MLK's Birthday and One Family's Race Journey

There may be a lot of disagreement on how far we still have to go with racism, in this country. But there should be no dispute about how far we’ve come. Jim Crow laws were still in effect in my lifetime. Today, that kind of open, institutionalized racism is unheard of. For many, the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. was the shocking event that began to change their thinking.

I grew up in a household where the word “nigger” was used without shame. It just wasn’t considered a very harsh insult; it was equivalent to calling someone a “redneck.” There was no particular hate toward black folk, just a general distaste that had as much to do with “classism” as it did skin color – and a “well, what do you expect” type of bigotry. Things began to change in my family when my aunt left the convent in the seventies and several years later married someone who turned out to be a Klan member.

That was a bad decade for the Catholic Church, as well as for everybody else, and her judgment was… impaired. But I think her poor judgment did the rest of the family a huge favor. The better we got to know Uncle Klukker, the more we got a good, unvarnished look at the ugliness of racism. None of the softening that society provides, no group excuses, no statistical arguments. Just one man’s forthright hate. It frightened and disgusted us, and we backed away from it and from our own racism. Thank God.

As a teenager I went to a high school that was about one-third white, one-third black, and the rest Asian or Latino. There was some genuine racism there but for the most part it was more like rival teams. Occasional fights, but for the most part, avoidance. That was our method of getting along, since we all had to be there.

My mother occasionally used the word at home up until the early nineties, and when someone objected, she’d explain, “I don’t mean all black people, I mean the trashy ones. It means the same as poor white trash.” There was no heat there, just a lifetime habit of using the word, and the group she to which she applied it had gradually shrunk to include only criminals who were also black. So she didn’t understand why, after my daughter was born in 1990, I told her that she would either stop using the word in front of us, or stop seeing her granddaughter. But she did stop, at least in our presence.

Finally Hurricane Katrina hit, and that changed everything. My mother’s house sustained minimal wind damage – my husband and I were able to get it back in shape in just a few weekends. Many of my mother’s coworkers homes were destroyed or damaged so badly that repair would take months. So she invited some co-workers to move in with her. Of the three that did, two were black; a testimony to how much my mother changed over the years. Her white co-worker bought a condo and moved out rather quickly. One of her black co-workers had been renting an apartment, and nearly a year after Katrina, finally moved into another apartment.

The last co-worker is a home owner whose home had been badly damaged. Complicating matters is the fact that L is terminally ill. All three of L’s grown children have legitimate reasons for not being able to take L in. They help as much as they can, as do my husband and I, but the primary burden is on my mother, who goes to the doctor with L, and has even learned how to give shots. It is no exaggeration to say that we have grown to love L and consider her and her family, part of our family.

We’ve had holidays together, and laughed about the cultural differences. The question “How can you put gravy on macaroni and cheese?” gets you a laugh and a “How can you NOT?” We’ve learned about not just food differences, but so many other cultural differences between American blacks and American whites. And there are a lot of cultural differences, just as many as you’d find living with people from another country. Perhaps because even today, society tends to be segregated. The fact that it’s voluntary and class based doesn’t change the fact of it. We think they’re weird, and they think the same about us, but the common bond of loving L holds us all together and makes it work.

My mother has changed. L can’t drive, so my mother takes her where she wants to go. Including events where she is often the only white person in the crowd. We tease her about being a grit in a bowl of raisins, but she says she’s getting used to being the outsider. Sometimes she gets strange looks, sometimes she gets ignored, and sometimes people act differently when they see her, as though they feel they can’t be themselves around her. The other night, she took L to Aaron Neville’s wife’s funeral because L knows the Nevilles well. It was my mother’s first black funeral and she was amazed at how different it was from white funerals. L has planned her own funeral – she and my mother went casket-shopping some time ago, and the service is planned down to the last detail. My mother is terrified of public speaking, but L has asked her to read at her funeral. And my mother agreed, because she loves L and can’t bear to disappoint her.

MLK’s death changed the face of racism in this country. People saw the hate and took a step back from it. It is taking another death to finally eradicate the last of the racism from my family, and where there was not racism but a cautious tolerance, to bring about openness. We are all being changed by this close, ongoing proximity with people that 35 years ago, I was taught to fear and despise. Love is widening our perspectives. As much as I grieve for the fact that we’re losing L, I’m equally grateful for the time we’re having with her. It is a gift that will continue on through generations. And it is part of making Martin Luther King’s dream come true.

