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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Brenda Tapia, February 2, 2001. Interview K-0476. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Reflections on fear, ignorance, and racism

Tapia describes her realization that her parents, when they were offering her little encouragement as she struggled through high school, simply did not know how to deal with the situation. She understands that fear provokes racism.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Brenda Tapia, February 2, 2001. Interview K-0476. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

How did your mom and dad take it when you first went, were they happy or…?
Actually, I realize in retrospect, because I didn't understand it at the time, because I didn't really start looking at my parents as human beings until I was about twenty-five. I mean when I say human beings, they were always my parents, but parents have a way of being demi-gods, and you don't really watch them, observe them … you don't really judge them the way you may other human beings. They were frightened. I didn't realize that at the time, because you know, you don't think your parents are scared of anything, and then as you get older and get to know them, and realize they're human too, and yeah, they really are scared. I realized they were scared. I also realized, I had to accept that they couldn't help me. Because I can remember coming home and sharing with my mom some of the things that I was experiencing as they were happening. And what she would say was: "Look, I didn't send you to school to be happy, I sent you to school to get an education. You can deal with that if you want to, but your focus needs to be on getting an education. If somebody doesn't treat you right, or they don't seem to like you, that's not important. That's not what you're there for." And that was not how she should've have responded, but I realize now in retrospect, she was doing the best she could. Like she said, she didn't have Oprah back then, so she didn't know what to say. And I'm like: "Thank God for Oprah now, but I sure wish Oprah had been thirty years sooner than she was." And that's pretty much been the story for me. I mean it was like it started with school, but I found myself, after graduating from Howard, and it probably had to do with the field I went in to, my undergraduate degree was in psychology, and for the first ten years after college I was blessed to work in master-level positions with an undergraduate degree in psychology with only a bachelor's. You don't find a lot of Black people in the field of psychology, so I was always a fly in buttermilk, I was always the only Black. And so I began to realize that not just my parents, but a lot of Blacks, because they had not had the opportunities and the exposure that I had, I not figured out how to deal with White people, how to relate with them, how to live with them, how to work with them. I found myself repeatedly going to older Blacks, or Blacks that I thought knew more than I did, trying to get some keys as to how do I deal with the situation - "How do I handle this?" - and I've never been able to. The most recent being coming back here, because I've been back here since 1985, a little over, almost over, yeah, a little over fifteen years, and as a minister, trying to get support, help from - I belong to a Black Presbyterian ministerial association, which for a long time I was the only woman. I always find myself being the only Black or the only woman wherever I go. I don't know why I don't get to go to majority places but, at any rate, I got mad at them in trying to get help. And it took me about five or six years to realize that they weren't not helping me because they didn't wan to, or they didn't care, they didn't know either. In fact, they were more afraid of Whites than I was. They had not had enough contact and interaction with them to realize: "Well they're really no different. Everybody gets up in the morning and puts one leg in their pants and then they put the other one in. And, we are all the same and there's no reason for us to fear each other." And I experience that fear on both sides of the racial divide. I see the fear in Whites, in terms of things like, saying things like: "Well I don't know if I would feel, be welcome if I went to a Black church." "Well of course you'd be welcome, you'd be a lot more welcome than I've been walking into all-White churches." And then Blacks who will hide their fear behind: "Aww naww man, you know I work with them all day, you know, I don't want to be hanging out with them after work." Which is really just an excuse of fear, it's like: "I don't think I'll know what to say, I don't think I'll know how to act." "Well it doesn't matter, they don't think like that, we shouldn't either."