by Christina Carson
My strongest emotions have always arisen around the topic of racism. I grew up north of the Mason-Dixon Line, but my small town had an unusually large Black population as it was one of the ends of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. One day, a friend of my mother’s took us into the basement of the only hotel in our town at that time and showed us a two foot square iron door, much like you’d see on a wood cook stove or steel boiler, set into the wall about five feet up from the floor. She lifted the latch and the youthful eyes of this unseasoned pre-teen peered into a pitch dark squared-up tunnel big enough only to crawl through. I shuddered, my claustrophobic tendencies filling my mind with a sense of horror. It was the fifties and innocence was still one of the options offered on life’s multiple choice test of reality, but as I became increasingly aware of the nature of racism, that option was soon lost to me.
My formal introduction to racism occurred one typical Sunday morning at the Westminster Presbyterian Church. It was the late ‘50’s, and we were all waiting for the service to begin. In the pre-service quiet, a knock at the main door caught the attention of most of the congregation. An usher hastened across the room to answer it. His voice was that of a loud stage whisper, so the back half of the church for sure overhead the conversation. It was the usher suggesting to the Black woman outside she might be more comfortable at the Second Presbyterian Church on the other side of town. I looked up at the adults surrounding me. Not one returned my questioning stare. I told friends years later that only thing I remembered learning at church was the meaning of hypocrisy, and after that I wasn't much interested in anything else they had to say.
When I was sixteen, I had another experience unique to me, not in a church but in our county hospital awaiting surgery. Two Black orderlies, a middle aged woman every morning and an older gentleman each evening spoke to me in a way that offered me kindness of a sort I’d never experienced. It sheltered me like the wing of a mother hen tucking her chicks tight up under her, and for the first time in my life I felt the wonder of what is was like to have someone care about me for no reason other than they did. That was as profound an experience as the one in my church except this one was all about love.
It wasn't until grade 12 that I realized my parents were racists. Growing up, I heard from them that Blacks were fine in their place, yet no one under questioning would commit to what or where their place was. So I kept pushing. They stood revealed the day the first Black family moved into our neighborhood. An open house was held to welcome them to the community, put on by the local Quakers, only no one came. Shaming is a mean-spirited act, but I shamed my parents that day and I meant to. I felt, in my seventeen-year-old view of the world I had been betrayed. The fact that I lived among racists appalled me. The fact that I had been so blind to it appalled me as well.
What washed up all these memories was an article written by Jesse Kornbluth, a blogger I enjoy reading (The Head Butler). His entry of 11/12/14 contained a piece of journalism he’d written in 1987, an article on Michael Donald, the last Black man to be hanged in Alabama and Donald’s mother’s work to bring the murderers to justice (The Woman Who Beat the Klan).
I've grown to understand a lot over the years, and it is now clear to me where the meanness of human beings comes from and why. I also know it will not change unless we get curious enough to understand and adopt our true nature as our way of being in this world rather than this egoic presentation we’re been conditioned to believe is us. Until that time, fear in all its hundreds of forms will continue to own us, control us, and direct our choices, with racism being one of its ugliest. But I’m here to tell you, we have a race of people among us who still model to a great degree what it looks like when you live from respect and love without conditions. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., suggested that his people could work actively in their endeavors toward freedom, but equally powerful was the more passive route of seducing through kindness. I have known that sweet seduction, and my life has been enriched and ennobled by it. Why not yours too?
RACISM: prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior.
Anyone who believes they are better, or worse, than anyone else based on race, education, nationality, gender, or net worth, is a racist. Thinking of it that way, you realize that it is extremely difficult to find a person who isn't a racist at some level.ReplyDelete
Should you be lucky enough to find such a person, you have found an individual who understands the oneness of all things.
If the day ever comes when there are none left to be found, mankind will have forced the only thing that keeps it alive into extinction.
Thank you, my dear, for your heartfelt honesty. We humans must stop acting as if we have a choice as to whether to move beyond fear or not, which is the same as saying racism or not. We are expendable just like any other species.Delete
A remarkable post, and as always you have chosen the right words to express it, Christina, thank you. It was a wonderful experience reading this. Yes, the "seduction of kindness" is the royal road to living all together as one big family. It is the key. Racism is so ugly, over here, in Europe, we know that only too well, after the Holocaust - and that was only the most recent tragedy in a never-ending tragedy that has wound its way down through the centuries. I hope it won't go on but when I watch how Europe reacts to the landings of immigrants in the small Italian island of Lampedusa, I wonder...When will all this ever stop?ReplyDelete
I don't think anyone is immune to the fears that arise as populations and ways of living change. We are fearful by nature because we have accepted the conditioning that causes us to view the world from the perspective of subject-object, us-them. This institutionalization of separateness creates all manner of fears. We have to get further back in our roots than nationality, race or gender even, to overcome this one. Thanks for your additions, Claude, to this blog in both content and sentiment. It's a tough one indeed.Delete
Thank you Christina. A beautifully written piece about what is so prevalent in our society that our news reports it every day and doesn't see it as racism. As you know, I grew up not that far from you, and knew nothing about racism, except hearing both of my parents condemn it - not knowing what they meant. I didn't experience it myself until I was a young teenager. That year we visited my mom's family in LA when I was old enough to go our for a ride with some local teenagers. They saw a black man walking on the side of the road and immediately started chasing him in the car into the woods. I was beyond shocked and terrified. After that I started looking for it in my world, and was amazed to find that it existed in my father's mother. What has always interested me is how my mom, from the south, is not at all racist, but my grandmother from the north was. What does it take it to undo it this? It know you are helping through all that you do, and your new book .. thank you!ReplyDelete
It's deep in us. It is actually between the choice of continuing to operate from subject-object or to actually live from the understanding of oneness. Spooky when you think of it that way, for that's a long road that very few seem to be in any way curious about yet. And yes, the Accidents of Birth Trilogy was written to seduce by kindness anyone open to that notion. Thanks for your caring and the work you do to model love and kindness in words and deeds.Delete
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Sorry the first two tries had errors!!ReplyDelete
Christina, you are always so eloquent and your words so profound. Everyone should read this blog. My introduction to "racism" was unique. I lived on a farm in Saskatchewan and never saw blacks. I loved Little Black Sambo - he was so clever to defeat the tigers - and had no idea it was racist. Then I went to Mali where the people went out of their way to be helpful, where the children grinned and touched us, then checked their hands to see if the white rubbed off. It was only with the news of atrocities happening world wide and the stories I heard from friends who experienced racism that I learned of racism and it's inherent fears and hatreds. and
How beautiful, your experience in Mali. How sad that you would have to eventually come to realize that racism was real and nasty. Imagine a world without it...Delete