Note added on 6/28/2015 — Chosen as one the noteworthy posts on “The Methodist Blogs Weekly Links of Note“! Thanks to Allan Bevere!
On more than one occasion I have said that I am “Southern born and Southern bred, and when I die I will be Southern dead.”
But I have also noted that doesn’t mean that I hold onto many Southern traditions. I supposed that is because, even though my roots are in the South and I was born in Virginia and went to school in the south, I have lived in other places as well.
And in living in those other places, I have had the chance to compare how it is to live in all of the places. And somewhere along the line, probably about the time I began the 7th grade, I began to sense and see that some things were not quite right.
Let’s be honest, we are not going to see how are lives are different or the places where we live are different if we have nothing to compare them to. If we are not aware there is a difference between life in, say New York, and perhaps Alabama, then we will think that life is the same.
I remember when I first moved to New York and everybody was thinking that being the Governor of Texas was like being the Governor of New York. And while, politically speaking, the Governor of New York is a very powerful political person, there are four individuals in Texas with more political power than the governor of Texas (see “The Differing Voices Of Truth”). Because I had lived in both states, and because I had read Molly Ivins, I knew this; it came as a shock to many people who naturally assumed that all governors were essentially the same.
And while I was growing up, living in four different locations before elementary school and then going to five elementary schools for six years (because my father was an officer in the United States Air Force), I probably didn’t notice anything. But I probably wasn’t old enough to comprehend any differences there might have been in the places I lived.
But that all changed around the time I was twelve. Twelve is that age when we begin to notice the world around us and begin to think about what is happening. And one of the first things that I remember is an incident that took place when I went to the movies with my two brothers in Lexington, North Carolina. Lexington is my mother’s hometown and we had gone there to visit her parents, our grandparents. It was in the early 1960s and while the theater where the move was showing was a public theater, it was still segregated.
And somehow, my two brothers and I ended up in the segregated portion of the theater. What I remember most about that was trying to get back into the “whites only” section but having my way blocked by a gate that only swung one way, preventing blacks from going into the white section. It would have been easy enough to think to pull the gate instead of pushing on it but when you are in the dark with two younger brothers and you aren’t much older than 12, such thoughts aren’t easy to come by (I first described this in “Lexington, North Carolina”).
And when I began the 7th grade at Bellingrath Junior High School in Montgomery, Alabama, I found that my parents had to buy my school books instead of my getting them from the teacher at the beginning of school, as had been the case in all the schools I had attended before then. I know that the reason for this didn’t immediately sink in but when I went to school in Colorado and Missouri and got my books from the school, I had to ask myself why that was.
Maybe that year at Bellingrath was an anomaly but when we moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1966 I was reminded that there were people who still did not want all students to have a fair education. Oh, this time, I got the books I needed from the teachers but I found out that the band only got $50.00 for music, supplies, uniforms, and instruments (as did the choir). And if the band wanted or needed additional funds, they had to come from the Parents’ Association. That meant that schools in the higher income sections. of Shelby County had better equipment and more music than did the schools in the lower income sections.
Now, understand that this was all very, very legal. The law said that all schools had to be treated equally so you just limited what you gave to each school. But understand this, whether you call it segregation or not, when you do something to affect one group of people, it will affect other groups as well. But no group is going to understand this if they never find out that they are being mistreated, abused, or limited in some way. It will only become apparent when you have a chance to compare what is happening to you to what is happening to others.
And those who are in power will do whatever it takes to keep the system that gives them power in place. And that is as true today as it was fifty years ago when I was living in Alabama.
There are those who have the Confederate battle flags taken down with one or two given to museums and the others put or thrown away. And while that is a good thing, we have to remember that it is a symbol of too many bad things. And removing a piece of cloth from public display does nothing to change the beliefs or actions of those who used that cloth as their symbol; they will simply find another symbol to use.
The challenge we are faced with today is one that we have been faced with from time immemorial and that is to see that racism, sexism, ageism, and all other forms of discrimination are merely attempts by some individuals to do whatever it takes to gather all the power and wealth that they can. Until we understand that all individuals have the same rights and that our task is to work for that equality, then nothing will change. Taking down a flag will not remove the centuries of teaching that taught there were differences in people because of the color of their skin.
But we must begin to seek the changes that will allow everyone, whomever they may be, to have the same rights and privileges as everyone else. We have to begin with one simple note – when you do something that keeps someone else back, others will be affected by it as well. And when you spend all your time working to keep someone back, you cannot be moving forward yourself. Do you remember the conversation Alice had with the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass?
“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”
“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
We will not see the effects of that changes we must make immediately; the causes of discrimination are too deeply ingrained in all that we say and do. But if we do not begin to seek the changes that are really needed, then no change will ever occur.