I don’t understand…
I have watched society go humming along until we hit some type of snag causing the bottom to fall out landing us in some alternate state of reality. I like to say we fell down the rabbit hole and can’t find our way out but truth, we know our way out. It’s just that some of us aren’t on board to change what needs fixin’.
I grew up in the rural south not far from Sherman’s March to the Sea – less than 5 miles in fact. When I talk to people on social media, I find me telling myself to remember I’m from the south and many people think we are vile humans for one reason or another. I was in a conversation with someone the other night who was trying to make his presence known by saying it’s OK to be white. He did that meme thing on someone’s post – ugggh. What he was really saying I was soon to find out is that it’s OK to want only white people to be in power and all of that awful talk most of us have heard before. You know, the same racist trash that has become media headlines almost on a daily basis. I usually won’t engage in these conversations because their minds are made up. Nothing you can do or say will change them especially when they are using an anonymous name and safely tucked away behind some screen and keyboard. I wanted to know more about this person and why he believes the way he does. My hope was that I could say something that maybe he could think about that would make a positive difference. Just a small seed. I’m still a bit optimistic, I guess. Maybe?
My European ancestors came to America all before 1800. Some in my direct line owned slaves. I used to do family research digging through census records and property documents and every so often I would find a few slave owners – direct ancestors. I didn’t understand. It hurt to know that I came/come from people who owned others. I didn’t know how to make peace with it. I would often hide the fact and found myself trying to make excuses like it wasn’t but a ‘few’ ancestors. Coping and rationalizing will do crazy things. How could my ancestors participate in something so heinous? Didn’t they know better? My legal document hunting took a pause until I dealt with the conflict within. Then I found myself doing more history research than family research trying to get a feel for what was happening pre civil war. This led to attempting to trace families of some slave descendants and that is almost impossible in most cases but it served as a great history lesson for me. Add newspaper advertisements and write-ups with diaries and such. This created a wealth of information that allowed me to see more than just a slice of history. I don’t think most people have had this type of opportunity. It creates a picture that is not addressed in most schools especially in the south. It’s needed. Most southerners want to search for the most wealthy and powerful ancestors. They miss the tangible evidence that is right in front.
Years earlier, I remember my great aunt telling me how our family that owned the farm I grew up on believed slavery was wrong. She wanted me to understand the importance of treating others as equal. I miss her! In about fourth or fifth grade when we were studying about the civil war, I wanted to ask her questions. She was born in the late 1800s so I had hoped she could give me information on that era. Most of my teachers never talked negative about life before the civil war. I remember being taken to see Gone with the Wind during the school day and the grandiose talks about it like it was some wonderful experience. The teacher I had that year turned out to descend from a plantation owner from years ago-what was I expecting?
Reality varies depending on whose perspective you are getting information from. My great aunt said that to own someone was not right. I never heard her say anything negative about anyone. She was a positive influence. When she told me this, I was young and had no clue to what real history was. It wasn’t something I could identify with – war – owning people. Are you kidding? We had a simple farm and believed in helping your neighbor no matter what they looked like. I didn’t understand.
My parents believed we are all equal and I thank the stars that they did. I grew up with people who hated others for their skin color. I didn’t understand it. I remember separate waiting rooms and separate water fountains and even separate schools. I remember public school integration and hearing people make excuses for their bigotry. I still didn’t understand. And today, I still don’t understand.
This guy on social media the other night – I don’t know where he got his information. He wouldn’t say. It’s the same putrid talk that I have heard before. ‘His people’ came to America and conquered it and settled it building everything (sigh) and only “white people” have made improvements and contributions… yada-yada-yada (double sigh). I want to scream when I hear this. As I began to point out the inaccuracies of his statements he refused to believe anything I said. That’s nothing new. When I said there is no ‘white’ race, he began to attack. I asked him how far back he could trace his ancestry and he said he could not get back to 1800 but yet it was ‘his people.’
This is a sickness that didn’t begin yesterday or even 50 years ago or let alone 200. I’ve seen people try to find excuses for their hatred. Maybe they are coping but I call in rationalizing. Sometimes biblical scripture is used to support what they say. Whatever it is, it’s an excuse and they believe they are justified for believing it. Some of the same people think they are going to lose something whether it be economic status or power or whatever. They want to fight some imaginary evil so they can stay on top. They will rationalize any non-normal behavior for their benefit. Just look at the news for the past year and especially the past few weeks.
For me, knowing any of my ancestors owned slaves caused me to feel betrayed, hurt, livid. I was embarrassed. It really bothered me but I felt helpless. I didn’t know what to do or what to say. I tried to say it was in the past but I knew it wasn’t really in the past. I live in the south. You can put distance between racists but you don’t have to look far to find racism. It’s worse than cancer. It’s viral and very contagious and if you’ve noticed, it’s not just in the south and it happens against all people of color and of minority status.
I didn’t know the following for many years because it wasn’t ever talked about and happened before I married into the family. Back in the 1970s my to-be sister-in-law was dating a black guy. Again, this is the south. Evidently the kkk had warned her to stay away from him. They went so far as to burn a cross in her family’s yard and from what I understand they killed him not long after. She was there when it happened. The first time I heard this I was saying, “No, this can’t be true.” But yet it is true. It happened. You don’t want to believe that people are so awful but this hatred thing is worse than awful. It kills over and over and it survives. It breeds and continues and it needs to stop.
While President Obama was in office some of the people at my church mocked him and said so many awful things and these were elders in the church. I didn’t understand. We were called to be Christians – to be loving of all people. They kept on. They wanted ‘change.’ I thought we were doing well by becoming more inclusive. I began to distance myself from people like this. At first, I didn’t call it out publicly – not yet. When I did, I was ostracized.
