I have spent my life enjoying people, all kinds of people. In Chattanooga, I have unconsciously accepted the kindness and deference that I have received from almost everyone as an expression of their higher, courteous, Southern natures, and as a response to my own respect of others. As an educated, professional, happily married, white female with a husband that is well-liked and has a respected position, I have lived in a lovely dream.
Darker reality broke through when I adopted my little Mexican-American brown boy.
Later, I gave birth to a biological son, who was as lily-white as his father. When I would go out with just my oldest, I was often asked if he was “mine”. After the younger was born, this changed to an occasional embarrassed silence. I was sometimes treated with less courtesy, especially if I happen to be dressed casually. And it became worse – my adoptive son has a half-brother, adopted by another local family, who is mixed Hispanic/African-American, and when I would go some place with the three boys, the disapproval that was spilled upon me was sometimes palpable.
I have been treated more harshly than warranted by a retired sheriff’s deputy at the Riverpark on Amnicola Highway because of his uncharitable assessment of me as a woman, a mother, a citizen, and a contributing member of society. I have had shop clerks and restaurant busboys ask me inappropriate questions and sneer. And I have been reminded, again and again, that no one, no matter their choices, deserves to be treated so unkindly or cavalierly.
Speaking with a friend in a mixed-race marriage, I realized that I have unwittingly been categorized as one of “those” - a woman with children from multiple fathers, a woman that has been involved with a man from another ethnicity/race, a woman of low moral standards and social position. It’s quite hurtful, but it has provided great insight. Suddenly, I thought I may have had a very slight idea of what John Howard Griffin experienced during his six weeks disguised as an African American travelling the South in 1959. (His diary was published under the title “Black Like Me.”)
I would encourage those who are so moved to quietly advocate for the “least of these”: Women who may or may not have made questionable choices, children who are simply happy to be alive, and have almost no understanding when adults are unkind to them because of biological heritage or circumstances of birth. I ask that we have charity, and exhibit those glorious products of a truly honorable Southern Spirit: Love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Others will follow, and be better for it.
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Welcome to parallel Holland, Mrs. Wells. Having a biological very fair, golden haired grandson, who takes more after his blond haired mother than the darker side of his family, do I have stories I could tell. I've been followed several blocks while walking back to my car. My young grandson even turned around once and angrily asked one of our followers "Why are you following us?!!" No doubt the follower was making sure I wasn't kidnapping someones' "white" child.
I was standing in line with my grandson once to purchase carry-out at a local downtown restaurant. Now six-years-old, my then four-year-old grandson must have been patting me on my butt or something to get my attention (you know children that young will touch you anywhere that's reachable to get your attention) when a lady standing to the side began to dial her cell-phone. I'm hearing impaired (almost deaf), and had no idea I and my grandson were the subject of that call until the Asian restaurant owner, who knew me and my grandson from our frequent visits there, became really nervous and immediately shouted to me "How's your grandson?" Or something of that nature. And the woman making the call looked guilty, said something into the phone and immediately hung up. The restaurant owner later said the lady had called the police because of my grandson touching me on my butt. I don't think my grandson's actions would have gotten even a glance if he'd been a few shades darker or myself a few shades lighter.
I've lived in a very racially mixed community since the 1970s. Was born in the same community in the 1950s (moved away/return 20 years later). However, when there was talk of Alton Park public housing being torn down, a predominantly black public housing complex, a certain "small" portion of the community panicked, and didn't want "those kind" moving in. So they proceeded to befriend and use (misuse) the powers of local authority to keep them out. We basically had sentry's stopping us, and sometimes following us all the way to our front door, to make sure we actually lived in the community. Although, we'd long lived in the community, much longer than many of those who used and abused the powers of authority to "keep us out." Or to make sure we weren't "Alton Parkers" trying to move in.
Ours is a pretentious society. On the surface, there's smiles, acts of charity, and kindness, but it seems all a front. A "put-on" as the elders often called it. We're a very integrated society with highly racially integrated communities. However, even within those high racially mixed and integrated communities, there's still a high level of segregation and division taking place. From a personal viewpoint and decades of watching it take place, much of that mistrust and division is inspired by a small, but controlling bunch, and with the help of authority.
Send folks out to "save" souls, but please, Sweet-Jesus, don't let those "saved souls" even remotely think we want them to follow us back home and become "our" next door neighbors.