YouTube Preview Image

Trackposted to Outside the Beltway, Is It Just Me?, Perri Nelson’s Website, Mark My Words, Right Truth, Big Dog’s Weblog, Shadowscope, DragonLady’s World, Stuck On Stupid, The Amboy Times, Leaning Straight Up, Rightwing Guy, 123 Beta, third world county, The HILL Chronicles, Woman Honor Thyself, Stageleft, The Uncooperative Blogger ®, stikNstein… has no mercy, Pirate’s Cove, Renaissance Blogger, The Pink Flamingo, Dumb Ox News, Right Voices, The Random Yak, Adam’s Blog, basil’s blog, Phastidio.net, Conservative Cat, Wake Up America, Faultline USA, The Crazy Rants of Samantha Burns, The World According to Carl, Blue Star Chronicles, High Desert Wanderer, Gone Hollywood, and OTB Sports, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe.

Trackbacks

  1. Democrats Revealed

    Me and every other rightwing bloggers out here told you it would happen, but yet that wasn’t a good enough warning I suppose as the Democrats are doing everything that we all feared they would.

  2. Gallegly R-Ca introduces FAKE anti-immigration package

    Can you expect meaningful legislation from a Californian Republican?……..NOPE!

    Does it stand a chance?………….who knows?…….The Democrats have promised that all bills would be brought up and fairly debated. J…

  3. Saudi Arabia Banning the Letter X

    Apparently, the letter X looks too much like the Christian Cross for the liking of the Saudis. It seems there is a fatwa issued on the letter X.

  4. When They Said Heads Would Roll…

    When the US took the decision to invade Iraq it was a foregone conclusion that heads would roll, especially those of the people who were responsible for the deaths of so many people under the repressive regime of the now dead Saddam Hussein. It is now…

  5. Subscriber Drive

    I am interested in increasing the number of readers who subscribe to this blog. I have an email subscription that sends a per post notification but honestly, most people find that obtrusive and if I get on a writing roll it floods in boxes with notifi…

  6. Condi still taking swings – Boxer should just shut

    In the wake of Senator Barbara Boxers’ (D-CA) unkind and ignorant remarks last Thursday regarding Condi, ” that without an immediate family, Rice will pay no personal price for the Bush administration policy in Iraq.” Because Condi is single and wi…

  7. If We Withdrew Today…..

    Political games are being played out in our newspapers and our televisions, but not many people are asking the one question that could perhaps HELP us succeed in Iraq…… what is your alternate plan for success?

  8. [...] Trackposted to Outside the Beltway, Perri Nelson’s Website, Mark My Words, The Random Yak, Big Dog’s Weblog, basil’s blog, DragonLady’s World, Conservative Cat, Pursuing Holiness, 123 Beta, Wake Up America, Rightwing Guy, The HILL Chronicles, stikNstein… has no mercy, Pirate’s Cove, The Pink Flamingo, Dumb Ox News, Right Voices, and Gone Hollywood, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe. [...]

  9. Woman Dies After Holding Wee for Wii Radio Contest

    A California died over the weekend after participating in a “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” radio promotion.
    The Sacramento news stations report water intoxication.
    The results of a preliminary investigation released Saturday showed evidence &#8…

  10. Tricia Helfer Nude Playboy Pictorial

    Everyone’s favorite Cylon, Tricia Helfer, is baring it all for Playboy.

    Number Six, clothes zero.
    Tricia Helfer, darling of Donalda and sex-oozing Cylon of TV’s hit Battlestar Galactica, is baring all in the latest Playboy.
    What’s th…

  11. Socialist Terrorism?

    So who is “Revolutionary Struggle”? Well, they’re not Islamic Extremists. No, they’re a bunch of socialists, or maybe even anarchists. The same political philosophies that drive the left in the U.S. today.

  12. U.S. Military to Ditch the Red Cross for the Red C

    According to a military source, “This new symbol for the red cross was reported as being currently ready to be instated to our military medical facilities in the near future. . .

  13. PrisonerS GeT their own SpooNS..yay

    JAILS are spending thousands on colour-coded kitchen tools for Mus–lims, it was revealed last night.

  14. Cox Calls King a Visionary

    “In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill declaring that beginning in 1986, the third Monday of every January would be celebrated as Martin Luther King Day.

