This essay is just the beginning in my public exploration of this topic. I had several type and delete false starts.
I try to mix my political commentary and opinions with details from my own life. If we are all more honest with each other about what shapes our world view we will get so much better at helping each other reach better conclusions and see the world from each other’s perspective.
I am not talking about honesty that is obvious. We all know when we are telling whoppers and when we are laying out facts and truth. Whoppers are reserved for bill collectors in my world. The check is in the mail, I swear it.
For some background information so you can know that this Red Dirt Girl is Southern to the bone I will give you a quick history of my life thus far. I was born in Virginia and lived there until about age 4. I grew up on the east coast of North Carolina until I was 14 and then moved to live with my beloved Nanny in Western North Carolina. I lived with her until I was married at age 18. Since then I have lived in Texas, Kentucky, and Tennessee. I bounce easier than a $10 check to the Quick Mart.
We are talking about the 1970s for my early childhood. Those years when young ears hear everything and absorb things like a super-sized sponge.
When I was growing up most people in my life did not say anything people today would call overtly racist. Racism was subtle. I attribute that to people still feeling the same way they always felt but editing their words in an attempt to hide those feelings. Make no mistake, racism is racism, subtle or not, and it is sickening no matter how it is expressed. I have even caught myself saying things as an adult that I consider racist. Truth is hard. But, there you have it. I have also been prejudiced and by extension that is racism.
I have no excuses to offer. Reasons are not excuses but read on and you may understand.
If you are going to be hurt by reading the comments I did hear growing up, please, don’t read this. I am not trying to hurt anyone. Frankly, I really believe we have to exorcise our demons on these issues or we will never really come together as the family we are meant to be.
I do not mind your criticism, but I would mind terribly for you to be traumatized or hurt so please do not read if hearing divisive language is a trigger for you. My words are not important enough for that.
I did have one person in my life that was probably the most vocal about people of color, black people, if such a measuring scale can exist. She would say things like, “that black baby was so cute, he looked like a little pickaninny” or “don’t drive down to Blackbottom, you might get attacked there” (that is clearly a two-fold slam on black people because she and other white people in this particular community called the area most heavily populated by black people Blackbottom).
She was not the only one, but she sticks out in my mind to this day, some 35 years later, as a prime example.
I also heard that black people were tacky. I am still trying to figure that one out because at the same time I was hearing that every white woman in my world was running to the hair dressers getting curly perms to mimic the look of Afros, but no one ever said people make freaking sense.
Racism is not always vocal either.
As a teenager I also worked a lot as a cashier and in general service jobs that exposed me to Mr. Manager of the World. Mr. Manager of the World was always super nervous about Mr. Black Man of the World. Mr. Manager spent a lot of nervous energy on noticing every Mr. Black Man that came in the store. This was not lost on me. I got the message loud and clear. Mr. Black Man is sneaky and he steals. While Mr. Manager of the World was busying himself with these worries there were people stealing from the store. Yes, some were black but just as many of other races and identities were doing it, too. Mr. Manager of the World would also be quicker to forgive the white teenager and send him to his mom. He called the cops on Mr. Black Man of the World.
Later in life, I worked odd jobs here and there to help supplement our income and keep our heads above water. I have 1,000 examples of the things I saw there. Ms. White employee made a mistake, Mr. Black employee was clearly ‘up to something’. The difference between how a white employee and a black employee making an error while at work was dealt with is another example of the garbage that gets put into our heads.
The garbage is insidious and worms its way in and embeds itself. I have to remind myself of that or I catch old ideas and stupid thinking encroaching.
Part of the perpetuation of racist ideology is that we as a country, maybe the world, like finding ways to have people below us. I really believe that. People need, for whatever reason, to feel better than and superior to others. This is true in many ways. Sexism, racism, homophobia and hating the poor all come under that same umbrella.
The reason I want us to combat racism like there is no tomorrow is because our government is most particularly made of cloth woven with these insidious and odious ways of thinking. Black people in our country are being imprisoned, attacked, and killed by these forces. We have got to all stand up against this! There is no time for delay!
Stop pretending there is no problem here. Really, just stop it.
I hope you will understand that being honest, even in this small way, can be very scary for people and it isn’t easy. In this world people seem to be more interested in fighting with each other than finding people to talk to. If you have comments, please do share, but tread lightly as I am not interested in screaming into the void.
This is a fragmented essay as I continue to think about this. I also have many thoughts and personal experiences with homophobia and sexism. I wish to share. I also know that people in the LGBTQ community are suffering and we should put a bigger spot light on that plight as well. This particular theme will become a series for me.
Thank you for reading and stay tuned.
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