It’s time for “What I’ve Learned.” This is going to be long and ardouous, but it is what I have learned and my thoughts and feelings to go along with it. It is things I have needed to say and haven’t said, because I haven’t had the words. Even now, I don’t know if I have the words, but it’s all I have.
I’m going in a timeline that started when I was on vacation. There are no dates, but this is how I learned everything I have to share.
1. Sudden loss leaves you raw and questioning your own mortality
My friend John Rich died at 46 last week on a heart attack. Tony was looking at Instagram and handed me his phone and there I saw the post from his wife, Christy, annoucing his passing. He was four years older than me. That’s one way to make you look in a mirror and consider your life.
This man was larger than life and never met a stranger. He took you in and made you part of his family. One of the best days I ever spent was at his shop in Braselton, Georgia, sipping Rye Whiskey and solving the worlds problems with him and my husband.
He left behind three beautiful children, a lovely wife, and a swarth of people who loved him fiercely.
John’s heart was bigger than his body could handle, I guess. Because I know he left a hole in all of the lives he touched that will never be filled.
2. This isn’t my South
I spend a lot of time in Charleston, so much I can give you directions as easily as a native. It is where I go to reboot, recharge and to find inspiration. It is a city that holds my heart.
Last week, a young man murdered nine people in this city I love because the color of their skin is diffferent than his.
That is not my South.
Many years ago, on a farm deep in the Foothills of North Carolina, my great-grandfather eeked out a living at, and below, poverty level for his family. When it was time for the cotton and other crops to be picked, the neigbors would go from farm to farm to help. When it was time for them to sit down to eat, his black neighbors told him they would wait to eat until after the white people were done. This was the 1940’s. He told them they were in his home and they would all sit down together, there would be no seperate meals. That is my South. Where there are no seperate meals because the color of your skin is different. I learned at an early age that just because you hold more pigmentation than I do that it does not mean you should be treated any differently.
Like anyone born where I was, there were the friends who did believe we were different and that black people were not equals and something to be abhored and feared. I’ll go ahead and tell you, they feel the same way about people from other countries and ethniticies as well. When my husband asked me to marry him, I was patted on the head by a relative and “consoled” by a few caring souls, that it was okay; because my Asian husband was “white enough.”
I had several very close white girlfriends who I love to bits to this day who married black men. When they were dating them, I heard them called “_______ lover” and “gray.” Have you ever heard the term “Gray girls?” It was flung about here and there and described girls who dated black guys. Since they were my friends, I was called “_____ lover” and “gray.” It didn’t bother me then and it sure as hell doesn’t bother me now.
This is the same place where I remember seeing there were cross burnings by the local KKK on the courthouse lawn. I never attended one, but I read the paper every day, so it wasn’t hard to not know it was going on.
I have met White Supremacists and Skinheads who told me I was a “perfect specimen” because of my white-blonde hair and blue eyes. To this day, it makes me want to go shower my skin raw. I’m not sure they’d feel the same way knowing I have several direct linegae (great-great grandmothers) relatives who were Cherokee Indians.
Hating someone because of the color of their skin is wrong. Opening fire on them because “they rape your women” and other hate filled messages Dylann Roof has shared in his manifesto and to the people who were at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church before he murdered them are bullshit.
I’ll go ahead and tell you, all of the people I know who have been raped were raped by white men. All of the crazy batshit terrifying events in my life have been because of people with whom I share the same color of skin — including relatives, but that’s further down the page.
The flag, that horrible flag that stands for some skewed view of “Southern pride” and “values” is not my flag. It never has been. It never will be. Put it where it belongs, in a museum. I’m borrowing words from my friend Brandon, because he expressed them better than I can right now:
The “heritage, not hate” argument doesn’t fly anymore, and neither should this flag.
As a comparison, since the Neolithic era (10,200-2,000 B.C.), the swastika was (and still is for some cultures) a sacred and auspicious symbol. But Hitler and the Nazis twisted and ruined it. Any reasonable person who has studied history will know how offensive it is to fly a swastika.
Just because a symbol once held meaning doesn’t mean it can’t turn into something dehumanizing, like the swastika did and now the Confederate flag. When that happens, it’s time to relegate it to history.
Did you know that on April 2, 2000, that Charleston Mayor Joe Riley organized a five-day protest walk from Charleston to Columbia to promote the removal of the Confederate Battle Flag from the Statehouse grounds? The protest was held on the statehouse grounds on April 6, 2000. This isn’t a new thing, the call for removal. During that time, they conceded and moved it off the top of the statehouse and to the grounds, where it has flown since.
We are better than this in the South. We have always been applauded for our manners, genteel ways, and acceptance. It’s time to stop talking out of both sides of your mouth, people. If you want to fit this description, it is time you walk the walk and talk the talk.
Now my friends are terrified because of the people who tell them they aren’t okay and that it’s okay if they open a gun up and kill them. Don’t bring up the cop shootings to me when arguing this point and saying they happened in cities outside the South. Don’t — that is not this conversation. I will tell you point blank, this is about nine people who died in one of the holiest places I have ever stepped foot into, Emanuel AME.