    Reagan said Dr. King had a “truly prophetic voice,” and praised his challenge to his…

  15. Ixnay on the Cross eh.. in the U.K.

    A school provoked fury last night by ordering a devout Catholic schoolgirl to remove her cross necklace because it posed a health and safety risk.

  16. [...] Trackposted to Outside the Beltway, Is It Just Me?, The Random Yak, Big Dog’s Weblog, Adam’s Blog, basil’s blog, DragonLady’s World, Common Folk Using Common Sense, Pursuing Holiness, Wake Up America, Rightwing Guy, The HILL Chronicles, third world county, Faultline USA, Stageleft, stikNstein… has no mercy, The Crazy Rants of Samantha Burns, Pirate’s Cove, Blue Star Chronicles, Planck’s Constant, The Pink Flamingo, Dumb Ox News, High Desert Wanderer, and Gone Hollywood, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe. [...]

  17. 123beta says:

    Open Trackback Weekend #37

    I’m starting the OTA early because I’m likely to be unavailable most of the weekend. Just leave a post and you’ll get a trackback ping from me. Since I send trackbacks manually…

  18. Standing at a Safe Distance from a Lame Duck President

    Republican Senators are not famous for their courage, and Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman has become an excellent example of the breed by placing himself in a position to be heralded as an opponent of Bush’s new plan for Iraq. The…

  19. [...] Trackposted to Outside the Beltway, Is It Just Me?, Perri Nelson’s Website, Mark My Words, The Random Yak, Adam’s Blog, Big Dog’s Weblog, basil’s blog, DragonLady’s World, Common Folk Using Common Sense, Conservative Cat, Pursuing Holiness, Sujet- Celebrities, Rightwing Guy, Wake Up America, The HILL Chronicles, Faultline USA, third world county, Stageleft, stikNstein… has no mercy, The Crazy Rants of Samantha Burns, Blue Star Chronicles, Pirate’s Cove, The Pink Flamingo, Planck’s Constant, Dumb Ox News, Dumb Ox News, High Desert Wanderer, and Gone Hollywood, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe. Bookmark to: [...]

  20. Too Much Terror?

    It seems to make little sense to do everything we can to protect ourselves from rogue organizations when in the process we end up doing far-more damage than they could ever hope to accomplish.

  21. [...] Trackposted to Outside the Beltway, Perri Nelson’s Website, Is It Just Me?, Mark My Words, The Random Yak, Adam’s Blog, Big Dog’s Weblog, basil’s blog, DragonLady’s World, Common Folk Using Common Sense, Stuck On Stupid, Conservative Cat, Pursuing Holiness, Sujet- Celebrities, Wake Up America, Rightwing Guy, Faultline USA, third world county, The HILL Chronicles, Stageleft, The Crazy Rants of Samantha Burns, stikNstein… has no mercy, Pirate’s Cove, Blue Star Chronicles, Planck’s Constant, The Pink Flamingo, Dumb Ox News, Dumb Ox News, High Desert Wanderer, Right Voices, and OTB Sports, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe. [...]

  22. [...] Copy the text in the table below to paste into your article, then copy the trackback URLs in the text box and paste into your outbound trackback URL box. Trackposted to Outside the Beltway, Perri Nelson’s Website, Is It Just Me?, Mark My Words, The Random Yak, Adam’s Blog, Big Dog’s Weblog, basil’s blog, DragonLady’s World, Common Folk Using Common Sense, Stuck On Stupid, Conservative Cat, Pursuing Holiness, Sujet- Celebrities, Wake Up America, Rightwing Guy, Faultline USA, third world county, The HILL Chronicles, Stageleft, The Crazy Rants of Samantha Burns, stikNstein… has no mercy, Pirate’s Cove, Blue Star Chronicles, Planck’s Constant, The Pink Flamingo, Dumb Ox News, Dumb Ox News, High Desert Wanderer, Right Voices, and OTB Sports, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe. [...]

  23. [...] The Jena Six cases naturally have people buzzing about racism. And they should – it’s a real problem in this country, although I reject the stereotypes. For example, my blogging on the Jena 6 has led some folks to conclude that I’m black. Not so – I’m so white I practically glow in the dark. And the guy who has really started publicizing this, Alan Bean of Friends of Justice, is also white. I personally have known minorities who are every bit as racist as my Uncle Klukker. [...]

  24. [...] but it’s an update. I’ve written before about my family’s struggles with race in MLK’s Birthday and One Family’s Race Journey. L is nearing the end of her journey. L is now staying at her daughter’s apartment so she can [...]