Thursday, January 22, 2009

HOW BAD CAN LEAD TO GOOD

I was going to go with lighter fare today but response to Clara's comment has moved this post up the ladder. She and the election has brought up a turning point in my life I am not proud of, but since it made me what I am, I don't regret the results, just the actions. This may be a long story so if you have something better to do, go for it, otherwise, a cup of coffee may help.


I am the daughter of white supremacists. No, not the skin head variety, but of people who definitely felt they were the superior race. My parents came from slave holders. My brothers actually got to sit on the lap of Julia who had been my mother's nanny. She was in her ninety's then. She and her husband George were former slaves who had stayed with our family when the emancipation came. They both lived into their late ninety's. She passed before I was born.


While my parents truly felt superior, they would never tolerate cruelty. If a sibling used the "n" word, he was punished. Any derogatory remarks were met with instant rebuke. They were kindly but none the less, felt they were superior and that blacks were just not quite human. We were to treat the blacks as we would a pet. With kindness but to know they were beneath us.


I never saw a black person up close and personal till the 3rd grade. It was a rural area in Ohio. Our school was very small. Approximately 10 kids per class and two classes per room. The Henry family moved into our area that year. There was one Henry child per class. We rode the same school bus and it was fun each morning as the bus had to wait while one Henry after another ran down the long hill towards the bus. You could just see a harried Mrs. Henry trying to get all 8 kids ready for school.



Henrietta, as I will call her, was in my class. I was fascinated with her for as I said, she was my first experience with blacks. I noticed she always kept to her self so one day, I took my jacks over to her and asked her to play. She was blessed with a marvelous sense of humor , creativity and quickly became my favorite playmate. This only went on for a week or so when I was pulled aside by my classmates.


"My mother said I can't play with you anymore." informed Mary Ann as the rest of my friends bobbed their heads in agreement.


"Why" I asked totally stunned.


"Because you play with Henrietta." was the only explanation. " Unless you stop, we can't be friends." Again the heads bobbed in unison and they walked away.


I didn't know what to do so I brought the subject up at the family dinner that night. Race had not really been discussed in my presence till then. I was stunned when my parents agreed with my friends. I tried to explain how nice Henrietta was and that I liked her. She was just like me only with a better tan. They carefully drew the lines of behavior expected of me.


The next day, I walked up to Henrietta and sadly told her my decision. " I can't play with you any more" I told her and gave her the reasons.


Tears formed in her dark eyes and she only said," I thought you were different." and she walked away.


Henrietta and I never made up but from that day forward I carried a terrible burden. I tried to bridge the chasm many times but the hurt I caused would not allow it. The Henrys eventually moved away.


What it did do for me was to vow at that young age, never to let others do my thinking for me, even my parents. In the years to follow, I became a beloved thorn in my parents side. We never agreed on race relations but we continued to love each other. My guilt and disapproval of injustice drove me to actively promote tolerance. They continued to shake their heads about the stubborn daughter.


Henrietta, where ever you are, I am so sorry, but I thank you for opening my eyes.

7 comments :

  1. I had to pop over to IE so I could tell you how much I like this post, and how much I admire and respect you for posting it. I hope that someday henrietta will find out how you feel.

    My parents were similar to yours; they would never have been openly hostile, but they felt that other races were better left to themselves. Of course, they also felt that way about Catholics, Jews and anyone else who was different. Our schools didn't merge until I was in the 11th grade, and all our parents were scared to death that we white girls would try to date any of the black guys. It was a bad time in our history.

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  2. Kenju
    Thank you for your kind comments.
    We are both lucky to have formed independant thoughts from our WASP parents. They were good people who were victims of the times they grew up in. We came as the tides were turning and minds were opening.

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  3. I so appreciate this post, patti. You had the seeds of the best aspects of humanity planted in you when you were very young. It may be that the earliest buds could be bruised, but that flower still bloomed.

    *My apologies if this is a repeat comment. The first one disappeared.

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  4. Thanks Robin for the good thoughts.
    I agree with you that all of us are born with the good seeds. It just that parental guidence, peer pressure, and social atmospheres can kill those seeds. I am so grateful that my parents loved me enough to allow my differences to grown.

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  5. Patti: Yes I had time to read your blog, thank you. I understand our parents mean well. You did as they said when you were younger. As we learn the true meaning of LOVE we see things differently, we respect our parents but make our own decisions about how we treat people. A person who never want to change is a person who never want to learn.

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  6. I read your story two times.
    I have only seen films of those times in your country.
    Finland has never had these problems but I remember when we went to France in 1960 (we lived there 13 years)there was many back people.In France they had the same law but to me it was little strange.
    Now we all are living in the better and more understanding world, than's to Good.

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  7. Clara
    My biggest regret is that I had to hurt someone for me to learn to grow as a human being. Hopefully the children of today and tomorrow will not have to face those decisions. I think we are getting so close.

    Blue
    Yes we are in a much better world today. You are so fortunate to live in an enlightened country. Maybe someday, we will also.

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