As a white man who is over fifty, who was born in The South, and who has a predilection towards solitude, I have to be careful when I write about race and racism. You see, I grew up in a segregated society. There were “Coloreds” and there were “Whites”. If you were “white” you knew it and if you were “colored” you knew it, too. And if you forgot that you were “colored” it was perfectly legal, or at the minimum acceptable, for either the police or someone “white” to remind you.
It was illegal, punishable by beating, for certain people to go into certain places. This was the world I lived in as a child, until I was ten years old, and even then there was a resistance to changing. Some of this was ignorance and some of it was evil, but it happened. And it happened in my lifetime and it happened in my life.
Culturally speaking, I’m tainted.
As someone who grew up inside of that system there will always be a shadow of doubt if I ever truly left it behind. And rightfully so. I’ve spent many a night listening to someone who was, in public, as liberal as anyone who has ever planted a tree in Max Yasgur’s name preach the gospel of the equality but once the wine bottle started running on empty the same words I heard as a child came bubbling up like liquid virus from a herpes sore.
I have something most don’t have; people who don’t know me assume I will, at a minimum, listen to racial rants.
I hope I never lose this. I hope I can live out my life and listen to this sort of thing. You should have seen the look on the guy’s face when after he went off the deep end cussing about welfare and the end of the world, I looked up and said, “My mama’s black”. She isn’t, but he didn’t know that.
My friend Steve and his wife adopted a biracial baby and people would ask him, in public, and out loud, “Is that your child?” Steve, who packs about two fifty and none of it fat, always looked at them and said, “Yeah, doesn’t he look just like me?” And who dared disagree?
It broke my heart, but cleared my vision when a good friend of mine told me to never invite Steve and “that young’un” over to her house.
So I hope people keep making the mistake of assuming the grey hair and white skin means that I’m living in the past with the other cavemen. This lets me know where they stand. This lets me know who they are and where they are. It reminds me that as far as we’ve come there are those that give lip service to justice and a stiff armed salute to their own heart.
Mike writes regularly at his site: The Hickory Head Hermit
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