Saturday, November 23, 2013

My Big Fat Racist Family

A lot of the news articles which currently interest my friends who blog, and on FB, involve discord between religions and races.  A lot of the discussions eventually involve implications that individuals or groups are “haters” because of their explicit statements, or even inferred thoughts…and eventually I get invitations to join groups which denounce “haters”. 
Although I believe hatred to be a terrible and very serious sin, I won’t join those groups. In order to explain why, I really think it’s time for me to publish my “confession”---my terrible racist upbringing.

My people were racists. Pure and simple. I know they were racists, with whatever accompanying attitudes you as an individual may wish to assign to that condition, but one thing they were NOT, is "haters".

My mother was so thoroughly racist that even the first little "nursery rhymes" I learned were rife with it:

Jaybird, Jaybird, sittin’ on a limb
He winked at me and I winked at him.
I picked up a rock and I hit him on the chin
He said, "Look here, [n-word], don’t you do that again!"

And of course:

All the girls in France
Do the Hootchie-Cootchie dance
And the dance they do
Makes a [n-word] kiss a Jew!

Mother thought it was hilarious. I didn’t get it. She explained to me that [n-words] hated Jews. And Louis Farakhan was a mere infant at the time, so how did she know? [for those readers with an impaired sense of humour, I am making a joke. I don’t seriously know why my mother thought animosity between Negroes and Jews was a universal condition].

The one that really troubled me was:

Eenie, Meenie, Minie, Moe!
Catch a [n-word] by the toe!
If he hollers make him pay
Fifty dollars ever day!

I was outraged by this little poem, not because of the n-word, but because, well, it would hurt like hell to be caught by the toe, and of COURSE you would holler, and this poor guy was going to have to pay FIFTY DOLLARS EVERY DAY---which was an exorbitant sum in the 1950’s. I was furious. I wanted to find this man and help him. Mother assured me that it was just a little rhyme and that no one was catching anyone by the toe.

The n-word was tossed around quite freely in my youth, but we were stringently cautioned never to say it around Negroes because it would hurt their feelings. I remember a cousin being soundly thrashed for transgressing this rule.

I remember when I was about 5, traveling to East Texas and getting lost. In those bad old days there were more segregated communities. My mother stopped in a "nice little n-word" town to ask directions. I waited in the car, and she went to the door of a local diner, and---knocked.

A large black man came to the door, my mother explained her dilemma, and he walked out onto the sidewalk and began giving her directions—pointing down the road, gesturing to emphasize his instructions. At one point he looked over at the car and saw me. He smiled and waved, and I smiled and waved back. Mama thanked him, then came back to the car and we drove away. The man turned back from the café door and waved at me again, until we turned the corner. It may not have been ideal, but it was in no way hateful. In no way "phobic". On either side.

 Here are two memories from my childhood which profoundly illustrate the hypocrisy of white people who strive to gain moral highground or popular affirmation by crying “hater”:

My grandmother had a yankee neighbor named Mrs. Hawley. Mrs. Hawley loved to deplore the "hatred" that "you Southerners" felt for "the poor Negro". My grandmother generally just listened politely and without comment, because poor Mrs. Hawley, being a yankee, was innately benighted. But on this particular day, she was in pain from her crippled ankles, and short of patience. In order to cut short Mrs. Hawley’s pontifications and hopefully send her home in an outraged huff, my grandmother said: "Mrs. Hawley, I don’t hate [n-words]! I wish I had two of them in my kitchen right now fixing supper!"

And Mrs. Hawley WAS indeed horrified! She said, "I wouldn’t have one of those nasty things in MY clean kitchen!"

My young jaw bounced off the floor, and I would have launched into a tirade on hypocrisy had it not been for my grandmother’s languid glance. She had been born in the South in 1898, and she had seen yankee hypocrisy before.

Another memory which sticks out in my mind happened when I was about seven or eight. This was in the early sixties. My uncle, a young veterinarian, took me with him to test cows. We met up with a classmate of his, a yankee, and had dinner at a small café. The classmate began to wax poetic about the plight of the black man in the South (as opposed, somehow, to the North) and how downtrodden they were. He was highly offended when my uncle opined that many of the [n-words] needed to apply themselves. But we were going to be late to test the herd for TB, so the conversation ended and it was decided that my uncle would follow his classmate the last 35 or so miles to the ranch.

About 5 miles from the café, my uncle saw a black man, traveling the same direction we were, trudging along the shoulder of the road. It was August, and very hot. My uncle said, "Oh, look—that poor guy is going to have a heat stroke. Honey, get in the back seat so we can turn the air conditioner on him."

I did, and we did, and the fellow’s delighted comment, "You got AIR, Man!" became a staple of my family for years to come.

Only later did it dawn on me that my uncle’s classmate, the great champion of the Negro Race, had passed the man by without any compassionate thought or action.

Now that, my friends, is hypocrisy.   And it has since been revealed to me again and again that those who scream loudest about what other people think are usually the least likely to ACT in a compassionate and charitable way…

My point is simply that whatever reasons a person may have for being racist, and whatever one may think about racism, it ought not to be automatically connected with hatred, much less become, as it has recently, a synonym.

Through my adolescence, with the coming of the Civil Rights movement and the mass desertion of Booker T for DuBois and King and Abernathy and the rest, I can still remember bits of conversation from my elders, some of which must present an insurmountable dichotomy for the simplistic ideology so carefully nurtured by most modern liberals.

"Who is that pretty little (n-word) girl who does the news on channel five?"

"I don’t remember. I know she’s from Midland."

"Oh, well, that explains it. All them Midland girls are pretty."


"During your lunch break, can you run out and vaccinate that nice old (n-word) woman’s dog? She can’t afford anything so just tell her you were passing by and charge her two dollars." [I must point out the real compassion of allowing someone to pay what they can for something without either making your generosity obvious, OR telling them that they have a RIGHT to something which, frankly, no one has a right to. No doubt she knew, but her dignity was preserved and charity was not compromised.)

So, that’s the story of my horrible racist upbringing in my horrible racist family. Things change. The old folks are gone. Do I still say the n-word? Sure, occasionally, I do. I said it several times while watching "The Last King of Scotland". Don’t see it. Or maybe, do. It is quite horrible.

My kids, and my husband, and I feel no guilt associated with other races. Whatever else happens, we know that in our own interaction with people, we have taken them as individuals and expected the same and allowed the same for all of them, no matter what their background, genetic type, beliefs, or whatever. Do I "prefer whites"? It would seem from looking at my friends list that I must at least know more whites. And I must admit that there is a "family" thing going on there. This is not considered a bad thing when other races experience it---this "My People" thing. And it ought not to be a bad thing when whites experience it. Love of one’s own is a virtue. There is nothing wrong with enjoying one’s own people.

There is only something wrong with hurting others.

Is hurting someone compounded if that person is from a different race? I don’t think it is. I’m not racist enough to see that distinction. 

1 comment:

Irish Idealist said...

This was a very good one. Thanks Mom.