Raised Racist

I was born in Tennessee in 1965. Just three years before Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were murdered, and the Civil Right Act. It was a turbulent time, and perhaps my life reflects those conflicts. But, yes, I was raised to be a racist and homophobic. I never heard the word Trans, but them cross-dressers were ‘deviants’ and going to hell for sure. And that was from the relatively progressive Methodists.

The n-word was used in our home just like spoon. I vaguely remember saying something once when I was a bit older, but I was told that was just what ‘they’ were. No one saw it as pejorative. I was told that there were good n-words and bad ones same as white people.

I can only remember two black people coming to our neighborhood. The one was an elderly man who sold fresh produce out of the back of his old pickup truck. And the other was my Nanny’s ‘friend’ from work. Miss Ruth was mixed race and few years younger than my great-grandmother. It is only now that I realize they sat on the front porch the whole time. Nanny did not invite her in.

But by far the most traumatic lesson on being a ‘good’ racist was when I was sixteen. It was the eighties. So, it wasn’t quite as acceptable to use the n-word or be openly racist. Of course, I was the rebel, and those lessons never fully took with me. Nonetheless, back then, I knew better than to question ‘things.’ I can’t really say there was any discrimination about bringing black friends home because I never brought any friends around. But when I talked about my school friends, I never mentioned race.

Our family went to the mall on Friday evenings. My mother and brother went ‘window shopping.’ While my step-father and I sat on benches and people watched while we chatted. One Friday, I saw a couple of my friends from school. Cal and Mel were identical twin brothers. Yes, that’s where that fetish from Nothing Done In Love comes from. One was student body president, the other senior class president. Both were honor roll students. One went to Annapolis and the other got a full Navy ROTC to the University of South Carolina. If you have not guessed yet, yes, they are black.

But since much of that overt racism had gone undercover in my family, I felt falsely secure. I did what you do knew you are teen and see friends in the mall – I hugged my friends. I proudly brought them over to introduce to my step-father. He was polite, but I could tell something was not right.

The moment we were alone in the car, my step-father turned towards me, and on me. His face was a mottled mask of red hatred, twisted into a snarl. His exact words were…

Terri Lynn, if I ever see you hug another n-word, I’ll knock you across the room. If it kills me.

There was a hidden power in those words. My step-father had recently been forced to take disability because of his emphysema, so that kind of exertion really did hold the potential to kill him. What was more, at that time, I blamed myself for his early retirement. He had gotten pneumonia after going out in the snow to take me to my part-time job. Of course, the thirty years of cigarettes were the primary culprit, but women, especially Southern magnolias, are taught to internalize guilt for everything.

But if that was not bad enough, he and my brother then compounded their racism with misogyny. My thirteen-year-old brother laughed that the same rules did not apply to white men with black women, as long as you did not bring them home. Because… “it’s all pink on the inside.”

Almost a quarter of a century later, when I told my mother that I was marrying @PanKwake’s father, she told me…

The mixing of the races is a sin against god and an abomination.

I wasn’t sure what she was going to be like when my then-husband, a two-year-old @Pankwake, my Latino former partner, and my five-year-old Mexican-American son briefly visited during our Trip to Disney World. But she was going in for surgery, and I was guilted by her and the rest of my family to do so. To be fair, she was a decent grandmother to both my mixed heritage children. Even my brother acted half-human.

But things came to a head on the day of her surgery. We were leaving. Frankly, I had had enough of my family guilting me about my obligation as a woman to care for my Mama. I was there saying my goodbyes. As was my upright Baptist aunt, the woman who cheated on her husband, had another man’s child, and emotionally abused her husband’s daughter while her lover’s son could do no wrong. In comes my mother’s pastor, the man who had filled her head with those hate-filled words when she sought his counsel. When the man said, ‘let’s lift XYZ to the lord in prayer,’ I told my mother I needed to leave. My self-righteous aunt lit into me about being petty. I left that room shaking.

That was the last time I saw my mother. No, she survived that surgery just fine. But less than a year later, I would hang up the phone on her. And never call back.

But it was not just my family. That little mill village and those older women who helped raised me, who taught me to crochet, sew, and can before I learned to read, they too were racist and homophobic. On that last trip back, I did not dare take my younger two mixed culture children back to the place I grew up. Of course, most of those women were long since dead. But there was one whom I idolized as a teen. She was loud, spoke her mind, and fought for the rights of women in the church. But honestly, I was not sure how even she would react to my children. I chose to not test that and keep my memories of her wonderfully refreshing progressive idealism intact.

As I said, it was not merely racism, though. Homophobia was rampant. This was the eighties after all. AIDS was just making big news. There was a lovely couple at the end of street. They had only one son. It was one of those open secrets that only small towns like Sebida have that he was gay. When he became HIV-positive and then developed AIDS, that community ‘supported’ the family. They took food, always food. Our preacher visited. In fact, that pastor boasted at the man’s funeral that he ‘brought him to Jesus and that he repented of his sins.’ He actually said that the parents could rejoice in knowing their gay son was saved. I’m sure that was loads of relief, sadly, it might actually have been to them. But the worst was those whisper that circulated that little community. The ones that said, ‘it was god’s just punishment for his sins.’ Not a virus or medical disease, but god’s punishment.

If this drips with vitriol and pain, there is a reason. Racism, homophobia, and all those other prejudices doesn’t just harm people of color, the LGBTQIA community, or the disabled. While those groups bear the heavy burden of discrimination, prejudice hurts white people, too. Especially the children growing up in those homes. I don’t want to take a single iota of empathy away from those bearing those incredible burdens of hatred. But I do want us to realize, children are not born to hate. It is something they learn. Something they are taught through hundreds and thousands of words and actions, and inactions.

Even those of us, for whom the lessons do not, spend lifetimes trying to undo the damage. Maybe it never can be. Coming to terms with the fact that people you cared about, that you loved, and loved you were racist homophobes is incredibly hard. What is harder still for me is that fifty years later, another century, hell, another millennia and those people and their beliefs still exist. They are still fucking up little kids like I was. I sometimes use the hashtag #NoPlaceIn21stCentury. That sums it up perfectly for me.

And it is not just America. My adopted country may hold itself up as some multi-cultural mecca, but I could tell stories of racism and classism here as well. @PanKwake and I disagree about which is worse. She points out that at lease in the UK she does not need to worry about being murdered by the police because of the color of her skin. But for me, who grew up as I did, the denial of the problem makes it even harder to root out than back home.

Home? I’ve never really had that or friends. When you grow up the outsider in your family, different, it is hard to form those bounds. I have done my best to create the world I want to live in at our @HomeCrazzyHome. But I am reminded every time I leave its safety, that the world out there still has a helluva a far way to go to eradicate these societal ills.

Oh, I might have another home as well…in #ReconciliationTX or maybe Agartha or… But that’s why I keep doing all this. Because I believe you can write that world into existence. Just as Harriet Beecher Stowe did an America without slavery, at least legalized slavery.

So, when you read today’s chapter of #ReconciliationTX, I hope you’ll save some of your empathy not merely for J. T. or Jeb, but George as well. Children are not born to hate. But it is something they learn in order to win the love and approval of the adults in their world. Or some of them do, then there are the Jons, Jebs, and Taras for whome those lessons never took. But our road is not always straight or without potholes either. Any more than Sarah or J. T. or will.

Hate comes at a high cost.

“But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop … I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land” 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. April 3, 1968 Memphis, TN

I may not live to see that day either. But I still believe it can happen. I have to believe that. Because I don’t want any other little children taught those lessons of hate as Terri Lynn was. That certainly has #NoPlaceIn21stCentury.

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