Tag Archives: race

Relics: Artifacts My Daughter Doesn’t Know How to Use

Trigger warning: I’m going to refer to some racially offensive language (and high fat content foods) in here.


“Why does every show start with the stuff we JUST WATCHED on the last show?” Vivi asked me in frustration. She was several episodes deep into the Transformers.

“Well, sweetie,” I chuckled, “back in the OLDEN DAYS before Netflix, TV shows only came on once a week or once a day, so they did that to remind you what had happened last time.”

In a world of binge-watching streaming video and On Demand cable TV, my daughter has never needed the “On our last episode…” recap to pick up the thread of a show. We had discovered a relic.

rel·ic
ˈrelik/noun
  1. an object surviving from an earlier time, especially one of historical or sentimental interest.
  2. an object, custom, or belief that has survived from an earlier time but is now outmoded.

She is growing up in a different kind of life, a life where recaps are “now outmoded.”

This has not been lost on my family. I remember when she was about 3 and we were all sitting around the dining room table at Daddy and Gay’s house. Her Uncle James looked at Vivi across the table and blurted, “That child does not know how to eat a drumstick.”

Every head turned to witness Vivi gripping her fried chicken leg by the meaty end while she gnawed for purchase on the bony little knobbly end. My firstborn, not one generation removed from walking out into the backyard to procure a chicken for the frying pan, didn’t know which end of the drumstick was the handle.

Daddy was aghast. “Don’t you feed this baby CHICKEN?”

I rotated the drumstick in her hand and Vivi bit into the meat like she had struck gold. “Of course I do! It just…doesn’t have any bones in it.” I bake chicken breasts or chicken tenders or chicken nuggets. I don’t cook non-specific chicken parts chicken. I don’t fry it. And I sure as hell don’t cut it up.

Daddy set his own drumstick down on the edge of his plate. “How do you make STOCK if you don’t have a carcass???” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I don’t make stock, I don’t own Crisco, and I have never in my life cooked a dumpling. And as God is my witness, I will never be hungry enough to mess with giblets.

That night taught me that drumsticks, a staple of my life, might be a relic for my daughter. An object of purely sentimental interest.

She figured out the business end of a drumstick.

She eventually figured out the business end of a drumstick.

So many things that are normal to me don’t really make sense to her. The other night we were out of body wash at bath time. I handed her a bar of $8 goat’s milk and honey soap that I get special for myself from the farmer’s market. This child who is in the gifted program at school did not even know how to work up bubbles with a bar of soap–all she could do was stare at it and chase after it every time it slipped out of her hand. She sat there in the tub with her Mr. Bubble, Kidz 2-in-1 Shampoo, a pink sponge…and a relic.

Photographic evidence of how little my children know about bar soap.

Photographic evidence of how little my children understand bar soap.

Remember that story from last summer when she was away at camp and I couldn’t wait to get a letter? Then when it arrived I realized that I had never taught my daughter how to use an envelope, so an unsealed envelope was all I received? She has two different email accounts in fourth grade and takes coding classes but doesn’t know that you have to lick the envelope to make it hold the letter inside. Envelopes are from an earlier time.

Oops.

Oops.

My kids don’t know what a phone book is, much less how you can use the Atlanta Yellow Pages as a booster seat when you are eating fried chicken around your Grandmama Eunice’s Sunday table (but you better wash those hands first and use SOAP).

Relics. I get sad when I consider how differently my children are growing up. We had it pretty good, what with the drumsticks and the rotary phones and the weekly episodes and the Ivory soap that was so pure it floats.

But it’s not all wistful memorializing of my glorious past that she won’t ever experience. Some relics are signs that we are making real progress.

Like the day Vivi and I went to a Sunday afternoon showing of Hidden Figures. We had seen the preview at Moana so she recognized the early scene of the three women repairing their broken down car. Vivi leaned over to me in the dark and whispered, “Three neh-GRO women chasing a white police officer…”

From "Hidden Figures"

From “Hidden Figures”

I didn’t understand her at first and said, “Huh?” with one eye still on the screen.

“Remember when the lady says ‘Three neg-ROW women chasing a policeman…'”

“Oh right!” I laughed quietly with her and nodded. She went back to watching the movie while I had to put my hand on my heart and catch my breath for a second.

My Georgia-born-and-raised daughter doesn’t know how to pronounce “Negro.” That word is a relic to her.

