Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My Summer Vacation - Part 2 - We're all family

The elders of my family were sitting around the table talking one morning.  We had all eaten another version of country breakfast: eggs, bacon, grits, and a cantaloup cut up -- pretty healthy for this crew.  My cousin was asking questions about family history and recording them for posterity. I came in late. My mom loves genealogy and wanted to center the conversation about her grandfather whom everyone called Daddy Frank. When I finally sat down to listen to the conversation an interesting line of thought came up:

They started talking about the white side of the family. Yes, as many people are now coming to grips with, we didn't get these multiple shades of dark brown to high yellow on our own and quite a few caucasions have some dark brown pigmentation in their DNA sequence.  My family in South Carolina is pretty yellow. As I said before, they were farmers. And among one of the things my grandfather did in his work filled life was to advocate for other black farmers to make sure that they got the right supplies in order to be successful, namely fertilizer.  Apparently, black farmers in my grandfather's area of South Carolina would not get fertilizer from the agricultural extension office as promised. I reason this happened is pretty obvious, but it was probably a way to keep black farmers down, thereby allowing the white farmers to grow the best crops and be more successful. However, my grandfather always got fertilizer.

My uncle told me that the pretty much every white person in town was a member of the Klu Klux Klan. It was an organization that one joined whether you participated in the rallies or not. They marched down the streets in solidarity pretty regularly, and of course all black people in the area stayed off the streets to make sure they would not be a target.(ah, the history of home grown terrorism) However, I was told the Klan never marched down my family's street. They went around.

More recently, my aunt used to goto a store to get pretty clothes in town. This store had unique dresses and my aunt wanted to get some clothes for her new grandbaby(now 12). She went up to the register and the white cashier/owner said, "I know who you are.  You just take those clothes and enjoy 'em."(for free) 

Why did these things happen this way for my family? We had white relatives. Not a few generations removed, but my grandfather had aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters who where white. Now, my point of this is not that we were privileged because of that. My mom, aunts and uncles always talk about how tough segregation was for them, and how my grandfather had a couple attempts on his life because of things he tried to do for the community. But…. family is family. In the south, these family relationships were not talked about, as both my aunt and uncle strenuously and repeatedly put it. They all knew, but it was unspoken.

What they didn't see until we sat down in the present, away from the discrimination, away from the pain, away from the all injustice, is that our white relatives were doing what they could, during that time in history, for their FAMILY. Granddaddy got fertilizer because the major white landowner, who was closely related to him made sure he got some. The Klan didn't march down the street where Granddaddy lived because there were people in the Klan that were kin and didn't want to see him or his progeny hurt.(they also tipped him off when his life was threatened). Our white relatives couldn't be there day to day for family functions of life, but they could give clothing when a new baby is born.

Racism and segregation hurt everybody. Arguably, it hurt Black people a lot more than whites. But there was damage there as well. How must it have felt to not be able to acknowledge your brother or sister simply because they were considered to be another race? Let me reiterate that. We're not talking about just not acknowledging a friend, we're speaking about actual blood relations: FAMILY. This was a small town. Everybody knew everybody else.  My family's white relatives would have lost everything had they openly acknowledged the relationships they had with Blacks. There is family that we have somewhere in this country(I have been told to leave them alone and not reveal them or expose myself to them, as I know exactly where they are) that has been passing as white RIGHT NOW in 2012 for at least 50 or 60 years.  Their children may not even know they have black relatives; but I digress… So the white side of my family in the early part of the 20th century did what they could in the societal constraints of the time to connect and be helpful.  Only now, when time has passed and wounds are healing are we able to even look and see what this means: Family is family. Blood is blood. We are all bound together as human beings.

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