“A little thinking out loud this morning.”
I’ve been ocean side for almost a week. In eastern NC. Relaxing without kids for the first time in 20 years. Alone.
I’ve been coming to the same beach since I was sixteen years old.
I’ve noticed more Confederate flags flying than in past years. Mostly on trucks. I’ve also only seen four black people. Two people on the beach after 5 pm, one person at the gym and another driving a truck.
Race is a touchy subject. I feel like I was told somewhere along the way that to talk about race was just not something we do.
“Love sees no color” is a mantra that comes to mind.
The challenge, of course, is people do see color. We’re human. We have eyes. I notice your skin, your gender, your hair color, what you’re wearing. I notice lots of “things” about you.
My skin is getting old. I can hardly tolerate the sun anymore. I used to bake in it, in my teens, unaware of sunscreens and sun damage. We’d put suntan oil on and hope for the golden brown tan advertised on every bottle of Hawaiian Tropic.
When I was a teenager one of my boyfriend’s drove a muscle car. He had a confederate flag on the back window. It was 1977. I was 16.
He used the N word in jokes and when I recoiled from that…told him this was mean…demeaning…he would shrug his shoulders. The confederate flag came down from his car at some point. I don’t remember when. He went to boarding school, loved dove-hunting, Gladys Knight and the Pips, loafers and button-down shirts. His favorite person in the world was his family’s maid.
Everyone of my friends had a “maid.” That’s what “the help” was called back then. All of the maids were black. They lived with all the other black people in the Cherry Neighborhood.
Our maid was Virginia. I’m not sure how I would’ve survived my childhood without Virginia. She was only sixteen. She didn’t go to school because her family needed the money. Every morning she would take the bus to our house and every afternoon she would take it back home.
One of my most poignant memories of her…was 1967 or so. My mom, struggling with alcoholism, was not in a position to care for me.
So as Virginia packed up for the day, she packed me up too, took me from my home in Myers Park on the bus with her, brought me to her tiny home with her brothers and sisters…and let me stay with her.
I remember eating pink sugar wafers and watching black and white television with six or seven other kids.
I think now about how incredibly brave that was of her.
She eventually got a job at Lance…a cracker/cookie company.
I knew about slavery and the lynchings and the marches, but barely. I took a kind of fascination in all that when I got a little bit older. There was a page or two about it in history books. Not a lot more than that as I recall. I remember hearing about a young black kid dragged behind a car because he dated a white girl.
I woke up this morning with a heavy and loving heart. The 60’s and 70’s was a time of civil unrest and great progress. Legislation changed the laws and went a long way to increasing opportunities where minds and hearts were changed too.
But I’m wondering if maybe all we did was legislate without dialogue, process, looking with eyes wide open at the death, the hangings, the torture of America’s young black men.
It’s like the way my mother would dust off her hands and wipe them on her apron after cooking a good meal, “There now, we are done with that. What’s next?”
“That’s not relevant anymore, many will say.” Or “I didn’t have anything to do with that. That was a generation ago. Generations before me.” “Or how is bringing up the past going to help us with what’s happening now.”
Maybe, just maybe, that’s the problem. We haven’t ever brought it up and so the legislation changed, but the state of our minds and hearts didn’t. Legislation without reconciliation can appear to some as authoritarian. To those “some” we hear this a lot, “That law doesn’t apply to me. I’m not racist.” “Stop putting your racial history on me. I had nothing to do with it.”
Race, sure, it’s an uncomfortable topic, but why? The fact that I, as a white woman, am afraid now, for how these words will be twisted or turned, says that we have a long way to go. Is it the unspoken guilt or shame or whatever name we want to give it that keeps us from talking about one of the most brutal periods in our American history?
Let’s get this straight. Black people were lynched, beaten and tortured by white people…during my lifetime…simply for having black skin.
To avoid any recognition of this brutal side of our American history…not just with this generation, but all generations to come…is simply legislating without reconciliation.
And so you know what I really wanna say?
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry that our American government, our American leaders, our American laws of the past put you, my black fellow Americans in harm’s way…your black mothers and fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers. I’m sorry that the repercussions of that continue to put you in harm’s way. And I also promise to do what I can where I can…to understand. To be an ally when possible. To listen with an open heart. I call on you to hold me accountable; to listen, to understand, to help me see what I cannot see, as we explore this landscape together.”
I shared what I’ve written here with a number of my black friends; because they do hold me accountable, free me to be vulnerable, open and honest when discussing this subject. They allow me to use these words…to speak on matters such as this…to go into the dark spaces of my own fear and anger…spaces I’ve carried forward by the generations of white people before me who did not talk about it. I am so fortunate to have these beautiful souls in my life.
Which got me wondering about how things might be different for the people with the confederate license tags out here on the NC coast, if somewhere along the line there had been a space for them to talk about their feelings with the black families that aren’t here because of their Confederate flags; and the black families to do the same; to really listen to each other. (Listening is what lies at the core of my heart’s calling now. The invitation is always open. ❤️ The Red Boot Coalition)
Legislation without reconciliation is just legislation.
Reconciliation: the act of causing two people or groups to become friendly again after an argument or disagreement; the process of finding a way to make two different ideas, facts, etc., exist or be true at the same time.