They died because of some old racist rhetoric started by people who were afraid. Why were they afraid? Because they were different. Yet the only difference was the pigmentation of the skin. Let me let you in on something, Jesus Christ was born in Jerusalem. You know, the Middle East. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t white either. After all, Jesus was hailed as King of the Jews.
If you want to know more of how I feel, read the Psychology Today article and its thoughts on the anti-intellectualism movement in this country:
Yes, even intelligent and educated individuals, often due to cultural and institutional influences, can sometimes carry racist biases.
But critically thinking individuals recognize racism as wrong and undesirable, even if they aren’t yet able to eliminate every morsel of bias from their own psyches or from social institutions. An anti-intellectual society, however, will have large swaths of people who are motivated by fear, susceptible to tribalism and simplistic explanations, incapable of emotional maturity, and prone to violent solutions.
It’s true. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t carry bias. We’ve all carried bias and we always will carry some form. If I said I didn’t have bias, I would by lying. My friend went to the movie theater. She’s black. And she sat there, afraid. Afraid she would be someone’s target. And no one should ever feel that way. Ever. Especially not because of the color of their skin.
Even now, I don’t understand racism. I just know that it exists and I won’t stand down.
There are too many people to name who shaped me and my world views. I’ll leave the names of the people who should be shaping the world views of everyone:
- Cynthia Hurd
- Rev Clementa Pinckney
- Rev Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
- Tywanza Sanders
- Ethel Lance
- Rev Depayne Middleton-Doctor
- Susie Jackson
- Rev Daniel Simmons Sr
- Myra Thompson
I like to shoot guns. But I like going to a nice club and shooting skeet — visually chasing a piece of clay and checking my hand eye coordination — that’s it. I grew up in a house filled with guns, all located in in a locked gun cabinet, and I knew that if I ever touched them I would have no skin left on my backend. I was also taught to never pick up a gun when I had any emotions running through me — they were a deadly weapon and should only ever be handled when you were in full control of your faculties.
But there has to be stricter gun control in this country. Dylann Roof, while the gun was sold to him legally, had a pending drug charge. It is my opinion that if you have any pending criminal charges, you should never be sold a gun, period. There should be stricter laws on what size clip and the type of bullets sold to the public. No one needs a gun with a clip that holds nine rounds of ammunition unless it is called for by their job.
I worked for an attorney and we had many “50-B” clients. Domestic violence cases. Where we represented people who were filing charges against someone they were afraid of. I also lived in a home where domestic violence was the norm until I was 10 years old, my father putting a gun to my mother’s head in front of me many times. I’m thankful that trigger was never pulled. But those people, men and women alike, who have domestic violence charges, should also not be allowed to own or carry a gun.
I’m also a realist and know that even with a radical change in gun laws, there are still more weapons being traded from person to person that people will never know about. There are guns without serial numbers being bought and sold routinely in transactions that cannot be traced. It’s not just on a black market, it’s also being done by people you would never suspect.
It’s funny, if you commit a “white collar” felony, you can’t own a gun or vote in an election. But there is nothing out of those “lesser” charges that are much more violent.
Last Thursday, I walked into a restaurant with my husband and son in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Seated at a table near the front was three women. I tried to ignore then stares from them, but I couldn’t stop ignoring it when they started pointing their fingers, using their hands to mimic my body shape, and were laughing and talking among themselves.
I confirmed my suspicions that they were making fun of me for being fat when I walked past them on my way to the bathroom and could hear their conversation.
I don’t know what lesson I have learned from this experience, other than learning to hold my shit together and not let anyone see how they affected me. Even now, I don’t know how I feel.
I’ve seen a lot of fear. On Saturday, I stopped in Savannah on the way home from our vacation for lunch. As customary, I sat in Franklin Square to watch the world go by and take a respite from the heat.
On the west side of the square at 23 Montgomery Street is the First African Baptist Church, recognized as the oldest black Christian congregation in the country. The church was organized in 1788, 12 years before the first Baptist church for whites was built in Savannah.
The church was a haven for runaway slaves during the Civil War. The runaways were hidden in a 4-foot high space between the basement and foundation below. The air holes can still be seen in the basement floor. During the 1960s, the church served as a base for the Civil Rights Movement.
At the doors were the people who attend this Church, standing what appeared to be guard. I didn’t ask, but I should have. But I know there were people in the church and I am going to assume they were there to make sure they were safe. I don’t blame them, but I don’t like seeing their fear and knowing they are scared while they are in their place worship.
I got news earlier today that my cousins Julie and Amy, sisters, each lost a child in a car accident. They were young people, sitting in the back seat and speeding was involved. That’s all I know.
But I do know this, speed kills. Distracted driving kills.
Slow down. Pay attention to what you’re doing. Put your phones down. The life you might save may be your own.
There you have it. I thought writing it all would make me feel better, but it really just makes me more determined to be a better ally and to open my mouth even more. People hate a loud mouth broad, but that looks to be part of the role I’ve been given in this life.