I recently came across my kindergarten class picture from 1976. I don’t remember much from my younger years, and I was shocked to see that I was the only white kid in my class. One white boy in the midst of twenty-two black kids. Even my teachers were black.
My parents were proud racists. They’d never admit to their racism, though – because, after all, they had a black friend. The n-word was used regularly around my parents’ house, and I hated it. It always made me so uncomfortable. When I would bring up my hatred for the word, they always had a way of justifying it. According to them, a n***er was a low-down, dirty person – and even a white person could be a n***er. Funny, though – they never used that word to describe any white person we knew.
As I looked at my class picture, I remembered all the times I ran and played with all of my classmates. The color of their skin was never an issue. I didn’t see them as black kids. I saw them as my friends. I remember the many times that my teacher would wrap her arms around me and tell me how proud she was of me, and how she knew I would grow up to do great things. She never made me feel like an outsider or different from the other kids, even though there was plenty of racial hatred going around at the time. While other adults during tossed around racial epithets at every opportunity, she told this little white boy just how special he was to her.
I was the only white student in several years’ worth of class photos, and I credit my many friends and teachers for my love of others, regardless of the color of their skin.
I began speech therapy in the sixth grade. To my dad’s surprise, my speech therapist was a black lady. I loved Mrs. Carter deeply. I remember thinking that she was the nicest person on the planet. She always had such encouraging words. Maybe it was her job to encourage, but to this boy who could barely say two recognizable words, her positive reinforcement was worth more than its weight in gold. When my dad found out that she was black, he gave me a message to give to her. He said, “Tell her no n***er could ever teach a white boy to talk.” I never delivered that message, and I thank Mrs. Carter for the multiple hours she spent teaching me how to talk.
I share these stories because earlier today, a complete stranger walked up to me explaining how the “n***ers inside the warehouse were useless and what should we expect from a bunch of useless n***ers?” It bothered me that the man saw another white person and automatically assumed that I would share in his racism. This man didn’t know me from a hill of beans, yet felt completely comfortable using such a hateful word.
It’s no secret that the south has a very brutal past, and to some extent, it has improved. However, every day I, a proud southerner, am given a reminder of how much more work we still have to do. I’m not ashamed of where I was raised, but I am very much ashamed of my heritage – and the hatred it teaches for those people who are “different,” especially the black community.