White supremacy’s legacy


I use the term “legacy” in the title because of an experience I had with a sweet girl who was my best friend in 8th grade whose parents left her with an ugly, ugly legacy of belief.

My best friend from 7th grade had moved away the summer before 8th grade; I admit I was sad and lonely. My favorite class of the new school year was art where we created works using various media. It was an oasis in the midst of inanity (seriously).

In this class, sitting at my table, was a petite, pretty girl with long wavy hair. We hit it off immediately. We were both quiet and reserved, shy even.

After months hanging out together at school, she invited me over to her house. But before I walked to her house (which was in the opposite direction from my house making it about 3.5 miles away from my house), she said she had to tell me something.

I gave her my full attention, expecting her to complain about her house or her mother.

In a low, secretive voice she said she was concerned about me because I seemed ignorant. She whispered something to me that blew me away: “Black people have smaller brains, so they are inferior to whites.”

Her words seemed to be couched in concern. In 7th grade I had had a run-in with some black girls, a group of three who bullied me every day for weeks. One day, I turned around and punched the ring-leader in the face. We all ended up in the vice principal’s office, but I got off with a warning because my mom was dating one of the P.E. teachers. Yeah, privilege. I knew it even then.

From that day on, those girls greeted me happily every time they saw me and I greeted them back. All was well.

Now, I could have decided that all black girls were bullies and nurtured resentment, but I didn’t. I had been bullied in elementary school by a white girl that lived down the street. I knew bullying had nothing to do with race.

Add in the fact that neither of my parents had ever said anything racist in my presence and I think we have a child who has not been taught racist ideology. It just never occurred to me to dislike someone because they were different than me.

So back to my best friend. I stared at her. Then I told her she was wrong. That was ridiculous.

She looked at me with pity. Yep. She was sad that I had not been enlightened.

I never spoke to that friend again. We awkwardly made our way through the rest of the school year, I made other friends, and I tucked that experience away in my memory.

Looking back, I am positive that this girl was being raised by white supremacists. She was completely brainwashed and felt the need to proselytize. She was a disciple. She was determined to spread the ugly news of racism.

What saddened me then and just as much now is that she seemed like such a lovely person, aside from the fact that she was a bigot, racist, and white supremacist. I can only hope that she grew up and found Jesus (literally or figuratively, whichever works) or something that taught her to love instead of hate.

Even now, what she said didn’t sound like it was motivated by hate, but just true belief, which I think is much more dangerous. We have all seen believers do some awful things to others because of religious beliefs or cultural differences. I write about this quite a lot: the relationship between Christian beliefs and domestic abuse.

There is no place in an enlightened society for white supremacy. It is a belief system that is filled with lies. There is no truth in it.

Since moving to Houston, Texas, I read daily about this statue being removed, this plaque being challenged, the many monuments to the Confederacy being vandalized. Since I was taught in Miami schools, I was taught history in the south. I was taught that the “War between the States” was fought over states’ rights, and that slavery was secondary.

A couple of weeks ago I found some original sources and read them for myself. What were they? Secession declarations for five of the Confederate States of America. Eye opening, to say the least. Each stated slavery as a primary reason for seceding.

For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. – Georgia

History books can be rewritten depending on the prevailing political ideology in the country. If you want to study true history, you must find original sources, read them, and then using critical thinking skills, consider what might have truly happened.

Should the South be judged as racist because of its history? Yes and no. Yes because monuments to the Confederacy are everywhere. They are constant reminders that one group of people felt that they were superior, masters over another group of people. No because I don’t see this arrogant attitude of supremacy in my everyday life.

This is the basic tenet of white supremacy: belief that white people are inherently superior and should rule over non-whites.

Anyone with half a brain knows that this is hooey. It is utter nonsense.

So, in the past, when the KKK would get a permit to march down some street wearing hoods like cowards — show your faces if you are superior — they were mostly ignored. I laughed at them from afar, looking at them as though each one was a man-child playing dress-up and pretending like they had any power at all. They had none, in my opinion.

Now I worry that the lies I heard in junior high by a misguided, wrongly-taught young teenager have become a legacy of hate that might be spreading. Of course it is a legacy of hate. I am 57 years old. Most of the men who guarded a Confederate statue in Charlottesville were young enough to be my sons (I have a 39-year-old son). Some were my age, but the majority were younger.

Someone had to teach these men to be white supremacists. Babies are not born hating.

Was my friend’s son at that protest? Was he spewing hate at non-whites? What about her grandchildren? What will they grow up to believe and fight for?

I confess that I had a difficult time in high school with groups of girls who would only speak Spanish to one another, blocking non-Spanish speaking students from being included in their circle. I felt like I was on the outside. What they were doing was creating a school enclave, a place where they could be Cuban or Puerto Rican in a world of white. I know that now and understand it. Back then, I struggled to understand why they wouldn’t speak English and include me and other girls that weren’t like them.

We live in a country that is a melting pot. It has been this way since immigration began. White English people ruled for a long time. They were the landowners and masters of the rest. This is what is being challenged. No one has the right to be master of another.

There is no place for white supremacy or any kind of racial or ethnic bigotry in the United States.

In my son’s high school, he is a white minority. That is just the nature of Texas. It is an entry point for people from many different countries. It is the most diverse place I have ever lived. And it is beautiful. Precarious, but beautiful.

I personally believe all public school children should be bilingual by the time they finish elementary school. I wish I had learned Spanish when I was young. I am trying to learn it now, but my brain is hard-wired for the English language and it is difficult for me. I will not give up, though.

I have not witnessed any racism or bigotry since moving here. I saw it all the time in Connecticut, but less here. I am, however, living in a huge city and not rural Texas where the powerful landowners are mostly white.

And I think that is the entire issue here: power. Who rules over whom.

I have news for white people: you are masters over no one. No one left you a legacy of ownership over other peoples. If you feel power slipping out of your hands every time someone with brown skin crosses the border, then it is time to check your privilege and need for power.

In my most humble opinion, every monument and plaque that glorifies the Confederacy needs to come down. We do not celebrate oppression in this country. We fight it and celebrate freedom for all.

Thank you for tolerating my rant.

 

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2 comments

  1. I wrote about monument removal recently and was criticized by one reader for suggesting some whites won’t make the effort to empathize with blacks who might be offended by Confederate monuments. I stand by that observation, but I probably should have qualified it with the acknowledgement that it’s human nature to avoid walking in others’ shoes, and this weakness isn’t just limited to whites. I like your essay, but the sentence “I have news for white people: you are masters over no one” uses a broad brush to paint an unfair picture. I’m white, but I don’t feel mastery over anyone. Black or white, we need to be careful about generalizing.

    And hopefully your childhood friend has evolved. I said and did a lot of stupid things when I was younger, and cringe at the memories. Education and experience have matured me a little, although the maturing process never ends.

    1. You are right that my statement was a generalization, though that is not how I meant it. I was offended by someone else who wrote those words recently, so I should have realized how they would come across. My statement was actually directed toward white supremacists or white people who are very uncomfortable giving up the advantage that comes with majority. As I mentioned, here in Houston, we are very diverse and I love it. I missed the diversity when I was living in CT.

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