Several weeks ago when my younger grandkids were here for a sleepover, I noticed that To Kill A Mockingbird was playing on Netflix. Long a favorite of mine, I decided that I would share the classic with them. Shortly after the movie began, I started to feel a little uncomfortable. How was I going to explain to them the events they would see? They are too young to yet understand the racial tensions of those times. What could have been a teachable moment passed by when they fell asleep early on, before things got serious.
I must admit that I felt a sense of relief that I wouldn’t have to talk to them about what was an ugly time in our history. In pondering this, I became acutely aware of the generational changes within even my lifetime. My granddaddy, and I’d venture to say the majority of men his age, would fairly fall into the racist category. Did he know he was a racist? Was he born into it, or did he choose to be that way? I’m not sure. It was just the way things were in those days. Part of the culture. Is that an excuse, or does it make it right? No, of course not. When I was growing up, I do remember comments and the attitudes of my grandfather, but they were not present in my home. Yes, there was still a cultural difference, there was still segregation. But, my brother and I were not brought up to hate black folks. Use of the “N” word was common, but it wasn’t typically used as a derogatory label, the way it is now. It was simply an adjective to describe a group of people. Was it also used by some in a hateful way? Yes, of course it was. Same as the word "bitches" can be used by a group of women about themselves or their friends, sometimes even in an endearing manner, yet can also be used in a hateful way.
When I was in second grade, the first waves of integration began, and I remember the first black children who came to our school. Granted, I was just a little kid, and little kids are better at adaptation than older kids. In my second-grade world, it was more like bringing a new pet into your home. At first there might be some standoffish moments, maybe a little growling and/or hissing, but soon they get to know each other, learn to get along, and share the home. I remember some moments of curiosity among both black and white children, and some grumbling among my grandaddy’s generation, but before long, we got used to each other, and found our new normal. Now, to be fair, I really don’t know how things went down between the older kids in high school. Perhaps the tensions were more evident there. But in my happy little world, integration was early enough that by the time I was in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade, we all played well together, both on the playground and on the basketball court. We rode the bus together, and accepted each other. I do remember, though, a diary entry from when I was in probably 8th grade, that said all the “white” cheerleaders spent the night with so-and-so. Yeah, we had come a long way in learning to get along, but there was still somewhat of a disparity between us. They weren’t offended by it… they probably wouldn’t have even come if they had been invited. Both sides seemed happy enough to get along, but there was an invisible line that neither group seemed eager to cross. My school became fully integrated over time, and we spent our years up to 8th grade together. Rodney King would have been proud of us, in our small southern town.
When I went to high school in the 9th grade, it was a little different, and there were some times when racial tensions ran higher than at others. There would still be years of growing pains as result of the Civil Rights Movement, as blacks were struggling to find their place in a previously white-dominated society, and as whites struggled with acquiescence.
By the time my daughter was in school, the disparity was less, and interracial dating, sleepovers, etc., had become more the norm. By the time she was grown, her group of friends were as comfortable with their black friends as they were their white friends. We had come such a long way!
Fast forward to today- we are currently entangled in what appears to be the beginnings of all-out racial warfare. This is so very sad to me. We have become such a politically-correct society that Freedom of Speech seems to no longer exist for some. Most of us are respectful of other people, and try not to say hurtful things, and just behave like decent human beings. Others, who choose to make comments about any particular group of people, are called upon to “renounce”, “denounce”, and “apologize” for offending folks. And yet others, it seems, can hurl all sorts of verbal abuse without consequence. And to call them out on it would be considered intolerant. It has reached so far that even the company who makes Tiki Torches felt the need to declare that they do not support the actions of the protesters in Charlottesville. I wonder if Nike, or UnderArmour, or any other company whose products were worn by the protesters, or the makers of the cell phones who captured the videos will feel the need to do the same? It’s all so absurd.
Can we see how far we have come, when I found myself grateful that I didn’t have to explain a movie to my grandchildren? Yeah, there are lots of things about our history that suck. But does resurrecting the hatred now change that history? Nope. Instead, it darkens the future. I just don’t understand. Maybe it’s because I’m a white, straight, conservative, person of faith. (Although…. It seems my demographic has become a popular target for bullying and hate speech as well!) Perhaps if I had walked a mile in their shoes, I’d feel the same way they do. I can’t know the answer to that. But I gotta tell ya. All this crap that is going on in our nation today makes me sick. I want to scream for everyone to just shut up about it, and in another generation, we’ll hardly be able to tell the difference. There are trashy white folks, and there are trashy black folks. Trashy folks of every color. That won’t ever change. Only by changing our behavior toward one another will the stereotypes be erased.
If all this protesting, and knocking down statues, etc. could make things better, then perhaps in the long-run it might be worth it. But, from my point of view, it only makes it worse. It is resurrecting hate and resentment. It is making racism worse. And it makes me very, very sad to know that my grandchildren, and your grandchildren, will learn about racism and hate. Not from reading about it in a history book, but by living it themselves. Their little minds and hearts haven’t been taught to hate each other, like the hearts of my grandaddy and those of his generation. How tragic that these children who have grown up as friends will likely one day hate each other because of the way our society is behaving today.
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely acknowledge that slavery really sucked for the slaves. And it sucked that they were looked down upon by white folks for many, many years. It sucks that some white folks still look down on them. Their leaders worked very hard to gain acceptance and rights for them. I guess it just confuses me that they are not able to see how much things have changed. Oh yeah, and it really sucks that some redneck, stupid, bigoted protesters still feel the need to march and stir up emotions. I just don’t get that. But, while white folks are admonished not to judge all black folks by the behavior of some, black folks need to not judge all white folks by the behavior of these haters. And, as much as it angers me to see either side saying such hateful things, we need to remember that both sides have the First Amendment right to do so. I just do not understand how a monument, a carving, or a street name, can be offensive. And if I am offended by it, perhaps I should take it as an opportunity to be reminded that I have overcome whatever it is that offends me? I mean... are there not monuments, highways, airports, parks, etc., named after black leaders? That doesn't offend me. If it did, would they be taken down?
Really, just leave the statues and the carvings alone, will ya? I mean, seriously? It’s history. We’ll be renaming Jackson Square in New Orleans. George Washington was a slave owner. Shall we tear down the Washington Monument? Shall we remove the faces of former slave-owning presidents from our money? Should the names of cities be changed? Schools? Streets? Where does it end? And by all means, shouldn't we rename "The WHITE House?" If we are to remove memorials of all men who have done bad things, or have skeletons in their closets, then we will be removing all of them, except the ones of Jesus Christ.
Yes, I am from the south, and thankful for it. I come from a very long line of southern folks, and have ancestors who fought in the Civil War right beside some of those people who are so hated now. As a nation, we’ve been through some dark times. I hope we can wake up soon, before we enter into another, more dark than before. Come on, people. Do we really want our great nation to fall because of in-fighting? It is when we are fighting amongst ourselves within that those from without will have the great advantage. A house divided against itself will fall. We’ve seen enough division, both political and racial. The only thing I can hope is that we can live by the quote “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Let's not poison our children and grandchildren with hatred. Oh, and, yeah. Leave the monuments alone.
These are my thoughts. Yours may be entirely different. That’s okay. These are mine, and I own them.