I read somewhere that you shouldn’t make fun of a person who mispronounces a word because it means that they learned it by reading instead of by hearing it. I’m sure Vivi has read “Negro” in books, but she’s never heard it in conversation while sitting around her grandmama’s table at Sunday lunch.

By the time I was her age, I had heard enough to distinguish the difference between Negro, n*gger, nigra, black, colored, redbone, high yellow, and blue gum. And that was from listening to mostly nice people talk.

We didn’t say n*gger in my family, not even in the older generations. Only coarse people used that word. My grandparents said “colored” or “nigra.” After my wedding to Fartbuster, I blanched when my grandmother–a self-taught painter–recounted a delightful conversation about painting she had had with “that nigra art professor” at the reception. “His name is VINCENT!” I scolded her. Grandmama didn’t understand why I was getting worked up. Mom reminded me that, for their era, using “nigra” was polite.

Not good enough for me. I lived in the modern world and their terms were relics. The world changed around them, yet they held on to their words. My beloved great aunt even coined an adjectival form: when I bought my first car, she said, “I wouldn’t buy a red car. It’s too nigra-ish.”

The one and only time I got my mouth washed out–speaking of soap–involved these n-words. Coming home from school one day when I was 5 or 6, one of the older boys dared me to say n*gger. I didn’t do it then, but once we got home, I said the word within earshot of Quicker, who looked after us. My memory of the event may be hazy, but my memory of the taste of Ivory soap is 99 44100% Pure, because my mama soaped up a blue wash cloth and had me sit there and suck on it until I had learned my lesson.

I did learn my lesson that day. Flash forward 40-something years to that dark theater, where my daughter puts the accent on the wrong syllable of Negro. I felt something move, something shift across generations. One word. It’s such a small thing, but it gives me hope.

 

White Women, Take One Step Forward: Part One

This is a two-part post. Today, I’m talking about the election. Tomorrow, I’m talking about what action to take if you feel shitty about it and want to help. It was difficult for me to write this, because I have been raised like most white women–to be nice, to never make anyone angry, to try to keep everyone happy. I ran this essay past the three questions that Luvvie suggested asking yourself before publishing something that is scary to say: 1. Is it true? 2. Is it defensible? 3. Is it coming from a place of love?

I answered YES to all three. I love us and I know we can do better.


Part One: White Women

Half of eligible citizens didn’t even vote. The half that did were divided in just about half with Hillary winning the popular vote. That leaves 25% who decided that a failed reality TV celebrity will sit at the same desk as John F Kennedy.

And the power brokers in that 25% were white women. Forty-two percent of white women decided that his platform was the one that best represented their interests. OK.

Who are these women? I know many women who voted for Trump, some gleefully and some with great disdain. Let me clarify that because I have slipped into the default speech of white supremacy when I say “women” and assume we all know I am referring to “white women.” I know many white women who voted for him. I don’t know a single woman of color who voted for him. But let’s keep the focus on white women. Some of the white friends who chose T.Rump for our country:

  • She’s an evangelical and voted exclusively on the hope of overturning abortion rights.
  • She’s a highly educated and professional woman who refused to vote for him in the primaries and didn’t plan to vote for him in the general. But her state threatened to swing and she decided to do it because she wants a Supreme Court that interprets the Constitution very strictly.
  • She’s convinced that an outsider will shake up DC politics, for better or for worse.
  • She’s mortified by T.Rump but she votes a party ticket and puts her faith in the cooler heads that will surround him. She votes for the combined power of the executive and legislative team of Republicans.
  • She’s been paying more for healthcare under Obama.

I get it. I see y’all and I appreciate your candor and owning your motivation.

I also see all the other white women, who didn’t say a word about their votes. They weren’t willing to join the fray and that is their right. We don’t all want to talk about our politics.

Some of us went to college together, or we work together, or we met in Sunday School in 1975. We love and appreciate each other. Now let’s get real.

It’s the white women who now, in the aftermath, are clutching pearls and wailing, “Why is everyone being so hateful? We’ve got to get past the anger. Give him a chance. God is in control. I’m certainly not a racist or a bigot!” I’ve been clutching my pearls, too, in absolute horror.

Have you heard any of those things? Or said any of those things?

