Considering My Own Racism: My Foundation

I’ve decided to write what I expect will be a series that looks at the ways in which I am racist.

I’d like to say that I’m not racist. That I see everyone equally, without prejudice.

But when I’m brutally honest with myself, when I look closely at my reactions and thoughts, I find that I am racist in too many ways.

I am an almost 60-year-old white woman who was raised in the U.S. South.

Racism comes naturally.

I was taught – not overtly, mind you, but still taught –  that white was right. That the white way was the superior way.

That black people were different, had a different culture.

Black people were they. And their culture was inferior.

I mean, after all, as a child I only saw white people on television. The news anchors and reporters and weathermen, locally and nationally – all white. Nearly every television show I watched had an all-white cast.

hear_and_now12--captainsandy-1Even Captain Sandy, the weatherman on WSAV, the one we kids loved because of his sidekick Wilbur the Weather Bird (a stuffed bird that plopped down to Captain Sandy on a supposedly-invisible wire) and all of the interactive weather-predicting characters on his show . . . of course Captain Sandy was white.

The President of the United States? White. The governor of Georgia? White. Our county commissioners? White. Our school board (including my father)? White. Business owners? White. My pastor and our entire church congregation? White.

No one had to tell me directly that whites were superior. It was obvious.

I went to all-white schools until the seventh grade, when our school system finally integrated. That integration, when white and black children went to the same schools, was forced through a lawsuit.

My father was on the school board then. Somewhere in my house are the papers that a sheriff’s deputy served to my father. The plaintiffs were black parents suing on behalf of their children – black children who, interestingly, ended up being my friends in junior high and high school.

I never thought of my father as being racist. I never remember either he or my mother saying the N—– word.

But he also didn’t say, as a school board member, “Hey, separate but equal is not equal at all. We need to integrate our schools.”

The ruling in Brown v. Board of Education came down in 1954.

What year did my school system integrate?

1970.

A full 16 years after the unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the segregation of public schools was unconstitutional.

My father, the school board member, didn’t push the issue, didn’t say, “Hey, we’re breaking the law. We need to integrate our schools.” It took a lawsuit to force our schools to integrate.

I see that same reticence in me. How often do I not point out racism – because I know it will make someone uncomfortable or make a situation difficult? How often do I choose not to rock the boat?

Too often.

A memory I have of my father as a school board member pre-integration has to do with basketball. I loved basketball as a kid. When I was in elementary school, my parents took me to nearly all of the home basketball games at our (white) high school.

I remember one evening at home seeing my father put on a suit and tie. I asked where he was going. “To the state championship basketball game.” I was incredulous! How could he be going to the state championship basketball game without me! I wanted to go!!

He said I couldn’t go because it was at the black high school. He was going as a school board member. He didn’t feel comfortable taking his elementary-school-age daughter with him.

I didn’t understand. It seemed to me that basketball was basketball. And a state championship! That was the best of basketball!

I didn’t get to go with him. I think our team lost. And it’s interesting that, all of these years later, I think of the team as our team. Because it was. And it was a shame that a little girl who loved basketball didn’t get to see that game. Because basketball is basketball.

I remember overhearing my parents’ talking about the possibility of riots at school when we integrated in the fall of 1970. At the same time, a segregation academy opened in our county –  a private school that was, no surprise, all white. My parents chose for me and my sister to go to public school. They kind of had to because my father was on the school board. Even if there would be riots.

But I think they would have made the public school choice no matter what.

I hope they would have.

My memory of my first day of school with black kids?

Nothing.

I remember nothing.

Apparently it was no big deal (at least for me).

There were no riots. Classes went on as usual. I was in junior high, so we had six classes in different classrooms as well as a homeroom. That was different from my segregated elementary school years.

But I have no memories of either integration or junior high classes as difficult.

I had classes with black teachers and black students and was on the basketball team with black girls and was in the band with black boys and black girls.

