Friday, October 12, 2012

"In Polite Company"

I was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi.  Because of that, I have an accent, I have a spine of steel and I have an aversion to mosquitoes. But, there is something that I do not have - and it is something that many people, including family and friends, assume without question.  It is the feeling that in some way, my race makes me smarter, better or more hard working than anyone else. I have held my own feelings about racism since I was a small child.  I trace it back to the day in February, 1969, when my elementary school was desegregated.  I was in the first grade, and all I can remember about the day is the people screaming at a busload of children.  We got off the bus and were led through this angry protest as quickly as possible, but I still remember being afraid of these people. A few weeks later, I received my first spanking in school - for sharing a soda with a first grader.  The problem?  Her skin was black and the teacher told me, "She's not like you. You don't know where she's been." I've been a fighter for equality and justice since that experience.

Some people believe that race has become less and less important since the 1960s. These people are not wrong, because there are no longer Jim Crow laws.  However, race is still a strong motivator when it comes to certain issues - politics among them. From 1948 when the Dixiecrats walked out of the Senate chamber because of the Democrats' party platform that called for civil rights, race has been a factor in national politics. When the Dixiecrats joined with the Republicans in the mid to late 1960s, the Republican party became the party of "states' rights" in the cause of racial equality. Now, we have Republican state lawmakers who defend slavery as "good for the black people", and voter registration laws as "ending special privileges for the blacks." The people who continue to vote into office politicians with these opinions do share those opinions.  And they were dealt their harshest blow in November, 2008, when President Barack Obama was elected. The idea of a black man in the Oval Office sent these people into the same panic that consumed plantation owners when they found out that some of their slaves could read. How do I know this?  Well, as I mentioned before, some of my family and friends in the South just assume that I feel the way that they do.  Because of this, they tend to share things that aren't said "in polite company".

In December, 2008, I went to Mississippi for Christmas.  I had been in a relative's home for no more than 10 minutes when she said, "Well, your n***** President is gonna let those n****** kill us in their beds." I was confused, and I guess it showed on my face. "You know all those n***** men want to do is to break into our houses, rape us and steal everything we got." No, I am not joking, and yes, that is exactly what she said. I suppose that my retort was not very well taken, because I said, "Well, I didn't know that, but I am so glad that you told me." Her husband said, "You're just a n***** lover and a traitor to your kind." Luckily, the mother of the family broke in and reminded everyone that it was Christmas and we needed to stop talking about politics.

Shortly after his inauguration, another friend from the South began sending emails about how President Obama was a Muslim, not born in the United States, and he wanted to bring Sharia law to the United States. Of course, I couldn't stop myself and I painstakingly put together links and research to prove her wrong. After a while, she stopped emailing.  I haven't heard from her in over two years. Another friend told me on the phone, "That n***** is going to completely bankrupt this country with his free handouts to all the other n******." I asked her what she was talking about, and she said that "everyone" knew that President Obama was stealing money from the government to give his "friends" drug money. Okay, so I laughed so hard that she got offended and now we don't talk anymore. 

These are just a few examples of what I have heard from people in the Deep South.  Many of them have a hatred of President Obama that goes much deeper than his politics. This is the gut-wrenching kind of hatred, the deep seated feeling that somehow, "those" people are going to take over.  This is the same feeling the plantation owners felt when they first started to spread the rumor that all black men wanted to rape the white plantation owner's wife and daughter. The same dismissal of  humanity of Byron de la Beckwith when he shot Medgar Evers in front of his children. The same hatred that led to the killing of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Cheney for trying to register blacks to vote. But the problem is that today, these people can't proclaim their racism to the world.  They can't put on the white robes and march in the streets to protest the visit of Martin Luther King, Jr. to Birmingham, Alabama.  When their white superiority is questioned, now they must resort to finding other "reasons" for their hatred of the first black President of the United States.  And so...they call him a Muslim...they say that he wasn't born here...they say that he isn't smart enough to be President...they attack his wife as "too flashy"...they question how he got into the country's most prestigious school. They attack his policies, when they really know nothing about them. They listen to all of the right wing pundits, who they cannot see are using them for their racism. Yes, some right wing pundits know exactly where to hit these people to make them fearful of President Obama - and to get their vote for Mitt Romney.  Give them a reason...any reason...so that they can deny the truth of how they feel.

That thing that isn't talked about "in polite company".

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