Monday, September 9, 2019

RACISM UNTAUGHT


First off, all my family and friends were spared Dorian but sadly the Bahamas were practically destroyed and N. Carolina was really roughed up.  I am sending what I can spare to help with the relief. Hoping all of you and yours were also spared.

Rerun from 2013. With all the thoughts of racism in the news. thought I would tell you of when I had to deal with it.

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 mother's side of the family came from slave holders. Two of the slaves, George and Julia remained with my family after the emancipation. Julia had been my mother's nanny and she and George both lived into their nineties but passed before I was born.

While my parents truly felt superior, they would never tolerate cruelty.  I never heard the "n" word. 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 farm animal. With kindness but to know they were not equals.  This was never spelled out for me till I was around 9 years old.

I never saw a black person up close and personal till the 3rd grade. It was a rural area in Ohio and our school was very small. There were 8 grades, approximately 10 kids per class and two classes per room. The Henry family moved into our area that year. There was almost 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 imagine a harried Mrs. Henry trying to get all 6 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.

Remember these---jacks.

She was blessed with a marvelous sense of humor, creativity and quickly became my favorite playmate. This only went on for less than a week when I was pulled aside by my classmates.

"My mother said I can't play with you anymore."  Mary Ann informed me 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. One did not socialize with "them".

The next day, I walked up to Henrietta and sadly told her my decision. " I can't play with you any more," I said and told her of my friend's ultimatum.

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 with her but the hurt I caused would not allow it. The Henrys moved away before the year was out.

What it did do for me was to vow at that young age, never again to let others do my thinking for me, not 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. We fought many a verbal battle and they continued to shake their heads about their willful, misguided daughter.

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

36 comments :

  1. Wow, what an interest post! I was about the same age of Henrietta when I was in her shoes, being told by a classmate on the playground that she couldn't play with me because I didn't go to church. I can imagine Henrietta's hurt because I still carry my hurtful experience and a few other like that round.

    Be proud of yourself for taking an important step forward. If every generation could do better than their parents we could make racism a thing of the past...and I do think that is happening and that's what upsets the White Supremacist so much now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jean,
      I am so sorry you had to experience a similar thing as Henrietta did.
      You know though, I think you are right about the tide changing and that is why the Supremacists are trying so hard to be heard. I think they know they are losing ground. We can only hope.

      Delete
  2. Excellent post. Glad you took your own path and made your own choices in life. Parents aren't always right.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Joey,
      Thank you and I am so glad I did not follow what I was being taught. I mm so glad that while we are not there yet, we are making strides in the right direction and the young ones seem to get it.

      Delete
  3. I love how well you told this story, and I can feel both your hurt and Henrietta's. What a sad world that judges a person by the color of his or her skin. And it still is going on, but you have been liberated from your parents' racism. Congratulations.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Djan,
      Thank you. Yes it hurt then and still does. I know out there somewhere is a woman who may or may not have gotten over my ignorant cruelty.

      Delete
  4. Racism has to be taught, often through peer pressure.

    Fighting it "in the day" was not as easy as people think. This is why judging people on their actions or comments from the distant past is a mistake.

    Excellent post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Joeh,
      It is hard not to but I try to not judge anyone who has their past mistake thrown into their faces today. What someone was or may have done is not necessarily who they are today.
      Thankfully I am not judged by my weakest moments.

      Delete
  5. I'm so glad that you shared this story again. These kinds of experiences are what make us who we are. If we're lucky, they wake us up to a bigger view of humanity.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. robin,
      Thank you. It seemed time. Won't it be a glorious day when all are open and accepting of eachother regardless of slight differences?

      Delete
  6. Wonderful post! In my experience, insert indigenous (or Indian as my Dad would have said). Though my mom was not overtly racist, my father was as well as homophobic. However, although he attended a KKK rally (here in Saskatchewan in the 1920's), he didn't have the same intolerance for other races.

    You're correct that racism is taught. It is my hope that it will no longer be part of our lives but sadly with the current increase in populism I suspect it will get even worse. :(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Eileen,
      You seemed to have taken your own path also. I think you are right though on how the rise of nationalist in politics around the globe is having a scary effect. I am just hoping it is mostly the older folks that are buying in and that the younger ones are resisting.

      Delete
  7. So sad you had to give up such a good friend because of intolerance. I never heard much about race relations while I was growing up. I do remember wishing we had some black kids in our all white school. I always wanted a black friend. There was an old black man who came to our house and bought eggs from us and he and my daddy would talk together. Race just wasn't an issue with us. Growing up in a Christian family we were taught to treat everyone the same. I know many people who claim to be Christian don't act like it, but I can only speak for my family. I will be so glad when people don't even think about the color of one's skin and just get along.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Snickelfritz,
      You and me both. I really can't see what is so hard about it. And you are right, true Christians love their neighbors, regardless of difference. I think that was in the back of my mind when I turned from my parents views. Christ would not buy the KKK.

      Delete
    2. No, He would not. He died for every last one of us.

      Delete
  8. Wow - what a powerful post! I am now following you as I can not wait to read more and get to know you and your blog. You can follow back if you wish at Annster's Domain

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Annsterw,
      Thank you and thanks for following. I must be following you for I see a post from your blog today in my reading list. I will check it out.

