Saturday, January 19, 2008

MLK Day ~ My Thoughts: Part One

As the country slows down this weekend to honor Martin Luther King, I'd like to post some of my thoughts on prejudice and racism. This is an HONEST look at the evolution of my interaction with the African-American (hereafter referred to as black) community. I'm trying to give an objective look at my history, without skewing it to please my readers and lurkers (sorry).
There are several segments to my story: my personal history, my present position, and my thoughts on topics touching the black community. I realize this is a hot button topic. In part one, I've not tried to analyze or apologize for my upbringing. My goal in writing this mini-series is to encourage us all to take a look at this perhaps uncomfortable part of who we are as a nation, and to become more Christlike as we interact with others.

I grew up in a very, very white part of the country. I remember seeing posters announcing KKK rallies in nearby areas. The one black family that moved to our school district was quickly pushed out by cross burnings in their yard. I remember people wondering if they were NAACP spies. Our school didn't get out for Martin Luther King Day. It never would have flown in our area, so they called it Teacher Workday. In 1990, my family moved to Columbus, GA to a small pastorate. I attended a school under forced integration (that meant black children were bused across town to fill the quota of 50%. Other ethnicities could count as either one. This was the first time I remember being within ten feet of a black person in my whole life. I was 10 years old. And terrified. I walked into my first day of school, and there was my teacher. A perfect Aunt Jemima~ she was black, big and her name was Mrs. Means. I honestly thought I would probably be killed by her or some of my classmates during the day. Interestingly enough, she became a second momma to me (I was picked on for being a goody-two-shoes.) I cried on her plump, loving shoulders more than once, and she listened to all my dreams.

Long story short, since we lived near Fort Benning, this was also my first exposure to other cultures as well. We had military kids in every class. My best friend was Puerto Rican and my 'boyfriend' was from Guam. And then we moved back to that very, very white part of the country. I've always loved a good fight for the underdog, so I set out to change the paradigms of my little world. I remember yelling at a great-aunt who attacked me for having 'nigger' friends. Looking back, I'm not sure my motives were all pure. I loved a good fight, as I said, and I loved the attention of being different than all my peers. Enter the "Mexican War" of my life. Because of my Puerto Rican friend, I'd developed an interest in Hispanic language and culture. Just in time, since a huge immigration began into our area~ the all white area~ in the early 90's. By the time I was 17, I was working as a Spanish translator at a local poultry plant, much to the chagrin and dismay of some family members. I became the butt of jokes and was ostracized at school for befriending the illegals. I was a 'wetback lover.'

Then I married Nathan and moved to Tuscaloosa, where I made spare money by tutoring in the public school system. I was not welcomed by the all-black schools where I went to work with the few Hispanic students. The students called me a "white girl" and nearly trampled me in a gang fight in spite of my staff badge. I had to defend myself with an umbrella.

Now in the Bessemer area, we live in an very, very black area. Whites are in the minority. I've come full circle. It's a little shocking at times. I cringe at the loudly blasting vulgarity from the passing cars. When Alex was on the way, I witnessed a white on black scene with a shoplifter at Wal-Mart. It turned into a brawl, and cops rushed in and threw the man against the wall. Kathryn has never asked anything about the racial difference. We attend Tarrant Bible Methodist where the Sunday School department is full of black children bused in from the surrounding neighborhood. The place we live is in a nicer section of town, probably 30% black and 70% white. Conversations still happen about the racial/cultural differences~ but I've noticed they're typically whispered. I've not heard anyone say 'nigger' for a long, long time.

More to come...


w2wkb said...

That's interesting. I'm a realtor in NC and regularly get asked "what kind of neighborhood" a particular house is in and it is not unusual to be asked specifically if it is a "black neighborhood." I was even asked that one by a black person.

Regarding kids, the other night my wife was reading something to our kids (7 & 5) about Thomas Jefferson's slaves and I pointed out that these people were just like the black people we see every day at the store and different places.(I just wanted them to understand how real it was and that they weren't some exotic, different group of people.) Anyway Chandler (7) said, "I've never seen a black person." When I reminded him of a occasional playmate, I realized that the different skin color had never dawned on him.

Kimberly said...

Very you can imagine, I have some opinions here. Definately a subject we are often unwilling to acknowledge, much less discuss.

For what it's worth, I still hear that ugly word used plenty.

Wesley said...

I enjoyed reading your post. Very interesting. You would love the school where I teach. almost 70% Hispanic. I've kept up a bit iof what high school Spanish I remember, but would love to become fluent one day. There is an undercurent of racism here where we live in Central Fl., but nothing like what you described. I'm glad to know that there are people in the "deep South" that are teaching their children differently. Education, for this issue, is the only solution, in my opinion.

So, aren't we a "lurky" bunch! Of course, you can add me your friends and family links. I can't wait to see you and your kids at Easter! That will be fun. I'm sure you're going to LOVE Spain when you go. You should talk to Uncle Kendall about Spain. He's been there quite a bit and could give you some great tips, I'm sure. Have a great day!

The Canfield Family said...

I found your story very interesting. Living in NY we are not "supposed" to have prejudice, but you would be surprised how much people do.......even my most "liberal, open minded Hillary supporting" friends. You should hear them talk about black people when there are no black people around. They are scarred to death to be around them, to drive through their neighborhoods, etc.

Mary Ellen said...

I'm looking forward to reading the rest.

Defended yourself against a gang with an umbrella - who are you...Chuck Norris in disguise?

I'm always more than a little taken back when I hear professing Christian spewing forth prejudice, since of all people we are taught to love one another. I think our generation is hopefully doing it better then the one above us and I think our kids will see colors of skin even less than we least I hope so...

Tara said...

I remember Nathan being absolutely in awe, and a little more than smitten, after hearing you deliver your high school valedictorian speech. I think I "tasted" a little of that here, as you write so smoothly and engagingly.(is that a word?) I am looking forward to the continuation of the post.

And, agree with Mary Ellen, I think ...I HOPE...our generation of parents are doing a little better in this area. It's always disturbing and a little confusing when we hear fellow Christians use terminology, or more often than not, express subtle mindsets of racism and prejudic.

Big topic, girl. You are brave! :)

Tara said...

p.s. I forgot to say, I LOVE the new Francis Schafer quote on your page. Good stuff.