I originally wasn’t going to write anything about this, only because to me it seemed like a part of our family history that maybe should just be forgotten. I just recently read the article about the Ohio campaign person saying that racism didn’t exist in America until Obama was president. To me that was a lot like rewriting textbooks the way you want them, and also blaming the victims.
Much as I try very hard myself to not be racist – and raise my children that way… and yes I do find myself profiling people, but not on the things you would think…. Personally I have to mentally tell myself to ignore it when someone smells like smoke (I have a really hard time breathing around heavy smells – same thing with heavy perfume too), really obese (no clue, probably projection and the fact that I’m scared to death that I’ll become more heavy), and of all the weird things – people that have really bad grammar and spelling)… I try really hard to not let any of those factors make any difference on how I see someone and have had some great friends in all those categories!
What I’m really getting at though is that I had found out a few months ago that my grandmother, one of the grandmother’s that was gone before I was even alive. Gone before my parent’s were even adults…. was what I would consider very racist. The story I’ve heard is that she would walk into a restaurant and is she saw someone that was black, she would walk right back out refusing to eat there. (Especially if they worked there)…. To me that’s crazy! What difference does it make…. of course this was in the 1920s to 1940s, so before segregation really occurred. The story left me embarrassed and floored to think that a family member of mine would do this.
I did know growing up that we were in a town that was very homogeneous. The demographics of the town would pretty much make a solid pie chart on every descriptor, and anyone trying to change that would be run out on a rail. I was a very oblivious kid and had no clue (other than the 5 Catholics and I caught that because my mother was one). Leaving for college was really my first experience with anyone different in any way. My first road trip with a friend we dropped by my parents – 4 whites, 1 black in the car and my dad explained to me that I was not to bring them home again. He used a lot of not so nice words. I am amazed I wasn’t disowned after the major fight we had at the time. That was the only discussion I had ever had with my father about race…. and I think I never had another again after that.
I took a job with the university and never lived at home again, so the topic never came up, though I did bring a friend from the Philippines home a couple years later. My friend stayed at my grandmother Wakeland and the topic never came up….
The thought though that racism didn’t exist before Obama just has me amazed. I consider myself fairly young – just under 50, and also grew up very sheltered… and I remember hearing about the KKK burning crosses in yards nearby as I grew up. Stories about people trying to move to near by towns and things horrible things with derogatory words and XXXX ‘go home’ painted on big buildings in town. These were towns with less than 2000 people and this was the 70s (long before Obama was president)!
I’m sure I’m rambling, and I’m sure that there were more relatives in my family that were openly racist. There were probably even ancestors that interacted with slaves in one way or another, though I know there was one ancestor that came to the US as an Irish slave also. He was kidnapped from the docks in Ireland and put on a ship, forced to work way to the US on the ship and then work to pay off his transport when he reached the New World. The thing is, he was able to work off the passage and get freedom. He did fear for his life on the ship, but he wasn’t shackled under the decks. He was grabbed on the docks and not able to let his family know what happened, but then he had the rights to send a message back to Ireland later on a returning ship. That ancestor went on to own a plantation and in 1776 was a respected member of the Virginia community.
Notice in the above I have a hard time even saying that an ancestor may have owned slaves, yet we all know any ancestor in the south before slavery was abolished that was a landowner had the possibility. I also can’t bring myself to type the derogatory words that were written on buildings during my childhood. I recently saw someone post calling Obama HNIC and had no clue what that was. When replying that I didn’t know why they were saying it was my HNIC someone else finally filled me in to the acronym. I hated that I had used the acronym even! President Obama is just that, the President. Freedom of Speech in the US does give you the right to say free speech, but that free speech should not include bullying and insulting other people!
I would like to ignore the parts of my history that include racism, bigotry, and even slave ownership while I’m researching my family history…. but it is a part of my history. I have to take the good with the bad and I can’t just decide that it didn’t exist. What I can do personally is try to make sure that I never let race, sexual orientation, religion, or even appearance affect how I treat anyone. AND that I try to speak up for people when I have a chance to help right an injustice.
It’s the little things too, like Pay it Forward and Random Acts of Kindness that make a difference.