What am I? Roles People Play (Betty Peters)

     My mother Betty Peters, was an elementary school teacher.  I found this paper she wrote very interesting.  I was more impressed that she mentioned the possibility of adopting children.  My mother had had the conversation with my grandmother about adopting children on her death bed. My mom was not able to have any children, and I did not meet my grandmother because she passed three years before I was born.  But, my grandmother gave my mother blessings to adopt, so I feel that the thought of me was on her mind, and therefore I feel connected to her.  The paper below was written about 1966.

Page #1

     I do not know Sidney Poitier.  I am not a member of the movie colony.  I am not even an avid moviegoer.  However, there is something in the wind which disturbs me sufficiently to make me want to share my thoughts with as many people as I can reach.  For over a year now, I have run into the same conversation now and then, in a variety of groups, to the effect that some of the young, or perhaps many young Negro people in New York are “downing” (speaking with great disfavor of) Sidney Poitier for playing “non-Negro” movie roles.  These persons are saying he (and, of course, other Negro actors and actresses) should play roles solely which indicate the Negroes’ struggle in America, and that they should, I suppose, refuse to accept roles that show a person who is physically Negro in appearance, but in just about every other way, “White.”  That is, sharing a common culture with white Americans, living similarly in many aspects of living, and – most important – having to solve everyday problems of a fairly non-racial nature.

I disagree with these people.

     Serious theatre, like all other art, flourishes only in an atmosphere of freedom.  The individual artist communicates his reactions in his own art form…in this situation, in drama.  Art dies, and the public suffers accordingly, when art is confined, censored, restricted.  The dramatist relates what he  has experienced in his situations.  The actor, another individualist, with his own individual set of experiences, hopefully, can empathize with the dramatist, and together they unfold the communication, as they see it and feel it, to the public.

     Now there may be some people who see themselves only in one light.  Such a person, if an actor, would have to be “type” casted forever, and there might be some questions as to whether to consider such
a person an artist.  However, in this complex, multi-faceted world it is difficult to conceive of any thinking person’s seeing himself, or herself in only one light.  As an example, I offer myself as a study.

 Page #2

Let’s see what other groups I fall into:

—I am a Television viewer

I am a music lover.     I am a “reader.”     I am an avocational writer.

I am a suburbanite.     I am overweight.     I am 40 years old.

I am a gourmet, of sorts.     I am a dog owner.     I am a taker of baths…I hate showers!

I am a user of cosmetics.     I wear tailored clothes.

I belong to a credit union.     I buy and drive foreign cars.  I am a martini drinker.

I am not anti-sports but a-sports…not caring one way or another.

I hate heat waves.     I like shutters.     I dislike spiders.     I love cologne.

I refused to join a social sorority in college but I do belong to an honorary fraternity.

I am a Liberal.     I am a consumer.     I am a “taxpayer.”     I am a New Yorker, by

birth and upbringing, a Californian by residence, and more pinpointedly, a Los Angeleno.

I am a “propery-owner.”     Sometimes I am a restaurant patron.

Sometimes I am an airplane passenger.     I am an “only child.”     I am an offspring of…

of a “broken home.”     I am now motherless.     I am an American.

I am middle-class.

Page #3

     To my third grade class, I am their teacher.  Inside that classroom I share common problems, and have similar training, with and as teachers all over America.  I grapple with problem children,, try to find time to enrich gifted ones, try to find time to do all that my job requires in the time allotted and in much overtime.  I try to decide which teacher’s organization to belong to, if any.  I react to supervision from the administrative branch.  I try to maintain rapport with the community in which I teach, though, sometimes difficult, parent contacts.  I try to have good relationships with other staff members, keeping in mind the concept of professionalism.  I grapple with the idea of trying for advancement, and if so what?  I could go on and on.

     To my husband I am a wife.  I am the one who has seen him “through” “thick and thin” for many years now.  I am the person he must consider in both his big decisions and his most minute daily activities, such as weather to hang up his clothes.  I will be the mother of his children, even if we find we have to adopt them.  I’m the person he presents to his business associates, organization co-members, old Army buddies.  I’m the hostess at his parties, his lover, his best friend.  In short, I am to him what most wives are their husbands all over America and elsewhere in the world.

     To various organizations in which I have worked, I am a reliable worker.  Once I entered a room of a newly-formed civic group, uninvited, meaning to volunteer my services for the afternoon.  A voice greeted my ear.  I heard the words, “Here comes ‘Old Faithful’!”  I turned to see the smiling face of a friend with whom I had worked in other organizations in the past.  Later when the group disbanded, the project completed, I had added dozens more people to the fairly long list of those who see me mainly in this light. Old Faithful!
     To many teachers at various points in my education I have been considered a truly gifted student, but one Chemistry Lab instructor at New York University indicated my lack of ability in this area of instruction was downright depressing.

Page #4

     During the last Christmas holidays the doorbell rang one Sunday morning.  There stood one of our neighbors from around the corner.  He and his wife are a retired couple.  We have chatted with them on occasion.  We have never visited their home nor have they visited ours.  Much to our surprise the gentleman handed us a beautifully wrapped Christmas gift, which later turned-out to be a box of delicious chocolates.  The man simply said, “Merry Christmas!  You’re nice neighbors!”  I’m a neighbor.

     I quit one organization I was in, because I always seemed to be opposing the entire Board of Directors, of which I was a member.  They made it quite clear what they though I was, a pain in the neck!  Now if I see one of them in the supermarket they duck their head and go the other way!

     To my doctor I am someone whose health he is guarding.  Since I have had a variety of health problems, one which involved surgery, he keeps close “tabs” on me.  To my dentist I fall into the group of people who pretend not to be terrified each time I sit in the dentist’s chair!

     I am a woman!  (We can vote now!)  Recently I accompanied my husband to an affair which was being given for young boys.  There were two or three hundred people in the room…all males!  We hadn’t realized it would be so.  I couldn’t go home.  We lived too far away, and my husband was on “the show”, which was about to begin.  Self consciously I tried to hide myself in a corner by a post.  A few minutes later another woman appeared at the door with a tall man and a boy.  I could feel her despair as she stared wide-eyed and open-mouthed into the room.  Then she saw me!  Her shoulders relaxed.  The man and boy went one way.  She smilingly picked her way through the crowd and cam and sat right beside me!  She was not even my race!

     To many people, I am an old and trusted friend.  They have others.

     To my political party I am a voter.  This puts me in quite a large group.

     To my minister I am a member of the flock.

     To some relatives I am one of their beloved relations.  To some others I am

     the reason they are glad they can choose their friends.

4 thoughts on “What am I? Roles People Play (Betty Peters)

  1. Man what a wonderful post to greet me after I struggled at Target to get my kids stuff for back to school. Your mother was an incredible lady. You are blessed to have had her. Of course you know this and that is why you chose to share such a wonderful paper. You really get a sense of her from it. Thank you so much. Can't wait until your next post.

  2. While I was reading this, Nat and Natalie were singing and the song mirrored with your mother's words. Your mother must have been an incredible, unforgettable woman.

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