      Delete
  9. This is such a powerful post. Thank you for sharing it.
    I don't know if my mother was a racist, but having been raised by moralistic German parents, she certainly learned how to be judgmental. She openly disapproved of"all those trouble makers" during the civil rights movement in the south. Having had no experience with other races where I lived in rural Oregon, I just instinctively took the opposite point of view. We debated it often during my teen years. To this day I am by far the most liberal member of my family. Do some of us just have different brains?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Linda,
      "All those trouble makers" sounds so much like my family. Interesting that you just naturally took the right path. Makes one wonder why you and I and others took such different paths. Glad we did though.

      Delete
  10. LOVED this post! Racism is taught and handed down. So thrilled that you learned what it did to your heart and chose to follow your own path. :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. Rita,
    Thank you. Yes it is taught but I am encouraged that others of my commenters were also able to chose their own path. I think the children of today are also leaning that way.

    ReplyDelete
  12. It is always heartening to hear a story of independence and real intent to be kind.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Olga,
      So glad we live in a country where we have this choice.

      Delete
  13. Yes - I do remember Jacks! I think anytime there is a me versus them attitude, there is injustice. Race, gender, sexuality, religion, and many more are problem areas. What we are taught as children has a powerful influence on our behavior and choices. Some have the moral, ethical, and emotional strength to question and make different choices, but the hardwire of childhood is very formative of the adults we become. I do wonder if you were the only white child in an all-black school if you would have been the outcast? I think it can and does work both ways. As long as some feel superior to others, the put downs and exclusions continue.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Barb,
      I really hope with all the negative attention the haters are getting from the media that the kids of today will seek the kinder alternative.

      Delete
  14. Dear Patti, thank you for this lesson in openness to change when we realize that actions and words hurt others and over the long run hurt us too. My moment of truth came on a streetcar in downtown Kansas City when I was probably 11. My father truly thought he was superior. But when I heard two women refuse to sit next to a very young African American boy--who was trembling in fear--and say racist things about him, I knew that I had to sit down. And that made all the difference for me in what followed in my life.

    I so admire you for sharing this story, Patti. Peace.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dee,
      Proud of you Dee for doing the right thing for that young boy. I'll bet that is imprinted in his heart forever as it is yours.

      Delete
  15. I'm so sorry you and Henrietta parted for such a cruel reason. I'm guessing her siblings were also shunned by classmates? I never knew racism when I was young, my town had plenty of immigrants from other countries and everyone got along. In summer there were a few aboriginals who came to town and camped near the caravan park and we all played together with their kids. I learned of racism later, when I was sixteen and refused a job because of my 'non-Australian' name. I learned about white/negro racism from movies and books and never did understand it. They're just people. I'm glad you learned to be different from your parents.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. River,
      So happy that there are still places where difference is overlooked. Can't wait till it is everywhere. So sorry however that you got a taste of prejudice in your teens. Hope that was the only case.

      Delete
  16. I had several 'best friends of color' so to speak. But my parents were more tolerable of race and neither had a prejudiced bone in their bodies. My father had a wonderful gentleman & co-worker who often joined us for dinner. Yes, he was black. And the sweetest ever. My friends in school were black, Mexican, Indian (from India) and white. Others shunned me for being friends with all, especially 'pamela' who never bathed because of her religion (she was the Indian)...but, I was raised to like everyone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anni,
      So happy that you had the courage to stand up to your so called friends and to stick by the rest. Wish I had done that with Henrietta.

      Delete
  17. Brave post ... a lesson for all of us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tom,
      Thank you. I just wish I had learned it before I crushed my friend.

      Delete
  18. I never saw a black person until I was about 15. None passed through our town.

    I was in college before I made friends with many black students. My parents were silent about that.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Thank you, thank you for who you were and are.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Oh gosh, Patti...
    I had tears in my eyes by the end of your post.
    I've just always felt such a love for all your writings for it showed the amazing person you are. I read this post to my husband and now he loves you too. He just said perhaps that pain in both of you helped to shape your understanding. And, also he added that he could understand your telling Henrietta what you did at first because as a young girl, that was a lot of pressure on you.

    I grew up in a rather homogeneous Asian type society in Hawaii and met my first African American in college. She told us all what it was like on the mainland and we were stunned. We'd heard things in the news, but it was like it was happening on another planet.

    And then we moved to the mainland when we were in our 20's and I saw racism first hand in Illinois. We were lucky in that most of the people in our community were absolutely wonderful and we had lots of friends who looked past the color barrier. However, I also met other teachers in school who were black and they told me awful stories about what they were going through.

    Once, I told a group of my African American teacher friends about something awful that had happened over the weekend. I told them of my feeling of powerlessness, of anger, of pain. We had a group hug and they said I could now truly understand what they go through all the time. They called me their "sister," and I was so touched. I can still remember the anger when it happened to me though... and I can understand why we have the racial tensions we have today.

    Sigh... Patti. We need more people like you. Sending you love from Hawaii.

    ReplyDelete