I don’t watch the news. I don’t need the extra drama in my life. I fall into a dangerously deep depression when I have to see the worst of humanity on my television. I did come out from under my rock during the Bernie Sanders campaign, but as soon as that shit went south and Trump became our president, I threw myself back under the rock.
Some stories are so big, they sneak into my newsfeed through friends who find it necessary to educate the masses. Usually I just scroll past them, but these fucking Nazis caught my attention. Racism has always been on the front page of my life.
I am a small town mid westerner. I’m not even going to pretend that racism doesn’t run rampant around here.
My dad is one of the most racist people I know. I had to shush him when we had dinner in a Chinese restaurant yesterday, because he started meowing as we walked into the door. Then, at dinner, he proceeded to tell me that the civil war had nothing to do with slavery. I’ve tried to reason with him in the past. We’ve had this particular conversation at least a dozen times. I’m very well aware of the fact that the civil war was about the Southern states wanting to separate from the government. But the driving force behind that separation was fucking slavery. For Christ’s sake, read Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
My parents are brainwashed, toxic, stubborn people who can’t be reasoned with. I’ve tried to argue. I have tried to lead by example. I have tried to drive out the hate with love and care for my parents in spite of their sickness. Nothing works, because they think I’m the sick one. So now I just remind my dad that I don’t enjoy discussing politics or current affairs with him at all.
I was only five years old when we drove away from my older sister, leaving her in the rear view mirror with a biracial baby in her arms. It was a defining moment in my young life, to watch my sister and my new baby niece, get banished from our home over the color of her baby’s skin. In that moment, I understood that my dad’s love came with very serious conditions and his love for me, or my sister, or his granddaughter, was clearly valued below his hatred for strangers. I remember worrying about what I would do if I were to fall in love with a black man. I still worry about that, as I have dated outside of my race a few times. I know I would always choose my love over my father’s hate, but I’ve also worried about the feelings of my partner, having to explain that my family is off the table if a relationship was to emerge.
When I was in high school, it was common to see a row of jacked up trucks, covered with confederate flags, and filled with openly racist red necks. But high school is also where I learned that my family was the exception, not the rule. In school I found opinions that resonated with my own. I encountered people who weren’t racist. Most of the racism I encountered outside of my family, was less venomous. Most of the racism that I found in high school was born more of ignorance than of hatred. That doesn’t make it okay. But it does make it slightly easier to understand how such a horrible belief system can spread so vastly around my culture.
For my parent’s generation, it was common in high school to see actual riots. They grew up in Flint, Michigan during the 60’s, with burning flags and crosses and sometimes people. My dad’s childhood best friend was actually a black kid. My dad’s heart and their friendship was broken when this kid told my dad that he could no longer be his friend, as he was born in a time when he had to choose. Rightfully so, he chose his own people. My dad had been hurt by the betrayal, taking it personally and unable to have empathy for this young man’s situation. This kid was on the front page of the paper, holding an anti-white sign. My dad saw the picture and then turned his back on all black people. My dad became a racist after experiencing just a fraction of what his young friend had experienced. Sometimes people have a tendency to become the person who hurt them the most. It’s strange how that happens. It’s even stranger how destructive that mindset can be to entire societies.
For my grandparent’s generation, it was common in high school for everyone to be the same fucking color. Our human mentality back then was to attack anything or anyone who was different. My sweet grandmother, who would never intentionally hurt anyone’s feelings, refers to the African American race as the coloreds. I have never corrected my grandmother, though I probably should have. She honestly doesn’t know any better. She was raised in backwoods Arkansas and wasn’t even allowed to drive until after her oldest daughter had graduated high school. She didn’t get out into the world enough to understand it. My other grandmother, however, used the N word as commonly as any other word. She wasn’t the sort of lady that one would try to correct. I’ve always been more of a spectator in life anyway.
You see where I’m going here. I’m not trying to make excuses. And as a woman who was raised by white supremacists, but has absolutely nothing in common with her own family, it’s difficult for me to expose these truths. I’m trying to demonstrate that it is getting better. Starting with me, the generations born from me, will know kindness and embrace cultures outside of our own. My daughters will never fear the consequences of falling in love with someone of a different race. My daughters have been encouraged to fall in love with good people of any color. My daughters are being raised as members of the human race.
You know what’s common in high school for my daughter? Compassion. Blending cultures. Hope. We live in a very small town. But her school is continuously growing more diverse. She is actually the only 100% Caucasian person amongst her friends. She has learned about and been conscious of racism since she was a little girl, as I had to constantly remind her that her grandfather has a mental illness and should be ignored most of the time. She has witnessed racism in her school and she has spoken up about it. She gives me hope.
I have carried shame about my family’s racism all of my life. I carried shame when I was little, not understanding why I got yelled at for obsessing over my crush on Michael Jackson, or wondering why my biracial friend wasn’t allowed to come over to the house. I still carry shame about my father’s dysfunction. I rarely bring friends or romantic partners around my family. There is a ridiculous amount of preparation involved when exposing people to the family of skeletons in my closet.
I never in a million years thought that my daughter would have to see Nazis marching through the streets in America. It’s disheartening. I ignorantly believed that racists were a dying breed. But these morons marching themselves into the spotlight have helped to shine a light on an old festering wound that obviously needs to be cleaned and healed beyond what we’ve tried before.
Sometimes we don’t realize how bad an infection is until the poison bubbles up to the surface. Only then can we properly rinse away the toxins and prepare for true healing. I do see an opportunity here for just that.