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I grew up in a small rural town. My father, an overt racist (although there were unexpected layers to that). My mother, not so much. I remember my very first lesson on racism, and it came from her. I was small enough that I was sitting in the front of the grocery cart, and I saw the first black person I had ever seen in the store. I opened my mouth and said "look Mom, a nigger!" We were within hearing distance and I cringe today as I think of it. My mothers eyes shot fire at me as they always did when she was angry and she walked right up to the woman and said "I'm sorry, I'm going to teach her better right now".

Then she left all the groceries in the cart and took me outside, set me down on the pavement and said in no uncertain terms that black people were just like me, and I was never to use that word again. Ever.

As small as I was that event is crystal clear in my mind. She was not playing. She later explained that skin color was no different from eye color, and that if I didn't pay attention to what color people's eyes were then I also shouldn't pay attention to skin color.

My mother was the daughter of migrant farmers. Dirt poor (literally). My grandfather made all the kids work in the field and then drank up the earnings every weekend. My mother learned how to earn money on the side to help her mother. She would go to the store, go around back and get the returnable bottles, then go in front and sell them. Even as a kid she had ingenuity, and she told me this later to explain how theft was wrong, not to brag.

Her life was changed by a teacher in grade school. She decided she wanted to be just like her teacher, and managed to overcome extreme poverty and put herself through school. She always kept her focus on the desired outcome, not on her circumstances.

She did become a teacher, and then she kept going back to school. No amount of education was ever enough for her.

Despite the generation she was born into, she always educated herself about social issues. When I dragged my first gay friends home in high school she was horrified. Then books about the issue started appearing around the house, along with books about feminism. I think that was the biggest difference between my mother, and most of my friends mothers. She always entertained the possibility that her opinions could be wrong and the product of generational upbringing, and set about finding out all she could on the subject. In other words, she evolved.

She taught me this skill by example. To this day, I look to books for my lessons. I always second guess my opinions. I look for disagreement and read everything they say with care. Hence my journey from straight laced mormon girl to agnostic, just one among many.

When I fell in love with another woman, again, she was horrified. But she took it upon herself to again, get educated. She accepted my partner as a member of the family, after a little time. I don't know how she resolved this with her faith, all I know is that she did it. I think she was a remarkable woman, and the biggest lesson she taught me was the skill of evolving, and reinventing myself.

All thinking people evolve. If they don't they are probably republicans.

Originally posted to azrefugee on Sun May 13, 2012 at 08:58 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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