My family is from a small town in South Carolina, my grandfather was born in the early 1900s, so I know that members of my family have had experiences racism, discrimination, and evil. Having said that growing up my family never spoke about these experiencing, I believe that it was never spoken about for several reasons. One I think they wanted us to come to our own conclusion about people, they would warn us about certain dangers or how to approach situations, but the conversation was never presented with racial overtones. Another reason I believe it was not talked about is they did not want it to be a mental obstacle. No one has ever said these are the reason, I do not know if this was the correct way to handle the situation, but everyone is successful and good human beings.
I remember as a little boy going to my grandfather’s retirement party and at the party, all these white men were giving these speeches glorifying my grandfather. I was so proud of my grandfather, but I could help but think how any man of any color could have a disparaging word to say about my grandfather. I could not imagine a man disliking my grandfather based on the color of his skin, so I resigned myself to believe my grandfather did not experience racism and I left the subject alone. Fast forward over 30 years, now I am at a funeral of my uncle and again I witness these white men speaking favorably of my uncle. Once again pride filled me, but those old questions came back to mind, how could someone hate or treat these great men differently based on their skin color. So, when we got back to the house I decided I want to have a conversation about racism.
Started by asking my mother and uncle about their experiences with racism growing up in South Carolina, they began to tell me stories about having to travel to school through the woods because they would see the Klan coming down the road. Instead of having to confront the Klan they would rather travel through the woods. My mother told me a story of her childhood friend, whom I have known my entire life, her friend was being harassed by a white girl, the girl was their age but one day the friend could not take the harassment anymore and beat the little white girl’s ass. After the beating, they were so scared that the Klan or the Sheriff would come looking for them even though her friend was defending herself. I heard a similar story about my wife’s grandmother, but her grandmother had to leave the south because the Klan did come looking for her. I believe she was 13 at the time, so imagine a child having to leave her family because she may be killed and/or raped by white men.
My uncle decided to discuss his experiences while serving this country, my uncle was in the Navy and he was stationed on the USS Intrepid. He told me how he would not be allowed in places while in uniform because he was black, I know we have seen this happen in movies but to hear it from someone’s mouth offers a different experience. He did say that his white shipmates would refuse to patronize any establishment if he and the other black Navy men were not allowed in. The feeling of risking your life for a country and the people of this country and they do not respect you or the uniform you are in is heartbreaking.
After witnessing the pain, the horror, and the disappointment on their faces I now understand why in the past we never had a conversation about racism. I decided to end the conversation because them reliving their pain began to hurt me and the conversation was no longer productive in my opinion. You know things must hurt a person when they can remember every detail about an event that happened 50 or 60 years ago.