Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Echoes of the South. I'm Overthinking Things Again.

This is not a post about Phil Robertson.  
This is not a post of homosexuality.  
This is a post of what I've been overthinking since Phil Robertson's interview came out.  

In my mind, sometimes after I sign my name, I want to write "Overthinking Things Since 1980."  

See, I was born in 1979. I give myself a year for eating, pooping, sleeping, repeating.  Then I believe the overthinking (or as my therapist likes to call it "obsessing") began.  I probably overthought the toys I was playing with, psychologically tried to figure out why I preferred cuddling with one parent more than another, or tried to figure out the reason my brother and I loved each other but fought so much.  

When something piques my interest, I obsess.  I take it apart, make decisions about each piece, then put the pieces back together in a way that gives me peace about it.  This way of thinking is hard, interesting, fun, frustrating, exhausting, reassuring in its finished product. 

Phil's interview, and the resulting explosion, did that for me.  
First, it was the homosexuality issue.  That was knee-jerk for me.  

After my husband, there are a handful of people that I feel are truly loyal to me.  They love me the way I am and would encourage me to change only if the result was a more peaceful and healthy me....not because they think the change would benefit them or their ideals.  Two of those people are gay.  I am loyal to them as they are loyal to me, but this isn't a post of homosexuality.  

Phil talks about race in the interview.  After the knee-jerk reaction to homosexuality, it was those statements that I obsessed over....well, no.  That is wrong.  I thought about his statements.  I obsessed over the echoes of that time period in the south and how they have personally affected me, my family, and my racism.  

Yes, I'm a racist.  
But lets go back a bit.  

I was born in a small Cajun town in South Central-ish Louisiana named Eunice.  Look it up if you wish.   
My family was not overly racist (no KKK that I know of) but I heard the terms "nigger" and "colored" at least occasionally from extended family.  I was friendly with black kids on my street but I didn't invite them into my home.  They didn't spend the night.  They weren't invited to my parties.  It would have been an issue if I had dated a black boy. It was a general attitude of superiority and otherness. 

I graduated High School in 1997.  Our Prom and Homecoming Dances were segregated.  These were not school sponsored dances so it was easy to say This is how it has always been. or They wouldn't like our music and we wouldn't like their's. or They eat different foods then we do.  

Those brave enough would say Their shit looks cheap.  I don't want to take pictures with their cheap decorations. or Hell no, I don't want to hang out with niggers.

The Homecoming Court was sponsored by the school.  It was based on the race demographics of the school.  The school was roughly 40% black and 60% white.  So the Court had 4 black girls and 6 white girls.  With the ballot, you chose no more, no less than that ratio.  If you liked 5 black girls and 5 white girls, too bad.  

So for me, the overthinking began like this:  What if Phil is right and those black folk he was picking cotton with were truly happy? Does that change anything for the black folk of today?  Does that change anything for the white folk of today?  What does it change for me?  

What if he is wrong?  What if what he took for happiness was fake happiness?  What if the blacks in the fields were faking happiness because they didn't want to be lynched????  Or what if they had simply acknowledged their lot in life and because it could not be changed, did the best they could with it, finding solace in song, smiles, and worshiping the same God, reading the same Bible, that the whites worshiped and read.  
The whites that felt you were subhuman.   

Or if their own life was not in danger, what if they knew someone that had been killed for being black.  Even if out-and-out slavery was over, if your mom had been a slave, would you have been comfortable with your new freedom?  (Not true freedom, mind you.  Not voting freedom, home ownership freedom, or the freedom that comes from knowing if you are murdered and your murderer is white, your murderer will be prosecuted.)  You would maybe be happy that your life was a little bit better than your mother's and you may have a feeling of progress, both made and occurring, but would you truly be happy?  Would the echoes of the past haunt you?  Does Phil feel haunted and therefore convinces himself of things that are not true? 

For me, as a white woman from the south, I see and name those echoes as a way of overcoming them:

When my son asks for the black kid on our street to spend the night, I always hesitate in a way I don't hesitate with white kids.  There is no conscious reason, just a hesitation.  I shake it out of my head and say, "Yes, he can.  Make sure you give him the invitation to your birthday party." 

When my daughter (3rd grade) told me her boyfriend was black, I felt sick for a moment.  What if she married him?  What would my family think??  What would his family think?  Would they be totally different from us? I shake it out of my head.  "Holly, get a hold of yourself.  This is not who you want to be.  There is no logic to your fear.  GET.A.HOLD.OF.YOURSELF." 

I fight my self-confirming biases.  I fight to remember that there are kind, mean, polite, rude, lazy, hardworking, violent, peaceful people in all races.  I wish to judge people by their character, and I work on that.  

But the echo of my racism remains.   

This is what generations should do.  We should try to improve.  Things get better, and we fight what we were taught when we know the teachings were wrong.  

People tell me that if I'm going to be a "tree-hugging liberal atheist" and don't like the South, I should leave. It seems like change, of any kind (sometimes even the most simple, common sense things) is viewed with suspicion or downright hatred here.  It saddens me.

I like the South in so many ways.  It is the only home I've ever known. I don't like the history but I can't change the past. I can only change myself and what I teach my kids.

Still, I probably will move one day. (How will I ever stop saying "Y'all?) 

 I will move to a place where echoes of hatred are so far removed from the current generation, you can barely hear them at all. 

(Friends have given me suggestions of places to move.  It certainly doesn't hurt that the types of places where racism is scarce are also known for better education, both Special and General, more proactive doctors for kids with special needs,  and healthier in general.)