I was born in the South and lived there for the first 8 years of my life. In the absence of my father, my mother's family was the only family I knew. My people, my heritage, then, were that of my maternal grandparents. My grandfather's family came from Georgia; my grandmother's, from Kansas; anglo-saxon protestants, all. And here's what I was taught, those first 8 years:
- Black people are perfectly nice, but black people and white people should not marry or have any type of intimate relationship.
- Our ancestors owned slaves, and that was nothing to be particularly ashamed about.
- There is nothing odd about a grown man calling a little girl "Miss PK" so long as the man is black and girl is white.
- If you are white and you have black "help", and you are, say, polite to them, you are a pretty big person.
It really is true that good can come out of bad. My mother's second marriage was abysmal, but one good thing that came of it was that we moved out of the South and that her husband showed me these lies for what they were, and are. Thank God, is all I can say. B
y the time I was 14, I was sufficiently deprogrammed enough to be absolutely disgusted by my aunt and uncle's determination to move out of their prestigious Mississippi neighborhood because an African-American was moving in, and my God, there goes the neighborhood. Do I think the levies in New Orleans were intentionally breached to eradicate the poor, African-American population of certain areas? No. But do I think those levies were allowed to fall into woeful disrepair because that population was so little valued by the political powers that be as to be off the radar? You bet I do.
I have driven through Mississippi and seen people living in shacks. I have heard my own blood relatives--educated, intelligent, morally upstanding people--argue with me that other human beings differ from me because of the color of their friggin' skin, argue that people are overly sensitive over the use of the word "nigger". There's no hate for them in that word, and that makes it all the more hateful. Ignorance is hateful to me. Blindness and fear and the wall we build that separates us from other human beings is hateful.
I had the privilege a few years ago of hearing Maya Angelou speak. I think that woman is one of those rare human beings that radiates wisdom. To be in a room with her is a spiritual experience. She quoted Terence: "I am a human being; nothing human can be alien to me." What do you do when you hear the vitriol that spews out now against illegal aliens (read: Mexicans), fanatics (read: Muslims), deviants (read: homosexuals)? There is only one argument. I am a human being. Nothing human--nothing--can be alien to me. Don't shake your head. Don't walk away. Don't keep the peace. Speak the truth. Refuse to back down. Refuse to stand by silently while more children are taught to fear and hate. Your silence will never be taken as disagreement, only as acquiescence. Be a human being instead.
Edited to point out--I hope it's clear that the labels in that last paragraph are slurs and bullshit?