MY VIEWS ON RACE
My grandmother and mother came from New Orleans without any perceivable sense of superiority toward people of color. The infamous N-word was never uttered in my household. People were just 'people.'
At the age of nine. . . (1956)
One day I opened a big white cabinet back in our barnlike storage shed. Inside I found a beautiful silk garment with a hood and red letters: KKK on it.
He explained it to me and I'll now share it with you with as much accuracy as I can recall.
My Paw-Paw, because he read the Bible a "certain way," thought it was God's will that races should not 'mingle.' But, he wasn't vocal about it unless you drew him out in a religious context. Yes, he thought Noah's son was cursed by being 'turned black.' He couldn't show me the words which specifically said that--but--people he trusted had assured him it was the case. I got that context out of him first.
Here's what he told me:
"I don't have anything against anybody, black or white. But, the Bible makes it clear God made us 'according to our own kind' and he doesn't want us mixing."
"Why?" I innocently asked.
"I don't know, but who am I to question God's will?"
As I got a bit older I learned more about the Klu Klux Klan and the outrageous terrorism they wrought upon the South after slaves were freed. So, one day I went back to my Paw-Paw and continued the conversation.
"Did you ever hurt anybody just because they weren't white?"
He assured me he had not.
"We live so close to the railroad tracks, vagrants pass through very often. Hobo camps next to the railroad lead to bums gathering together and committing crimes in the neighborhood. We (local KKK) scare them off, but we never hurt anybody."
I asked how they scared people away. He told me how the KKK would dress up in hooded outfits and surround the camp, suddenly light torches, and point weapons at all the bums (any color--not necessarily non-white.) The Grand Wizard wore a red robe. He had a low-pitched voice that boomed when he threatened doom if the men didn't leave and never come back.
All this was quite unsettling to me.
I turned to my Grandmother. I asked her questions, too. Since she had been a little girl in a French household in New Orleans, she had been raised around many people of different colors.
"Nobody I knew had any prejudice in their heart," she began, "you learned to treat people who were decent and kind with decency and kindness. That's all there was to it."
This made sense to me. So, I asked about the 'bums' and the 'hobo camps' a block away next to the Katy Railroad.
"Many of those men passed through during the Depression Era looking for jobs and food. If they knock on our door and ask for an odd-job in exchange for food I give it to them. Or--at least--I use to do it. But, I stopped when I found out they used chalk to draw special signs on the curb in front of your house. These chalk signs were a signal to other hobos. One sign meant, "Free food--no work involved." Another meant, "Food IF you work." Still another meant, "Angry person who calls the cops."
And so on. Once I fed one or two of them we were overwhelmed four of five times a day and couldn't get rid of them. One of these men broke into the house next door and threatened a woman for money."
I'm sure my eyes grew wide as I asked what happened next.
My Paw-Paw and his KKK minions made a raid on the hobo camp and demanded to know who this guy was--or else!
The bums gave up the man, whose name I still vividly recall to this day, Earl Bunt. He was turned over to the police without a scratch. The man claimed he was drunk at the time and meant no harm.
By now you are wondering:
Why do I tell you all this from a long time ago?
I see things with the eyes of that child I once was. My grandparents were well-meaning. They did what they thought was right. Neither of them was 100% in the safe zone of moral perfection! They gave 'reasons' for things. It was based on something and not nothing.
---------One more thing ----------
About 1961 everything changed.
Black kids went to white schools and frightened white parents removed their kids and sent them to 'special' private schools (if they could afford it.)
On the South side of Fort Worth, the 'color line' (an invisible barrier beyond which white and black did not mix) had broken at last. This was the season of something called WHITE FLIGHT.
Those who could afford it sold their beautiful houses in upscale neighborhoods and ran like hell for the suburbs. Black families (using white go-betweens) purchased these houses at way below market value. (Nobody else, i.e. white, would pay anything at all to live there.)
He called me, "Mister Terry." Wow! I didn't have the self-awareness to realize he had been taught deference by his parents when he was talking to white people. (Even kids like me.)
I was called "Nig*er Lover!" This was screamed with an explosive expression of malevolence. I can't begin to describe how ugly it was.
What I realize now I never even thought about back then--my Paw-Paw never tried to argue with me that I should have nothing to do with my black friend. Why? I don't know. He automatically took my side. I begged both of them not to go up to my school to complain to the Principal.
I was deeply offended by my treatment from school kids. Not all of them--in fact few of them--were vocal about any of this. But--you may have already noticed--I was not offended on behalf of my friend. (His name was Prince, by the way. No, not THAT Prince :)
Prince took it all with indifference. It seemed not to affect him one tiny bit. All he said was, "Consider the source."
I didn't understand what he meant, but I didn't press.
Today I do understand and I'll share that understanding with you.
There will always be people who are nasty, bold-faced and ignorant who demonstrate prejudice toward other people.
They have 'reasons' and contexts which appear to support a certain kind of 'truth."
These are almost invariably truly stupid people.
It is part of the territory. In fact--they are a very small number so loud and destructive it seems they are more prevalent than they really are.
These are the people singled out for newspaper headlines. The greater majority of regular people don't make the news.
We can't be putting on white silk robes to threaten them--even if we are on the "RIGHT" side.
Why? Because that's the big red flag of ignorance: the most dangerous people on this planet are CONVINCED THEY ARE RIGHT.
None of us knows what's in another person's head or heart.
We can't know.
We must listen. We must watch for actions.
There is no justification for violence---not ever.
(On either side.)