I spent my childhood in a segregated town in Texas. It was the late 1950s and early 1960s, and civil rights had not yet taken root in our small north central town. As I recall, all of the Black people lived on one side of the railroad tracks, roughly in the center was downtown, and all of the Whites lived on the other side of downtown.
On our side of town, we had everything we needed. We had our own doctor, dentist, lawyer, drugstore (with freshly made ice cream), and even a movie theater. We had our own schools, and our own school teachers, all of whom also lived in the same community. We had a variety of Christian denominations and churches, and almost everyone went somewhere on Sunday mornings. The carnival would come at least once a year, maybe more, and a good time would be had by all.
I rarely saw White people. I would see them when we went clothes shopping at J.C. Penney, or toy shopping at Kress, or when friends of my parents or grandparents would visit. I had no idea that racism existed. I had no idea that I would someday realize that there were those who were convinced that I was “different” or even “lesser” than others in my world. I, and all of the children in my community, were insulated and protected from the larger world of racism, bigotry and prejudice.
However, because of the segregation, I grew up believing that I had no limitations. I was free to do or be whomever or whatever I wanted to be. I was supported, encouraged and held to a high standard of learning. The world was mine.
Later, I decided to attend an all-women’s college. There was diversity in nationalities, races and ages, but not in gender, at least not among the undergraduate students. We were supported, encouraged, and urged to take on leadership roles. We were told that we were smart, talented, and inventive. The world was ours.
I often wonder if it’s the same for those women living in Saudi Arabia; a world partially but strongly defined by the separation and segregation of the sexes.
Do women obtain a deep certainty of who they are? Do they have unshakeable confidence in themselves and their abilities? Are they lifted up by the segregation? Do they walk in the world knowing that they can be successful?
My female students are like any other group of young women. Some are extremely bright, some are ambitious, and some are talkative and gregarious. Others are more introverted, shy and hesitant about speaking. Some are married, some are single. All of them seem to have a strong sense of themselves and of their world. Do they believe that the world belongs to them? I would like to think so.