I had some things going on in my personal life and also didn’t want to be around people like this so I dropped my adult Bible study class that I had been teaching. I felt like I was beating my head against the wall and wasn’t doing any good but I needed time away for me. It was a toxic environment. A good friend called me from church one day to talk about a sermon the new preacher had relayed the previous Sunday. You may call it gossip – I will, too. She is older and had been one of my students so it wasn’t unusual for us to discuss sermons and such but I usually held back on some of my personal feelings. This day would be different.
In the Bible, Jesus’ disciples ask (paraphrasing here), Teacher, what is the greatest commandment? Jesus answered (still paraphrasing), Love the Lord thy God with all of your heart…and love thy neighbor as yourself. The second part was the heart of the preacher’s sermon that day. It’s something I have spoken about many times so what could be the problem I was asking myself as she continued to talk. This is something we were taught when I was younger than 6. I waited. She said the minister said we are called to love ALL. I said, yes, uh huh, waiting… She said he told them that we had to love EVERYONE. She paused. I’m thinking to myself—uh oh. I reiterated the scripture and what it means. She said, but Amy… I can learn to love black people (my hand hit my head with a slap and I’m thinking—NO—she isn’t going there, is she?) but I can’t learn to love those other people. Yes, she really went there.
Ok. I have to tell you that I wasn’t surprised by what she said. It caught me off guard at first. I didn’t know how to approach an answer. She was a friend. I think she wanted me to agree with her about the “other people.” I had to make a choice and I chose to try and make a positive out of a negative. Those “other people” she said were those people over there making war. I made an assumption that she was meaning Muslims and asked if that was the case. She agreed. She didn’t like what I had to say.
Why would you not love others? She’s a compassionate person. I didn’t think this was a big deal. Evidently it was. Most of my time there at that church was spent trying to get others to see people in a different perspective hoping that it would elicit a more compassionate response but I discovered it’s almost impossible to change those who are so stuck in the rut who have been taught to hate others all of their lives. Reprogramming is almost hopeless and isn’t likely to happen as long as there are others who will give the feedback they want. That reinforcement will kill you.
As long as we stay in our daily routine and never venture outside of our bubble nothing will change. Treating others as the way we have always treated them will not change. It’s not OK. Right after the election last year, I saw firsthand people who were openly intimidating others because they believed ‘white power’ was back to stay. I felt defeated and then determined. I felt nauseated more days than I want to acknowledge. Now I feel like…I don’t understand. I find myself trying to explain things happening in the news – that it doesn’t have to be this way – that we can make it out of the rabbit hole. I also find myself repeating that we are a fractured country that was built on the backs of slaves. No one can go back and undo the past – I wish we could. BUT, we can change the future. I hear people make excuses for slavery just like that guy did the other night. There is no excuse. None. There is no one else to blame. I can tell you that my ancestry doesn’t include just Europeans but that’s not an excuse either. We have to own our past. It stinks! It really stinks. Horrible things have been done. People murdered. People raped. People kidnapped and sold into slavery. Families divided never to be heard from again. It goes on and on. Monuments were built in the south and around the country to remind others who was really in charge – don’t let anyone tell you different. The kkk was there to enforce the white way of life. Make no mistake about it. That’s the way it was but we can stop that. We can quit holding people who are racist to the highest regard. We can stop pretending that there is no racism in America. We have to face our demons of the past and we have to make peace with them. Only then can we move forward. It’s not easy. It’s not something that just happens. I doubt I will ever see us embrace the equality I would like to see in my lifetime and maybe not in my children’s lifetime either but we have to keep trying.
This country is better for our diversity but many will not open their eyes to see it. I keep telling myself that eventually the dinosaurs died out but today there is a new breed of dinosaur. It could be worse than before. It has legs and roots and that’s dangerous. There were those who created a monster when they painted liberals, democrats, ‘the left’ as evil. Many evangelical preachers used and continue to use this as their platform. Today, racists, white supremacists, nazis, whatever you want to call them, have joined the evangelicals and fringe and are using them to justify their racism. It’s ugly. We’ve seen bloodshed and there will be more I’m sure. Rational people do not hate but these are not rational people. It’s not just happening in America. It’s happening all over the world.
Treating others as one would want to be treated is not difficult in theory and even in practice. Why wouldn’t all people want to adhere to this…to treat another with equality and compassion? It boggles my mind. I don’t understand. I have stepped back from my Christian ties to the dismay of many. I tried to be more inclusive of all people while in the church. I even stood up for atheists because I believe we are all equal and no one is above another. Don’t get me wrong, there are good lessons from the teachings of Jesus. There are also other good lessons from other faiths. I was hurt the first time I was judged when someone said I was going to hell (and I was still very much in the church at the time) but I’m told that on a daily basis now. This type of thinking coincides with many racists. There is something about people who believe they are right and even giddy at the thought of another burning in a lake of fire for all eternity. It caused me to reevaluate my beliefs. We all have a common connection. We are all of the human race. If we desire, we can empathize and feel compassion for one another. We can rise out of the rabbit hole but only if we choose to do so. This is my passion.
My background has taken me down many paths from degrees in math and computer science, math teacher, plus studies in child and human development, psychology, Biblical studies, plus restaurant work, volunteering, more teaching, etc. All of that is in the past as I’m now disabled to some extent and find living with others is not as easy with social media barking 24 hours a day. I am somewhat disappointed in what I see around me and would love to know I will be leaving this world in a better place for my children and that is my true passion. Hi. My name is Amy and I blog at www.garden2day.wordpress.com – What’s growing in your garden today? 🙂
Written for Rage Against the Machine Month. If you’d like to be a part of the challenge, find more information Here. But first, leave a comment and let Amy know what you think about her words, and be sure to visit her over at GARDEN2DAY when you’re done.