Family legend has it that sometime in the spring of 1948, my grandfather was found in his shop beating a piece of metal with a hammer. He was beating some KKK emblem into something unrecognizable so no one would be able to own this thing of his father’s with pride.
Missouri is a difficult place for race. It has been described as a home of covert racism rather than overt racism. (This from a black man from the DEEP SOUTH. Guess which he would rather deal with?) People not from here who think they know anything about Ferguson … I tend to think they are wrong … it’s complex here …
I’m adamantly not a racist … but it takes trying.
A KKK Great Grandfather. A father who once referred to MLK Jr Day as “the dead nigger’s birthday”. People living up to negative stereotypes.
When I was in Kindergarten, I got called a nigger. (Mind you I’m red-haired, blue eyed and freckled.) It was by a boy who was mad and when I went to check on him, that is what he called me. I still remember him sitting in the doorway of the room calling me that. Not that I knew what it was, but I learned.
One black man worked for my dad doing handyman and cleaning and car washing. He was always around the family. Granted it was a little surprising when he was 80 and married an 18 year old … but okay.
Another black man was Dad’s friend … although my mom reports that she always thought Dad was just a bit too condescending when it came to treating him like an actual equal. He died when I was in 8th grade, his funeral was scary for me – We are boring boring Methodists who do not show emotion in church. To be in a funeral where his sister was hollering aloud about “My only brother … I will never see him again” was quite the eye opener for me at 14.
I remember the first time I saw a biracial couple. I didn’t know what to do with that. Sometimes … sometimes my first reaction is still to not know what to do with that. I have to remind myself we are all people and get past it. Not happy about that sometimes reaction, but I keep working to move through it.
There was only one black teacher I had all of my elementary and high school years. The Kaiser had his daughter as a teacher this last school year.
Moving to Arizona for a few years was an interesting thing – I was in a place where black people weren’t the bottom of the cultural totem pole – because in Phoenix, there were Mexicans. The hierarchy went White – Black – Legal – Illegal.
The worst thing I have realized, is my knee-jerk thoughts. When I was teaching in a huge high school ten years ago … students would be typical rowdy jackassy teenagers in the halls … but if they were black … the words that came to my mind …
I’m not talking about a conscious “hey I don’t like what that kid did so I’m going to think of him as a racial slur to make me feel superior” … I mean that I would see something and the instant narrative in my head used words that I don’t say out loud, words that disgusted me and made me angry with myself. Wasn’t I better than that? Apparently not. I was disappointed to find out that I wasn’t as evolved as I thought I was.
So I continue to work on it. I work on rewriting narratives in my head. I work on reframing events. I work on remembering we are all more alike that not alike. I do my best to make sure I don’t pass any scraps of this crappy cultural legacy on to the Kaiser. Mostly I keep working on me.
It’s an awkward thing, to be honest about what I’m not proud of. I’m not proud of my prejudice, so I’m not sitting here cultivating it. I kept quiet while Facebook exploded about all the various horrible race related incidents around the country – I’m too busy over here trying to get over the piece of crap thoughts that creep in when I’m not vigilant against them.
Mostly I see this as my problem. I’m not this way because of how someone else acts, it’s up to me to keep making the decision to move forward into a better place. My responsibility. Mine.