“My Hindu friends say I’m a Hindu… my black friends call me ‘sistah…’ So, no, I don’t identify with white.”
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Transcript for As Far As I’ve Gotten
I’m a lifelong resident of Valparaiso, Indiana. I’ve always had an interest—I’ve always enjoyed people of different cultures, different background, possibly because it was just so milquetoast in Valpo. When I was growing up, it was totally white. I had lived in such a homogeneous community, I really didn’t want to be married and settle down and all that, but my father would not educate me. Another thing I was drawn to was the Civil Rights Movement, and when it came on TV, you couldn’t get me away from it; I was just glued. And I can remember my father saying to me, ‘If you love those blankity-blank-blanks, why don’t you go and live with them?’ So I went into Chicago and I got a job. After a couple years, I ended up coming home, marrying my high—my Valpo sweetheart, and did all the picket fence and the whole bit. Then, about sixteen years later, he left me which was the best thing that ever happened to me because then I became free to be who I wanted to be. In the course of all this, I ended up marrying an African American and went to live with him. And I always thought about that and wondered if my father ever remembered that.
The African American that I married was incarcerated at Westville Correctional Center. And he was a Muslim. So, I agreed to convert. But we were married for seven years. Eventually, he fell away from Islam and that was really the downfall. He got into alcohol, and he died two years after we were divorced. So, that was a sad part. But I’ve kept in touch with his family, and I’ve always said that he gave me entrée into the Black community and he gave me entrée into the Muslim community, and the things that have come from those relationships have been phenomenal.
I have a lot of friends over at the mosque. I took a class up here at VU with the Saudi students and was able to, you know, understand and be accepted by them. I’ve had other people who are Muslims who come into the community that—in fact, I have one now I’m supposed to be contacting—who come in and help them to make friends, and find places to go to worship, and that kind of stuff. And then, with the Black community, I still keep in touch with his family, friends that we had in common. But I mean, I just learned a lot of stuff, just things that help you to understand the differences.
My mother-in-law brought his daughter up to stay with us one time, and these two little girls got out, and they had all of these braids. And I said, ‘What do I do with that?’ And she said, ‘You don’t do a thing. That’s why we had it done.’
I had one guard at the prison say to me when I was going through—she was a black woman—and she said, ‘Well the nice thing about white skin is you don’t get ashy.’ And I said, ‘Oh yes we do. It just doesn’t show.’ I said, ‘My skin sheds. But you just don’t see it because it’s light, that’s all.’ You know, just things like that that people don’t normally ask. Just stuff that we don’t think about.
I have just decided that, you know, maybe my position is to try and be a person who brings people together. And I go to the Methodist church, and my friend says, ‘Well, you’re probably the only Muslim that goes to the Methodist church here.’ And I said, ‘Well, maybe.’ My Hindu friends say I’m a Hindu—I’m a North Indian—my black friends call me ‘sistah,’ so I don’t—no, I don’t identify with white. I mean, I don’t have anything against, you know, white, but that’s not my identity. So, no. I’m a child of God, and that’s about as far as I’ve gotten.