What we lost and why we can’t let go…why racial dialogue must happen

Like many people I struggle with my weight, a number of years ago, I took off almost 50 pounds and for several years, I kept it off. Then I stopped being diligent, honestly, I got sloppy. I started snacking when I wasn’t hungry and stopped walking because I was too busy. As a result of my actions, twenty of the almost fifty pounds have returned and are firmly planted right in my gut. I moan and groan about it since frankly gut weight isn’t a good look for me but at the end of the day, I am just too lazy to really do anything about it other than making sure I don’t gain any more weight.

In many ways, my relationship with my physical body reminds me of the relationship many Americans have with matters of race. For almost a decade, I have written about race and have received enough feedback to know that many people wish that people like me would shut up. After all, things are so much better than they once were. Or as a reader recently commented in response to my last post “I hope that, with time, your sharp, brittle edges will become softer and rounder, and that the big chip will soon fall from your shoulder.”

For the past few days, race has been laying heavy on my heart as I made the painful decision to end an eight year friendship with someone I adore because while I love her, I cannot stand by while someone works out their relationship to race. It is too heavy of a burden for me and one that frankly I have no interest in doing.

The world is a better place than it once was when it comes to Black-White relations in America, but it has a long way to go. As I am becoming painfully aware, the ravages of slavery, Jim Crow and segregation are still affecting my family in 2013. I know for some that statement may sound wild but it is the truth and I suspect I am not the only Black American for whom this rings true.

A few weeks ago my ex-husband contacted me because he has been trying to research my family tree and was coming up short. Over the years he has realized that while he is able to tell our son plenty about his family and their history, my side of the story has always been short.  My paternal grandfather was born in rural Arkansas in 1903, he died when I ten years old and while I don’t have many memories of him, I do have a few. Without telling all of my family business, I will just say that we can’t go back further in my family history than my great grandfather. That’s it. Slavery in the US ended in 1863, 40 years before my grandfather was born. Think on that. So you guessed it, my great grandfather was a slave. No surprise for me since my grandparents were sharecroppers, my dad actually picked cotton when he a young child. It wasn’t optional, he had no choice. My grandparents were actually forced off the land they worked when my dad was 11 because the land owner wanted what would have amounted to a concubine relationship with one of my aunts. My grandfather stood up for his daughter and well…a Black man standing up not all that long ago had grave consequences. Luckily, the result was that at the age of 12, my dad for the first time in his life lived in a house with an actual bathroom. Their home after leaving the only land they had ever known was the newly built housing projects in their town. I need you to sit in this and realize I am talking about my father, a man in his 60’s. A man who wanted to be a scientist but was told Negroes could not be scientists.

Lately my daughter has been asking about our family, living in Maine, a place rich in history, many of her friends have stories to tell about their families. As usual when I talk about my family, it is a short story, outside of my parents; there are no wonderful tales about distance relatives and ancestors. Not even my last name really has any meaning since it was given to us by the folks who owned my great grandfather.  I thought of this recently when a professional colleague was telling me about his wedding plans and how certain things will happen at his wedding because they have been a part of his family’s traditions since the 1700’s. What a blessing and a gift to have knowledge of traditions that have been handed down for many generations. That is not something I will ever know because America took that from me and mine; all I can do is create my own traditions because what I know of the past, I don’t want to share with my kids. I have older relatives who suffered greatly at the hands of White Americans, so much so that their hearts are permanently bruised against all whites. (Took the very White Man Unit to a family reunion some years ago…we have never been back)

Things are better, but let’s not pretend all is right and just. We may have changed some laws and there may be interracial marriages like mine but we are far from alright when it comes to racial matters in the US. In many ways we have become as lazy about dealing with racial issues as I have become about my weight. I talk a good game, I make a plan, but my follow through is weak.  To create lasting change means a willingness to work hard and consistently and few of us have that resolve unless we have skin in the game and even then, it is a struggle.

Louie CK sums it up well

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