With current times, it seems like racial tensions are steadily rising — Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Donald Trump and the animosity that’s rising in response to his run for president. It can all be a little scary, as I’m experiencing and hearing things I’ve never experienced before in regards to race. A few days ago, fresh off my worries, I asked my Grandmother a question — Have you ever experienced racism? To which she answered, “No. I don’t believe so.”
Her answer surprised me. Being 90 years old, born and raised in The Segregation Era of the ‘Old South’, and living during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, I was expecting a more detailed description of her firsthand experiences.
Had she truly never experienced racism? I decided to explore this further…
**Disclaimer: Please do not be offended by the terms ‘white’, ‘black’…these are simply the terms my Grandmother are accustomed to.
For someone who never experienced racism, she’s experienced more than what she realizes. While I never experienced being segregated — school, hospital, beach, etc. — being segregated was the norm for an early part of my Grandmother’s life. She remembers seeing crosses and churches burnt down, simply because of the color of their skin.
It was important for me to ask who my Grandmother’s parents were, and how they raised her. Although my parents raised me to be accepting and loving of all people, they also raised me to know that I lived in a racist world. They taught me all about slavery, and segregation, and the Civil Rights Era, etc….did my Grandmother have the same experience with her parents? Surprisingly no! She never had long talks about racism with her parents, like I and many of my peers did. I think in their own way, they still tried to shelter her from the realities of that time — telling her not to visit certain areas of town, etc. You have to remember, her parents (my great-grand parents) were born right after the end of slavery…their parents being born into slavery. Perhaps they did the best they could.
I was most fascinated by how nonchalant my Grandma was about it all. It was something that she simply dealt with as she continued to live her life…no big deal. In his book, Black Wilmington and the North Carolina Way, John Godwin somewhat alluded that this was the general behavior for African-Americans in that area and era:
For civil rights activism to achieve greater currency, black attitudes of accommodation to segregation would have to be set aside…
Was this the reason why my Grandmother claims to never have experienced racism? Did she become so accommodating to segregation that she couldn’t even recognize it? A safety mechanism?
As we continue to navigate through whatever happens next in society, it’s important that we recognize and learn from what has already happened. Racism did exist…and it still does… and not just between black and white. Never again should it evolve to the point of complacency.
Until Next Time,