Racism: A Riddle, Wrapped in A Mystery, Inside an Enigma
Part I: Conversation with a Black Friend
I live in peaceful and friendly North Carolina—just outside of Charlotte, in the hoping-to-stay-a small town of Cornelius. Been here five years. The friendliest place we have lived. Live in a restricted age community. Get along with my neighbors. We can talk politics or sports. But we don’t talk about systemic racism.
In fact, I have resisted talking about the existence of this blight most of my adult life. I thought racism happened before I grew to adulthood and ended with the Civil Rights movement. I was wrong.
I worked in all levels of education, and I worked hard teaching children, leading teachers of children, and teaching leaders to be of teachers that all children can achieve regardless of their background. That was enough, right?
Now, I am not sure. I know that my efforts for all children were morally and professionally sound. I just don’t know if they were enough.
A few days ago, I wrote to a friend about the crisis unfolding across the country. I told her we were thinking about her and her family.
We lived across Hydrangea Road from them in the University City area of Charlotte. They were the all-American family. Ginger, the mom, worked for an insurance company. Silas, the father, was in construction, and the daughter Libby was a gangly teenager until she wasn’t. We kept an eye out for her when she came in from school in the afternoons. In the blink of an eye, Libby was away at college on a volleyball scholarship. The family loved the beach. Had camper at Myrtle Beach. We were friends for ten years before we moved to Cornelius and they bought a bit of land in Harrisburg.
By the way, they were black. And for the first time, Ginger (not her real name), told me what it was like to be black in our middle-class neighborhood in our University City in Charlotte, North Carolina.
I had posted support for Hugh Jackman’s post of the picture of the cop and the protestor embracing and with Jackman’s single word comment, “Solidarity.” Ginger commented as she often does on my posts or blogs, “We all want this.”
I wrote back, “Yes, we do. I worry about you guys in the midst of this. I know how much we love you all, but I also know that we don’t know the difficulties you and Silas have had to endure during the years and how much you worry about Libby going forward.”
Ginger replied, “I appreciate you thinking of us❤. It is tough. All we can do is do what is right, and teach our future, which is Libby. Silas was literally pulled over on our driveway on Hydrangea with Libby in the car. We deal with this systematic issue regularly. It’s hard, we stay strong, but enough is enough. I hope that people recognize the reality of what we have been saying for forever. I hope this will be the change we need to move forward in a prosperous society.”
I replied, “Ginger, I did not know about Silas being pulled over on Hydrangea. I needed to know that to give me just a bit of your perspective. Damn, that makes me angry. And if I am angry, I now understand why my black friends ‘who seem to be doing so well’ aren’t, really, and have every right to be angry. Now I know. Accept our love and give some to Silas and Libby, too.”
Ginger finished our FB conversation with, “They followed them from N. Tryon and Harris all the way home, and turned the lights on as he entered our driveway. They thought the tags didn’t match the Maxima. They refused to apologize when they realized they were wrong. All the while doing this in front of Libby. I lit into the local police office about it that evening. Libby saw this at maybe 9 or 10 years old. This is an epidemic. This has happened to so many people of color regardless if we look like we belong or don’t.”
I sit here as I think back to our ten years as neighbors with Ginger, Silas, and Libby and the close friendship that continues. I am trying to think of a word that describes how my friend’s recounting of this event makes me feel now that I know. I can’t find any.
I hope you can. If you have black friends, reach out to them. Let them know you are thinking of them.
I hope you have a friend like Ginger who trusts you enough to tell the real story as she told me this week.
Ginger’s story was the best way, and the worst way to become convinced that racism is alive and well in our society.
Racism: A Riddle, Wrapped in A Mystery, Inside an Enigma
Part II: Behaving as a Southerner is the Solution, not the Problem
Just a week or so ago, the Governor of Virginia declared that he is removing the 150-year-old statue of Robert E. Lee, adorning Richmond’s Avenue of the Monuments.
At first, I was pissed—my typical first reaction. My culture is being destroyed.
After a minute or two, I asked myself, Really? Is it?
Is my beloved Southernness so fragile that a bunch of statutes are its determinant?
Will the removing of all the statues make me any less Southern?, I wondered to myself.
NO, I responded.
I was on a roll now, and after a few more minutes of the internal argument with myself, I arrived at the question that I as a Southerner must face:
What am I willing to give up about being Southern, to move us away from the effects of slavery and racism once and for all?
Damn. I was getting serious now. About time.
“And,” I said out loud to only myself and my Brittanys, Boomer and Chloe, “It is about time that all Southerners and white folks, in general, ask themselves this same question.”
Let me stop right here and let you know that I am not a marcher. Never have been. Never will be. Faced with the dilemma of whether to do what every other person in church was doing and go upfront for an alter call? Not me. No, Sir. My Methodist behind will remain in my pew, where I planted it at the beginning of the service. “Pass the peace?” Nope. My peace is good right where I am, and besides, I am not sure I have enough of it to give any away.
To help bring peacefulness to our land does not require that we act out in protests and marches. It does require that we act as the Southerners we claim to be and face up to two undeniable truths.
- The love so many of us have for the South is not from its history but despite it.
- If we are to save our beloved United States, we must admit that the presence of systemic racism is a real thing, it is among us, and most of us white folks don’t understand the impact it has on good and gracious people like Ginger in Part I: Conversation with a Black Friend
After thinking about these things for a couple of days, I realized if Southerners want the countenance of racism and white privilege to die a quick death, we must be the Southerners we claim to be.
As Southerners, to every person we meet we should be
- kind and gentle
- proud of our distinctive diversity
- proud but not vain as we live out our Southernness
- God-fearing and honest always
- good and generous to a fault to all people
- continuing to teach “Yes, ma’am” and “Yes, sir” from birth
As Southerners, we must affirm that our values are
- not the result of the economics of slavery
- not found in the Confederate Battle Flag
- not inherent in the statues of Confederate officers that adorn courthouse greens
- not contained in the refrain of “Dixie,” written by an Ohioan for Northern minstrel shows
As Southerners, because the cause is good and right, we will
- destroy racism because it is evil
- we will remove traces of the Confederacy to museums where they belong, and which we will regularly visit to teach our children about the evils of slavery
- act as the Southerners our parents taught us to be
- affirm the humanity of all God’s children, just as God expects us to do
- love as God loves us, completely without regard to our past
- extend our grace to others because God has extended his grace to us
And all God’s people said, “Amen.”