Here’s the deal: If you voted for him, you don’t get to say how we react to receiving him as First Citizen of our great nation. You don’t get to decide that people who have been put at risk are over-reacting. You don’t even get to stick this on god. To quote the Reverend Debra Williams: “Be careful when declaring that “God is in charge!” or that something is part of God’s plan. There are things that happen in this world that should not be pinned on God. I believe that God weeps when human beings do harm, or when they allow and celebrate tragic injustice. Do not be silent.”

White people who did not vote to stop Trump do not get a pass. No grading on the curve, no excuses. If you gave your whole vote to this whole package, you are wholly responsible for the outcome. Own it. Are you feeling stereotyped? Get used to it. You’re being lumped in with some pretty awful folks, huh?

Every other group of Americans that has been specifically threatened by Trump–people of color, immigrants, non-Christians, gay citizens, ad nauseum–showed up to stop him. Not women. Oh, and we’ve been threatened. Some of us decided that the damage he was going to do wouldn’t really reach them, but the “benefits” he promised would, so it was worth it to put him in office.

girl-1514203_1280

Why Is Everyone So Mad at White Women?

Collateral damage, that’s why. Let me define: “Collateral damage is a general term for deaths, injuries, or other damage inflicted on an unintended target. In military terminology, it is frequently used for the incidental killing or wounding of non-combatants or damage to non-combatant property during an attack on a legitimate military target.”

Harm on an unintended target. Most white women I know had very clean and precise reasons to vote for T.Rump. They sincerely don’t support “all that other mess.” I didn’t mean for my vote to take away your marriage rights–I love gay people!–I just want the lower taxes he promised. I didn’t mean to destroy healthcare guarantees for people with pre-existing conditions; I just wanted my premiums to go down.

I didn’t mean to blow up the house to kill the spider.

Well, it’s done. The thing about candidates is that you vote for the whole enchilada, not just six beans and 1/2 teaspoon of the sour cream.

So OK, white women who voted for T.Rump. You exercised your right to determine our country’s path as is your privilege. However…

HOWever…

Don’t turn your back on the rest of us while the debris falls from the sky. I have seen scads of  very nice white women today saying, “Why can’t we all just get along?” or “I don’t want to see all this ugliness.” “We need unity and to remember that we’re all Americans.” “I’m going to take a break from Facebook–too much anger and name-calling.” All after electing the name-callingest, angriest candidate who had no problem attacking Americans who crossed him.

You can’t dig a ditch then complain about the mud.

Or bake a shit pie to serve to the rest of the country then not eat your slice. Pull up a chair and have a seat at this table.

None of us gets a pass on experiencing what happens next. What is already happening. Not one. Whether you voted for Clinton, Trump, Johnson, Stein, or Depp, there will be no flouncing. I am not allowed to clutch my pearls and wail at how AWFUL this is then turn my back on it. I don’t get to say, “This isn’t my problem–I voted for Clinton.”

If you sincerely don’t want “the rest of the package” that comes along with whatever you DID like about this candidate, it’s time to start using your privilege and power to STOP the parts you don’t want.

Don’t want to be considered a racist? FIGHT FOR RACIAL JUSTICE.

Don’t want to be lumped in with the deplorable hate groups that have been emboldened by Trump? STAND UP TO THEM.

Don’t like what Trump has threatened and Pence has actually done to rob gay citizens of equal rights? SHOW US YOU ARE NOT GOING ALONG.

Use your privilege and your power to prove that you are not like those other people.

Loving Your Mammy Isn’t Going to End Racism

Back in college, I was asked to sit on a discussion panel about race. I remember feeling honored to be asked, but I only recall one thing that I said that night. We were deep into the session and people began to get honest about the way they saw racial divides showing themselves on our little campus–in the classroom, in the dining hall, on elected boards.

At that point, a young white woman who was a well-known campus leader took the floor and said, with exasperation shaking the bow in her hair, “I just feel like we’re LOOKING for a problem here. I mean, nobody’s stopping anybody from sitting where they want to in the dining hall. I’m not a racist if I want to eat lunch with my friends. I mean, I was RAISED by a black woman…I love black people!”

mamita-y-escarlata

I remember my friend, Terri, catching my eye and looking like she was about to bust. I spoke up and took a chance on satire:  “I loved my Mammy too but that doesn’t fix the problem.”

The punchline worked. It got a good laugh and kept the discussion on track, without saying, “Sit down and shut up, Miss Scarlett.”

