In this interview with Brayton Shanley, Julie Bradley shares her unique experience as a bi-racial daughter of a white mother and a black father, who grew up with her four siblings in various housing developments and projects in the Boston area. Julie and her family have been a part of the Agape Community for forty years.
Julie, can you share a bit about your background?
I was born to a white mother and a black father so my growing up years were quite complicated in the sense of trying to find a way to fit in. We were raised in a predominately black neighborhood so having a white mother in a black neighbor was challenging. At one point, I thought being of mixed race was not seen so often or not the norm. But as I got older, I realized that being of mixed race was quite prevalent. In my younger years I wanted to identify with both races, half white half black. But as I got older, as I started going through experiences with race, I decided I needed to fit into one, and that was black. My world was telling me I was black. It was time to deal with that.
What was your first experience of racism?
It was when I was in 3rd or 4th grade when my mom, for the betterment of my brother and sister, sent us to a Catholic school in Brighton Mass. During recess, I would have to ask the white kids every day if it was okay to play with them. It was a 90 ten flip…90 percent no…10 percent yes. At that point I started to see how I was different as a mixed-race child.
You have said that your first experience of racism might not be understood as actual racism. What do you mean by that?
You don’t understand a gesture of racism until you understand what’s going on. I’m mixed race. I’m white and black and that’s what I stand on now, but I didn’t understand when these racial occurrences were happening, like the blatant racism at recess in the schoolyard. It was a game changer. I had to keep it in the forefront how I was treated, oppressed, demeaned.
What was the impact of knowing that you were surrounded by a racist society and what gave you that knowledge?
Just to hear racism mentioned was too painful so I just dismissed the whole thing. While I was growing up, there was one instance when I was literally called the “n” word. I applied it to me. I am black, and I lived in a predominantly all black neighborhood. Most in my neighborhood, including my family struggled in severe poverty without enough to eat, living in projects. This was so painful, that I put history itself in the rear-view mirror, the past. It was a coping mechanism, to throw out my past as well as all black history as I dealt with my current struggle and what I was trying to accomplish in my life.
How Were You Affected by the George Floyd Killing?
I had heard of cops killing black men and I kind of disregarded this. This was just a no-no for me. I did not want to go there. To save myself I did not touch that. It was just too emotionally upsetting to deal with. But when the George Floyd killing happened, because of all the publicity that it received, I had no choice but to dive into it. Watching for the first time a video of a cop killing a black man, the first thing that crossed my mind was my own son. He resembles Floyd, in the color of his skin and like Floyd, he had no hair on his head. I started thinking: George Floyd or Frank Bradley? I got into my motherly role and had to make sure that Frank Bradley doesn’t become George Floyd.
How does that happen? Did you discuss it with Frank? Get more active? Seems like you’re more ready to enter this fray.
I became more at peace with my own history and was beginning to put the pain behind me. After watching the emotionally provocative video, I knew I needed to be more involved. Facebook universe is when you put something on it, you are making that commitment. First thing I put was a post to my son, Frank: “Son, I am going to do everything in my power to ensure your safety in the future, and I intend to put that safety into everything I do. Once I said that, I had to start making the necessary steps to see that through. I had to figure out how to get active in this struggle. I realized that I had to feel involved in history and find out what had happened to Black people for many, many years.
Where did you begin?
There is no way to move forward if you don’t know where you came from. I started to delve into what happened to our people, our economic status. I have been deeply affected by cultural prejudices and black stereotypes. I even thought that most black men were criminals. So, I had to face the realization that I was programmed for many years to think the way white people portrayed black people.
You have mentioned recently being inspired by a black activist.
Grand master J is the founder of militia group NFAC or No F ‘in Around Coalition. What stood out the most for me as a mother is that when it comes to my black sons, I cannot have them die at the hands of a cop or any racial encounter. He reminds me of Malcom X and Malcom’s “by any means necessary.” I will put my life on the line because I want my black sons to see another day, to live well into the future.
What do you think “by any means necessary” means today for black people?
It means we need to demand change now. Fifty years of protests has not been effective. There is still no racial equality. Take for example, the brutal injustice of black families living in poverty versus white privileged families, living in wealth. Grand Master J is demanding accountability. He went to the site where Ahmaud Arbery was killed and to the houses of the three involved; nobody was hurt, no shots were fired. He wanted to hold these people accountable for what they did to Arbery. In Atlanta he went to the birthplace of KKK. Then he went to the site where Rashard Brook was killed and met Ahmaud’s sister. So, to me, by “any means necessary” is less about violence and more about: “We’re here and we want answers and we want to see results.”
So, does it, it really come down to how you are going to struggle what tactics you use and your attitude toward the oppressor?
I have taken nonviolent approaches as well, joining movements fighting poverty. I have supported nonviolent organizations financially. There is a large group of interfaith religions and I have joined some of them.
The recent Black Lives Matter marches have been essentially peaceful, with some burning of police cars and looting, but a very small minority were involved. What are the value of these protests for you?
Yes, the protestors are making strides in their nonviolent approach. And, there are so many of them in the streets… how can their voices not be heard? And there is so much diversity and so much potential positive change in this racial diversity. It was exciting seeing women, mothers risking their lives to take a stand. It inspired me to imagine what I am ready to do!
What do you think about reparations for black people?
I think that reparations are in order after many years of economic and physical destruction of the black family. Once we can be economically sound, we can move forward because as long as we are struggling economically it is going to be very tough. Economics is huge with all of us and we all want what we see dangled out there. It’s about basic justice. So why do my people loot? Why should people feel so impoverished that they have to loot? One thing we know from the Equal Justice Initiative (9/14/17) from a fact sheet on The Sentencing Project is that racial disparity in youth incarceration has increased since 2001 as Black youth are four times as likely as whites to be incarcerated.
You sound hopeful.
Yes, I am. There are many more people caring about the injustice of racism. There is power in these numbers. The more people that are involved the more effective and sooner the change will happen.