother gone, the children sick from crying, puke all over the rugs and chairs, the children hungry, their diapers soiled. This man, slowly, methodically, cleaning, washing, diapering. This man warming food. This man feeding. This man my father. A violent man. A man a woman would run away from. This man tucking me in at night, warm, the hunger gone, the terror lessened, saying "Goodnight" and meaning it.