And it was true–I did spend several of my formative years under the care of Ms Jenny Mae Bray**, better known in our town as “Quicker.” She never liked her given name so she went by her family nickname, a reminder of how fast she got things done. Quicker watched us while our parents were at work. Now, don’t get any highfalutin’ ideas–we lived in a single-wide trailer with some wooden steps on the front. She had full reign over us and what Quicker said WENT. One time Joe snuck out into the yard without Quicker’s permission and she spanked him with my Bolo Paddle until it cracked in two.

Quicker was a giant presence in my youth. I lost touch with her after we moved when I was in second grade, but my memories of her are sweet and rich. When I was all grown up and in graduate school, Mom took me by to see Quicker at Baby Sister Argroves’ house, where she was working. Later that afternoon, I saw my brother and said, “Joe? How big was Quicker?” He blew out a long breath and said, “Oh man, she had to be six feet at least and maybe 225, 250?” I held up my hand at my shoulder and said, “She comes up to HERE on me! She’s tiny!” We marveled at the truth that time had revealed. And we agreed that we still wouldn’t try any foolishness while she was in charge.

calpurnia

Yes, I loved Quicker. I still remember how, when she gave me a bath in the green tub, she squeezed the washcloth filled with warm water on my shoulder. I do that to my children and think of her. I remember the smell of her egg custard pies and the way she would put a little pat of butter in the center of each while they cooled on the kitchen table. I remember the smell of the iron and how she sang to herself while she ironed shirts in the center of our tiny living room.

I loved Quicker, but I didn’t know her. I only knew the narrow part of her life where it intersected with mine. That’s why I said what I said on that panel about race at Wesleyan. Loving one person through a narrow lens doesn’t mean you understand what life is like for her or her family or her race. Proximity doesn’t equate to intimacy. That’s why the first step in joining the discussion about race in America is listening. Widening the lens that we’ve used for so many years to “see” our neighbors, our friends, our beloved.

Spoiler Alert I’m about to talk about a scene in “Go Set a Watchman.” Yes, I read it. Go ahead and judge me.

A lot of people didn’t want to read Harper Lee’s “newly discovered” first novel because they didn’t want it to change the way they saw the characters that we’ve all grown to love from To Kill a Mockingbird. How could Atticus be a racist? How could Jem not be around? How could Scout be a grown woman drinking booze and kissing men?

In reading another view of them, from 20 years past the TKAM storyline, I might have to widen my lens. Kind of like getting to know someone like Quicker, who had been a big part of my life, but only on my terms.

The scene that most moved me in Watchman was when Jean Louise visits Calpurnia at her home. Calpurnia’s family has suffered a great blow with the arrest of her grandson. The situation is made hopeless by the racial politics of the time (because if the racial roles were reversed in the car crash, and a young white man had hit a drunk old black man, no charges would have been filed). When Jean Louise shows up at Calpurnia’s knee, she is devastated to find that Calpurnia “is wearing her company manners.” Jean Louise is not welcome; she is cast out into her whiteness. In shock, Scout cries, “Cal, Cal, Cal what are you doing to me? I’m your baby, have you forgotten me? Why are you shutting me out? What are you doing to me?”

And Calpurnia answers, “What are you all doing to us?”

With those words, Jean Louise’s lens is shattered because Calpurnia insists on being seen in her entirety, not just as a part of Scout’s life. “She loved us, I swear she loved us. She sat there in front of me and she didn’t see me, she saw white folks.”

Quicker took good care of me. Because I loved her, it’s my duty to honor her too. To seek to understand. To listen. To widen my lens. To right what has been wrong.

tkam_1_635586590822882874

**Edited to change Quicker’s name from Strozier to Bray. My mama corrected my memory. I think the fact that I didn’t even recall her name correctly is a great comment on the point I was trying to make: I loved her, but I didn’t know her.

Experiencing Otherness: My Trip to the Beauty Shop

I have this friend, Kathy, from way back in the 1990s. We met through work. She wrote software manuals and I developed training for the same systems.

Kathy and I got to be Friends-friends when she overheard me talking about playing Spades. Her eyes got all big and her hands started going all jazz hands (which is highly unusual because Kathy is very elegant and reserved). She confided that she loved playing Spades but hadn’t played in years, so that Friday night, four of us got up a little card game. And that was that.

playing-cards-167049_1280

Her baby, Maiya, was the itty-bittiest baby I ever held, just about a week old. I got so scared holding that tiny little thing when she started mewling, but Kathy wouldn’t take her back. She said, “You gotta get used to it sometime.” Maiya’s almost done with college now. Kathy had two baby girls and a husband and a house and all those grown up things while I was just getting my legs under me. We stayed friends after I married and left town. Our little Spades group got together as much as we could. When Fartbuster and I divorced, Kathy talked me through it. When Richard and I met, Kathy cheered me on. When he got sick, she started praying for him. And for me.

