So, it’s with mixed emotions that I report that I’m not going tomorrow to pick up the littlest nephew. Instead, he’s going to spend some time with his mom. I’m very sad, because, though I was anxious about knowing what to do with him alone in the car for four hours, I was looking forward to spending time with him.
On the other hand, I’m a little relieved because I’m very uncomfortable around the oldest nephew’s family, because they’re racist. Not “backpack of privilege” racist, but full blown “white robes of violence” racist and I would have had to go to their house to pick the youngest nephew up.
As a side note, Acadamia, this is one thing I think is so cute about you. You’re so busy trying to help me uncover and confront all my racist assumptions that you’ve overlooked helping me learn how to negotiate the fact that my nephew’s family is in the Klan, and yet, other than that, seem to be really generous and nice people who have gone above and beyond the call of duty for my brother and the nephew they aren’t related to.
My solution thus far has been to never visit them. I appreciate from afar what they’ve done for my brother, but I don’t want to be friends with them or interact in any way with them that might be construed as being okay with them. If my parents retire down to Georgia to be near my brother, this will become a bigger problem.
I’m not looking forward to it, especially because I don’t think they know.
When we were growing up in Illinois in the 80s, I had no black friends. I didn’t go to school with black kids. No black people lived in the towns we lived in. Most of the kids I went to school with had never even talked to a black person, though we had because some of my dad’s other minister friends were black and we played with their kids at ministerial gatherings.
We heard the word “nigger” all the time, though, the recalcitrant brother and I. Kids called each other that the way kids call each other “fag” now. In fact, I don’t think I heard the word “fag” until my junior year of high school, at a new school. The term we heard kids using to get at each other was “nigger.”
We never used that word. And I can tell you as sure as I’m sitting here that if we had, and if my dad had caught wind of it, he would have beat us, severely. He might have killed us. Even now, I’m waffling about going back and changing that last paragraph because it’s such a shitty word, but I want to talk frankly about my experiences, so that you can understand where I’m coming from, a white population that used that word as if it were the worst thing you could call another white person.
My parents didn’t really talk a whole lot about race. “People are people,” my dad would say and he never made a big deal about his friends’ races.
So, one day when I was just starting high school, I was driving around the small Michigan city where my grandma A. lived, in the car with my grandma, and we passed by a grade school just as it was letting out and all these black kids were running to the busses or headed home or whatever.
My grandma says, “Look at all those brown children, aren’t they beautiful?”
And listen, I know how stupid that sounds, but what I want you to understand is that this was the first time in my life I had ever heard anyone say that black people were beautiful. And the fact that it was my grandma, who I loved more than anyone? What it said to me is that other people might hate black people, might use that nasty word, but we don’t. Our family doesn’t. And not because we’re afraid our dad might knock the shit out of us, but because it’s wrong.*
My parents, I think, were trying to teach us by example that race didn’t matter, but I just don’t think they had any idea how much we were hearing from the rest of our community that it did. They wanted us to be colorblind. My grandma, on the other hand, acknowledged a difference in color and totally undermined my equating that with an inherent difference in value as people.
I’m not saying that I’m now without prejudices or that I’ve completely unpacked my McIntoshian knapsack of privilege. It’s impossible to be white and not benefit from institutional racism and, when you’re benefiting from something, you come to inherently believe you must deserve it. That’s how human nature works.
But you know, I try not to be a jackass. So, I have prejudices, but I try to confront them. I benefit from racism, but I try not to be actively racist. And I’m not a white supremacist. I don’t think white people are better than anyone else. I’m not even sure what constitutes a white person. I’m a wishy-washy pinko liberal do-gooder and I don’t want to hurt anyone.
And so, to bring this back to the beginning, I think what I most loathe about my nephew’s family is that they’re so nice. I knew white supremacists in back in Illinois, angry young white guys who’d hang out in the mall in their brown pants and red suspenders looking for fights. But they were assholes, and so, even if they thought you were “white” like them, you still didn’t want to be anywhere near them, because they were assholes always looking to hurt people.
But these folks are helping my brother, a lot. They’re taking him in and they’ve loaned him, I suspect, thousands of dollars. They babysit for the youngest nephew when he’s with my brother, because they believe it’s important for the two boys to have a relationship as brothers.
And they’re white supremacists.
[The funniest part, though, I’m sure you’ve already noticed: they embody every disparaging thing they believe about minorities.]
It’s so gross, America. It’s just so fucking gross.
And the thought that they’re corrupting my nephews with that bullshit? Egad, is there any better way to insure that they’ll never get out of the messy life circumstances they’ve inherited from my brother than to give them a set of beliefs that will make them unable to function in the world? It makes me so angry.
Hmm. You know, this is the first time I’ve ever written something here that didn’t make me feel better by the end of it. Even when I don’t come to any conclusions, I usually feel better for getting it all out there and looking at all the facets. But now, I just feel like I’ve revealed to you all something very ugly about my life that’s going to change how you think of me or that I’m just confirming for you things you already suspected about poor people. And I worry that by talking about how uncomfortable I am about talking about my own experiences with race, I’m actually doing that bullshitty move of trying to make any discussion of racism revolve around my own occasional mild discomfort as a “well meaning” white person.
So, all this is just to acknowledge that this whole entry kind of sucks because I don’t know how to talk about racism without feeling like some idiot and yet I think it’s everyone’s responsibility to talk about racism, because it’s all our problem.
* Yes, even then I was something of a snob against stupid people.