I remember when I first learned about slavery in America. I bet if you asked many white people of my generation that question they would tell you it was the miniseries Rootsand except for a single friendship I would have said the same thing. In elementary school, before we moved to Saline, I had a friend named Milton. There were a significant number of black kids in my school district so that wasn’t something I found odd at all. What was odd, at least in those days, was Milton was one of my best friends.
Remember this was 1980-1981 in Southeastern Michigan. These things did not happen.
Milton and I bonded over television shows, our favorites were CHIPs, Starsky and Hutch, and Battlestar Galactica, and we’d spend countless half hour segments on the playground reenacting the shows. One day I brought up my new favorite show The Dukes of Hazard and our talks took a dark turn, he really didn’t like that show. For the rest of that day I was told everything he knew about the civil war, which I assume his parents told him.
I was upset and I think I even called him a liar. We were never friends after that day.
My mom’s entire side of the family is from the south, she was the first generation born in the north and we visited family in North Carolina, Virginia, and Arkansas regularly. That being said we never discussed the history of north and south, slavery, or the war. So that day I went home and asked my mom about it.
Mom has always believed in sharing everything. The good, the bad, and the ugly were laid out in an afternoon conversation punctuated by hotdogs with mac and cheese. When we were done I had a lot to digest but it was the first step in my journey to see race relations in America with as clear of a lens as possible. There were missteps and I have said things I am ashamed to think about in my youth.
Nobody’s point of view is ever unbiased but I keeping trying.
I grew up in Metro Detroit, Michigan, which if you are unfamiliar with, it is an area made up of a large immigrant population. And yes Greek, Middle Eastern, Polish, and other nationalities from all races make up a significant portion of the population. At the time I lived there it had one of the largest percentages of African Americans north of the old Mason Dixon. Add to it a massive transfer population of first generation southerners thanks to the auto industry and is it any wonder Detroit has historically been a hotbed of both innovation and racial tension?
Also kids the food in Detroit is amazeballs!
I like to think my life experiences have left me open to change. I’ve been through my ultra conservative phase, I’ve been through my flirtation with racism I think ALL people secretly go through, and I’ve done the whole angry, financially poor, white, moron thing. I admit to all of these not because I’m proud of them, but because I’m ashamed of them. I admit to them because even thought they are a dark and shameful part of my past, they ARE part of me. They are a darkness I fight against when things are scary and I feel small. I commit them to this page so I never forget and try to convince myself it never happened.
I say all of this in preamble to current events.
On the evening of June 17, 2015, nine good American men and women were massacred in a church for no other reason than they were black. Despite what a LOT of right wing pundits and corporate talking heads have said in their laughable attempts to paint it as an anti-Christian act, there is nothing to indicate a deeper motive. From the survivor statements, to the browser history of the shooter, to the very words from his mouth, and contents of his Neo Confederate website and manifesto—this was clearly a racially motivated act of terrorism.
The reaction to this atrocity has been unbelievable. On one hand I am in awe of the people of Charleston. The little murdering bastard wanted to ignite a race war and instead the people of the capitol city of the first state to secede from the union have come together in forgiveness and together forced the removal of the Confederate Battle Flag from the capitol grounds, and state after state is pushing for removing of Confederate symbols from government grounds.
On the other hand, corporate media and all of the mouth-breathing talking-heads are doing their damndest to spin this as one racist asshole and not as indicative of race relations—and some people are actually buying it! Some people are ignoring the deaths, the history of racism, the continued marginalization of non whites, and the overt disenfranchisement going on in the courts and legislatures, and instead scream some variation of, “YOU AIN”T GONNA TAKE MY RACIST FLAG IT’S MY HERITAGE!”
Every day I become a little more ashamed of large segments of this country.
Right now my ultra right wing and libertarian friends are thinking I’m about to start swimming in a deep vat of white guilt brought on by decades of the namby-pamby media telling me the plight of minorities is my fault. Conversely, I’m sure many of my uber progressive liberal left wing comrades expect me to start ranting about the white man and modern racist patriarchal Caucasian society oppressing the poor ignorant and helpless masses. In other words both extremes of the spectrum are expecting me to react just like they would.
All of you can just shut the hell up.
Despite what the likes of O’Reily, Hannity, and Limbaugh scream into their cameras and microphones, we do not live in a post racial America. Are things better than they were 1980 when I found out my ancestors fought under a banner dedicated to keeping millions of men and women under chains? Of course they have, anyone who tells you they haven’t knows nothing about history… of course anyone who tells you we’ve moved past such things is either a blind idealist or a fucking moron.
There’s still a long way to go but if you’d told me in the 1980’s we’d have a two term African American President, that LGBTQ people would be on the cusp of marriage equality, and that we would be openly debating these issues (along with a plethora of others) with tangible results before I was forty I’d have laughed in your face.
So today I’m sad and ashamed… but for tomorrow I still have hope.
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