A few months after Richard was diagnosed with leukemia, Kathy called me on a scorching hot summer day. She asked about Richard then I asked after her family. “You aren’t going to believe this when I tell you,” she said. “Vincent has cancer. Multiple myeloma.” I remember exactly where I was sitting on the edge of the bed, looking out over the backyard into all of that sunshine. How could this possibly be true? Two of us with husbands with blood cancer? Talk about being in the same boat, the one going right up Shit Creek.

Kathy and I kept in touch through the cancer journey. I told her what I knew about the path. Vincent had more options than Richard. His chemo worked…pretty much. I was ashamed to admit it, but there were some days back then when I couldn’t talk to Kathy. Her husband was getting better and mine was getting sicker. But I was glad for her and the girls and Vincent. It was just hard to have enough space in my heart with all that fear clanging around in there.

Well, Richard died. Kathy told me she couldn’t come to the funeral and I absolutely understood 100% why that would be too much. She couldn’t let the idea of dying into her mind when their hold on life was so shaky. I was glad for her family, that they had found a way out.

One weekend, I went down to visit and Vincent and I talked about painting (he was an artist and teacher). We were in his studio at the back of their house so he could show me some of his latest drawings. He pulled out a painting of a chanteuse, maybe Billie Holliday, done in purples and yellow. I commented on the range of colors that he used to create skin tone. He pulled out a companion painting of a young man in a bowler hat and bow tie, something reminiscent of the 1910’s. Yellow brought out his cheekbone, while purple made the hollow of the cheek. White wasn’t white–it was yellow. Shadows weren’t gray–they were red and purple. He tried to show me a crucial speck of green in the corner of the young man’s eye but the light in that room wasn’t strong enough. Vincent, so thin and cautious from the cancer, led me outside so I could see his painting in the sunlight. We marveled at how it touch so much color to make something as ordinary as skin. I stepped out of my own grief and felt alive that day, talking to a painter about painting. Learning again, feeling excited about the world.

Multiple myeloma is hard to beat. Vincent had a bone marrow transplant. It didn’t fix the cancer. Kathy and I talked more often but I couldn’t talk to her about being a widow. So we talked about the girls and the necessities and the good things.

Vincent died in October, at home. HIs students, his family, his friends–the whole town felt his loss. The funeral plans grew and grew and grew. When Kathy told me the date of the service, my heart sank. I was going to be out of state that weekend. She told me to go on the trip. She didn’t want me to miss any chance for happiness. But I didn’t want to miss out on a chance to help her through the hard days.

We came up with a better plan than me trying to be one more face in a thousand at the funeral. I took a Wednesday off work and came down to help her with all the things that had to be done. The girls were still going to school to keep things as normal as possible. I did the spare things–proofread the program for the service, helped her decide on a photo, zipped up his suit in a garment bag to take to the funeral home. She needed to run to the beauty shop to get her hair touched up but didn’t feel up for driving, so I drove her over.

The bell rang when Kathy pushed open the door to the beauty shop and every eye looked up to see us coming in. The owner gave Kathy a hug and patted her on the head. They started talking hair so I took a seat under the window. Once she was in the chair, Kathy introduced me over her shoulder and the salon owner gave me a small smile then got down to business.

That’s when a little girl sitting next to her mama on the row of dryers said, really loudly:

WHAT IS THAT WHITE LADY DOING IN HERE?

Her mama ignored her the first time. As the girl opened her mouth to ask again, her mama tapped her on the knee and shushed her. The whole place got quiet. I sat there alone with my magazine, trying not to be awkward.

beauty 2

Many months later, Kathy and the girls came over for the weekend. In one of our late-night conversations, I told Kathy about that moment in the beauty shop and how it had stuck with me. At that point in my life, that moment was one of the first times I experienced my own Otherness. She assured me that I hadn’t been imagining the icy feeling in the salon–we had crossed a line. Kathy’s stylist gave her the cold shoulder for a few months.

