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.