Raising Racists

Like many blacks of my generation, as well as those who are older, I fear for the safety of Barack Obama. It has been our history that whenever one of us rises up and speaks, we get shot down, sometimes literally losing our life. I think of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and a host of others who were brutalized because they stood up to challenge the powers that be in our time.

Obama was justifiably given secret service agents long before anyone else because of the racial situation in this country. A racial situation that has not really changed since his election and scheduled ascension to the White House.

The secret service reported that the death threats have increased rather than decreased. You can read it here. Threats were even documented in my own back yard, in the Cincinnati, Ohio suburb of Mt. Washington, at the hardware store on Salem (tried to include the link, but it keeps disappearing, sorry.)

I haven’t written previously in depth about the threats or my feelings because, frankly I’m tired of talking about race and racism. I’m tired, after nearly 60 years on this earth of having to justify my very existence through that prism. I look forward to the day when it is no longer necessary for people like me to have to work twice as hard to prove that we are merely equal.

I’d hoped that Obama’s election would, and ultimately, will change the racial climate in America. But, I’m still not yet convinced that it will. Especially when I see stories like the ones I’ve just mentioned.

I was particularly upset by reports of the 9 year olds on the school bus chanting “kill” Obama, “assassinate” Obama. Public response to this story prompted the mayor to speak out. He wrote a letter to local parents, you can read it here.

I was not surprised by the kids and their chants, because I know that racists are bred not born. Little kids like this are strictly nurtured, not natured. They don’t come out of the womb hating. Kids are like little tape recorders. Families and parents know that you have to be careful about what you say around them.

I remember an incident from my own past, when I was maybe eleven or twelve. I was downtown in Pogues, a high end department store, in a dress, a very pretty dress, dress shoes, hair done, very clean, church going clean, because that was the only way I could go to downtown Cincinnati with my parents or as in this case, with my grandmother. There was a white family standing next to us as a clerk waited on my grandmother. They had a small child who kept staring at me. I had long ago been taught not to stare back. But the kid kept looking and finally turned to her mother, I assume, and asked out loud...

”mommy, is she a nigger?”

I looked up at her mother. She turned crimson in the face and snatched the kid away from our proximity, as if we were the threatening ones. She never apologized, nor answered her daughter’s question, at least within my hearing. The clerk behind the counter turned red, too. But she didn’t say anything either. Nor did my grandmother, but then she had been hearing it longer than I had, and we never talked about it until she got drunk one night at a family party, later that year. Up until that party, I assumed that my grandmother really liked white people. But it was actually liberating for me to find out that she didn’t. She survived by going along and she’d taught me to go along, too, in order to survive. Looking back, I realize that the little girl was trying to figure out her world. She needed to be taught and she was, just not the get along way that we seek today.

Obama’s election is a start on the path to a post racial world. He represents the beginning. He was elected by a coalition of all people, who are making a strong statement that the incidents that I’ve just been talking about, are a thing of the past. I like this path that we are on now. It won’t be without adventure. Race and racism will always be with us in some form or other.

But this election has taught us that what we need to do when it does crop up, is to speak up and to educate our young. They do hear us and they do learn if taught.

And just maybe, like the fear of a black man in the white house, racism will fade away, too, taken to its grave when those of us who lived through it, pass on to our next plane of existence.
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