I grew up in a small town where everyone knew me and my family. I went to a small school, a small church, a small hair salon. Everything and everyone around me was LIKE me. I grew up in a place that was still segregated by practice. Each half of town “kept to our own kind.” I enjoyed a position in the majority, in the ruling class (if you can call it that), so I experienced very little Otherness. That feeling of not belonging, of not being invited to the table, of trespassing.

When I wandered into that beauty shop–a place for black women, by black women–I did the trespassing and I realized I was Other.

What’s the point of this whole story?

Whenever we try to talk about racism in America, it’s tough because one side has a hard time seeing it–we’ve never been Other. And the other side has been made to feel nothing but Other. It’s our government and our schools and our lunch counter and our bus and our ourness. There’s us, then there’s OTHER.

Whenever some narrow-ass terrorist starts talking about “taking back our country,” that’s someone who is afraid of Other. The more I travel, the more chances I have to experience Otherness. The wider my circle of friends, the more I listen, the more chances I have to understand Otherness.

Racism won’t go away because we pray or legislate or circulate a picture on Facebook. Racism can only be overcome when we break down the essential idea that divides Us/Other.

That was a long one. I could use a scalp massage.

 

In That Other Half of the World

December 24 1968. Image courtesy of NASA.

Today is the fall equinox–the day when dark and light are almost equal. The day when our spot in the rotation around the Earth, given the tilt of our axis, points towards things growing darker and colder. But just for a time.

In that other half of the world, it’s the spring equinox–the day when dark and light are almost equal. The day when the spot in the great ellipsis around the sun, and the tilt of that same axis, point towards the days growing warmer and longer. But just for a time.

Same planet + same moment in time = totally different experience.

Vivi asked me last night if it was morning in Japan.  “Pretty much,” I answered. Our sun only rises over the pine trees in the backyard because it has set for that other half of the world.

G grew up in that other half of the world. I asked him once what everyone did on Christmas Day and he said, “Go to church, eat, then go to the beach.” Late December is high summer in that other half of the world.

When I was in Brasil a few years ago, I couldn’t get enough of looking at the stars at night. To think–these were entire constellations I had never seen! In all those travels to Europe and across North America, this was my first time looking at the night sky of that other half of the world.

Something so concrete that we measure our years by it, like the seasons, is completely opposite for the other half of the world. Something so eternal that we use them to navigate, like the stars, can be absolutely, 100% different for the other half of the world.

It’s so hard to remember that it isn’t fall everywhere. Or it isn’t morning everywhere.

That’s one reason I think we all need to travel if given the chance–to see the other half of the world and remember that their world is just as real and right and ordinary to them as ours is to us.

My Wesleyan sister, Bryndis, and I were talking via Facebook a few weeks ago. Her family used to live in the same small town of Gay Georgia, where I grew up before they moved one town over. She asked, “As my Mom would say, who are your folks?” I said, “We got Crouches, Todds, Mathews, Garretts, O’Neals…I think that about covers it!” She told me hers until I recognized a name. She said her mama still worships at Mount Venus Baptist in Gay.

I brought up the subject of how strange it is we grew up on the same dirt, graduated from the same college, but had such different experiences. We both have strong families, good grades, lovely manners, and we know the same shortcuts over back roads. We have different colors of skin. There are exits on the interstate where she won’t stop, even in the daylight.

When I went back to Gay last month for a family funeral, my sister and I drove straight to the cemetery instead of following the funeral procession.  It’s easy to find–go through the one red light then turn left onto Cemetery Street. Drive through the dark tunnel of oak trees and up the hill. We parked the car in the back corner and walked over to our family plot inside a mossy brick wall with ornate metal gates. I recognized the names on the headstones that we passed–Baughns, O’Neals, Estes, McCrarys, Turners. Something struck me as odd. Here we were on Cemetery Street in the cemetery, but where were the Stroziers, the Renders, the Germanys? I had grown up thinking this was The Cemetery, but clearly there must be another one here in town. And I had no earthly idea where the black cemetery was in my own hometown.

It shouldn’t have surprised me. There is nothing more segregated than a cemetery. It was one of those “other half of the world moments,” just as jarring as realizing that spring is also fall and morning can be night.

When you never get out of your half of the world, it’s easy to forget that the other half lives on the same planet, on the same day, in a COMPLETELY different experience.

As different as night and day.

