Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Race Relations

When I was young, quite young, I remember listening to my grandfather. He was . . . a bit of a racist. No way to sugarcoat it. He used the N-word an awful lot. And not the N-word that most people think about. The older N-word. Again, think racist grandfather. He grew up listening to and saying that N-word. He heard untrue things about black people and believed them. That's part of his past, and it shaped my view of him.

And something happened in the 80s. I did not know what it was at the time, but my grandfather became less of a racist. The way I see it is that everyone tries to make sense of the world, and in their mid-twenties or so, people try and figure out the world. They take info from when they were younger, then what they have learned and figure out how to react to a bunch of situations.

He grew up in Georgia, not the center of the universe. He remembers being jumped by many African Americans. That is his first vivid memory he has of an interaction. Through years, he hears that African Americans are not as smart as he is, that they are lazy, etc. This is what he learned. This is an opinion he had.

The older people of his generation start dying . . . I mean, they are older, and all, so they start dying. Those influential racists start dying. And he continues to experience things throughout his life.

He notices that an African American neighbor moves into his "good neighborhood." He expects the neighborhood to "go downhill", but it doesn't. He also starts observing his neighbor. The first things he says about his African American neighbor (to others but granddaughter is listening) is not encouraging. It is full of hate and anger. Things he has learned.

But you know what begins to happen? He notices that the neighborhood does not "go downhill." He notices that his neighbor's yard is not only well-maintained, but it becomes the best yard in the neighborhood. The neighbor spends time mowing his yard, fertilizing it, everything. The neighbor begins to change my grandfather's mind, changing his heart in the process.

A couple of years go by, and little by little, my grandfather uses the other n-word a bit less, and without the preceding "damn" at all. The neighbor hunts and shares his kill with my grandfather. My grandfather responds with fish he has caught. They are developing a polite friendship. The friendship is not more or less than other neighbors, but the important thing is that it seems about the same. Regardless of race.

By the time he died, he seemed like much less of a racist. There were shadows of racism, but it was not like I remember as a little girl.

I remember talking with an elderly black man . . . it must have been twenty years ago. We talked about many things, but something he said I still remember. He said that race relations would begin to improve, not in his generation, but in his grandson's (and in mine). He seemed to know that past experiences would be difficult to overcome, to look past. Some healing could take place, but not the type of healing that would improve race relations within the culture.

I heard someone a few weeks ago say that they are sick about talking about race relations. It had to do with the aftermath of Barack Obama's election. For me, I am glad that the dialog is still taking place. I think it is important.


Under the Influence said...

Have you seen Gran Torino with Clint Eastwood?

Dominic said...

That's a very encouraging, heart-warming story. Thanks for sharing!

Xmichra said...

I am sitting here trying to figure out the other n word.. yeish. I should feel happy about not knowing it i suppose...

Anonymous said...


Gary Baker said...

When the dialogue reaches the point where no one is told to shut up based on what their ancestors did or the color of their skin, then we will be near completing the work started in the past.

Xmichra said...

thanks for the link Annon... so the first n-word is with "er" and the second is "ga"?? I must be living under a rock, i had no idea there was a distinct difference.

btsea said...

Where I live (a very multicultural area), the only people who really use the n-word are the African American. It's also used in rap music so much that I think no other race uses it now because its shock potential is pretty low. But I think it's a bad word for the African Americans to use also. It creates a mentality that one ends up subscribing to and is hard to break out of.

kathi said...

This was an excellent post. Great examples and very well told. Well done, hon.

Leesa said...

Under the Influence: Does Gran Torino deal with race relations? I may now have to see this movie.

Dominic: Thanks.

Xmichra: "Negro" is the word.

Anon: A more ancient word.

Gary Baker: I think we are nearing the tipping point. Nearing but not there.

btsea: I don't know if the AA community thinks it is a bad word or not.

Kathi: Thanks, sweetie.

Riff Dog said...

Your grandfather sounds almost exactly like mine. Different southern state, but almost everything else could be word for word what I would say.