It all felt very normal.

Because it was. That was much more normal than separating kids of the same age because they had different skin colors.

Even though I’d had no black teachers or fellow students from first to sixth grades, I didn’t find having black teachers and classmates in seventh grade as difficult at all.

Does that make me not a racist?

Hardly.

I absorbed my culture.

And that culture is still in me today. I see it in too many of my knee-jerk reactions  – reactions when my first thought is a racist thought.

I’ll share some of those in later posts that will be part of this series on my racism.

Because, you see, it’s much deeper than what I can cover in one blog post. It will take several posts to consider a even a little bit of it.

I’m happy to say that I don’t have any specific memories of when our schools integrated.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t run into racism in the schools – in myself or in school situations. I did.

Tune in for my next posts to read those stories, as well as stories from my college days and days as a high school teacher and coach. And even stories that are very recent.

At this point in my life, I find it important to look at myself clearly and to find those areas that keep me from treating fellow humans as less than human.

Even when it’s very uncomfortable.

Perhaps especially when it’s very uncomfortable.

Because otherwise, how will I become the person I truly want to be?

fullsizeoutput_2854

From my junior high yearbook, 8th grade, 1972. I’m in the upper right corner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 thoughts on “Considering My Own Racism: My Foundation

  1. Thank you. Jeff and I were discussing this very subject a couple of days ago. While I don’t have memories of the first day of junior high school, I do remember my apprehension being through the roof.
    Marlow did have a few “colored” students all of whom were (in my memory) good, clean kids, better than some of our other classmates.
    The year of 5th grade, when the day for class pictures was upon us, I clearly recall my mother warning me, “Don’t you let them stand you next to one of them.” Well, guess what. Yep. I came home in tears, telling my parents I couldn’t help it, they made me stand next to a girl named Marsha.
    Whenever I look at that picture, with me standing as far away from her as I can get, my heart breaks with guilt. Not for standing next to one of the sweetest girls I remember from elementary school but, I can only imagine how she feels when she looks at it.

    • Did part of the county integrate before the entire county did? I’m sure that there were NO black students while I was at Rincon Elementary. My first experience of integrated classes was in junior high. I’m curious that you are my age and had a different experience. I don’t have a specific experience like the one you describe with the class photo, but I still have the same guilt. Gosh, we were taught to treat people badly because of race – and our little child hearts were hurt by that.

  2. When I began my teaching experience at Effingham High School, I was warmly received. I was there during the early 70’s during which time I was honored with the Yearbook Dedication for two consecutive years . The Senior Class also chose me as a chaperone for their senior cruise . I had pleasant memories of working in Springfield. Both the students and faculty were very receptive and admirable. Mr Zipperer the superintendent and Mr Ross the principal—-oh how I respected them for their treatment of their faculty. I do not recall any disturbances among students during the years of integration. We all have our preferences but overt racism did not show its ugly head during my years.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your experience. When I was writing this piece, I didn’t think about what integration was like for the teachers. I’m glad it was positive for you. Even though our county waited too long, at least it handled integration well. You were certainly one of our favorite teachers and did a great job of teaching us English. As a teacher myself here in NW Georgia for many years, I grieved that more of my students couldn’t have excellent teachers who are black. Our faculties were almost all white – we might have one or two black faculty members of 80. Several of my best high school teachers were black, and I’m sure that excellence helped weed out some of my racism.

  3. I look forward to reading your memories and current reflections. I chafe at the easy application of “racist” to so many people today – because I believe we are all essentially racist to some degree, making judgements based on skin color or ethnicity. The questions I use to check myself are (1) What are the judgments? (2) Do I choose my actions based on those judgments? (3) Can I overcome those judgments? It’s a work-in-progress and a revelation almost every day.

  4. Pingback: Considering My Own Racism: My Childhood | eddies and currents

  5. Pingback: Considering My Own Racism: My Junior High Years | eddies and currents

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s