 

 

 

Stolen Chicken and Racism

chicken_thieves_040613Let me come clean right off the bat:  I stole $8 worth of chicken from Kroger last night.  Here’s what happened…

I got home from Kroger at 7:30pm, frazzled and tired.  As G and I were putting away the groceries, I noticed that the brown shopping bag was missing.  I knew I had taken it with me.  It was nowhere in the car, the kitchen, anywhere.  I tried to figure out if we were missing anything, so I opened the meat drawer.  There was the pound of ground beef and the turkey pepperoni.

“Where’s the chicken?”

G shook his head and said, “I didn’t see any chicken.”  I fumbled through the freezer and checked the countertops.  No chicken.

I cussed a good bit then stomped off to Kroger to claim my brown shopping bag and my missing chicken.  Grrr… grumble grumble grrr.

I trolled the parking lot in search of my chicken.  No luck.  I walked in through the out door, right past the security guard and started checking each bagging station for my chicken.  AHA!  There sat my brown shopping bag, camouflaged by the brown plastic bags.  But still no chicken.  I grabbed the bag.  The cashier who was now working that lane (not the one who had rung up my stuff) asked me if she could help.  “I found my bag but I can’t find my chicken.  I paid for 2 lbs of chicken tenderloins but they weren’t in my shopping bags when I got home.”  She couldn’t help.

The cashier who had helped me came up.  I explained to him and he took me over to the customer service counter to check for returned items.  Nope, no chicken.  At this point, the store manager walked over and I explained it to him.  He said, “I’m sorry about that.  If you’d like, go grab another pack of chicken and we’ll stick it in a bag for you.  If you discover other things that you’re missing, just bring back the receipt and we’ll fix you up.  No problem.”

I did exactly that.  I walked to the back of the store, grabbed another 2 lb pack of chicken and took it up to the front.  They slapped it in a bag and handed it over.  I thanked them then waved a thank you to the store manager.  Home ten minutes later with chicken in the fridge.

This morning, I discovered that I was a chicken thief.  While fixing breakfast, I reached in the deli drawer for some cheese and there sat a 2lb pack of chicken, right on top of my havarti.  I held it up to G like it was a bloody glove and cried, “What’s THIS???”  He ducked his head and mumbled, “I must not have recognized it.”  Dude.  It says “TYSON” and “CHICKEN” right here on the clear wrap that contains a whole bunch of CHICKEN.

It’s not like I could return the pilfered chicken to Kroger this morning.  Or donate it to the Food Bank. So I guess we will eat the Chicken of Shame and move on with our lives.

But the whole incident got me thinking.  Last week, in the midst of the turmoil after George Zimmerman was found not guilty of second degree murder for shooting Trayvon Martin, a friend shared an intriguing quote.  It comes from a one-year-old article that was published in The Atlantic–“Fear of a Black President” by .  I recommend the entire article, but these are the words I’ve been carrying around with me:

“Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others.”
 

Sympathy and skepticism.  I’m speaking as myself here–a middle-aged, middle-class, European extraction white woman from a small town in the Deep South.  I walked into Kroger as an unwitting chicken thief and I got sympathy.  Another woman, say with a Spanish accent or darker skin, could have walked into Kroger with the same story about missing chicken and gotten skepticism.  At least she might have been asked to show a receipt or maybe sign something.  Or the skepticism she had faced in other situations would have stopped her from even trying to go back to Kroger to ask for her chicken.

The friend who shared the quote is a middle-aged, middle-class, African extraction woman from the same small town in the Deep South.  She’s a lawyer, dresses a whole lot better than I do and probably has more money to spend.  But she and her daughters have been followed around in department stores due to skepticism.

Sometimes it’s hard to participate in the discourse about racism because we look for simplistic hatred and DON’T SEE IT.  I don’t know many people who treat others with simplistic hatred, but I know well this sympathy/skepticism divide.  I don’t treat people with simplistic hatred, but I certainly waver between sympathy and skepticism based on my snap assessment of them.  If a young black man in a hoodie approaches me in the parking deck at night, I would be more prone to skepticism.  If a young black man in a white lab coat approaches me in the parking deck at night, I would be more prone to sympathy.

Photo credit: Nikkolas Smith via Van Jones

Photo credit: Nikkolas Smith via Van Jones

So that’s what I end up thinking about when I accidentally steal chicken from Kroger on a Sunday night.  I appreciate the sympathy that I received, but I also understand that it isn’t handed out evenly.

“I have a dream, that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. ” –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.