When something horribly bad happens, where we are and what we are doing at the time is forever imprinted into our minds, like the World Trade Towers falling in New York City— we remember the shock as we stood transfixed.
The spring I turned fourteen I had many chores to do and one was trimming grass and leaves from around the electric fence; if the electric current was interrupted by foliage, the horse, ponies and bull might escape. I needed the long work knife for the job from the house. As I reached the knife I could hear Daddy guffawing in the next room.
“Yep, there’s another good one— ha ha ha!” Daddy’s laughter trailed off.
Daddy was using the N-word, his favorite when he was on one of his senseless rants. This was one of many hate-filled harangues Daddy had with his friends. I could never reconcile the wonderful Daddy I knew and loved with this mean man who showed up occasionally.
Then I heard on the radio that Martin Luther King had been shot; I closed my eyes. Daddy was saying ‘any dead n______ was a good n______.’ It made me sad and it made me feel dirty. What could be so intrinsically wrong with a black person that could make him so furious? King was all about peace, not hate, even I knew that.
During my childhood things would come up now and then that made me wonder why Daddy hated black people so much. He used to say, “If a man does me dirty once, shame on him. If a man does me dirty twice, then shame on me.” So just what did a black person ever do to my father that warranted that kind of intense hatred? If they were dangerous then shouldn’t he tell us kids so we knew what to look out for?
Slavery was not the problem; he had said our family did not have slaves so I don’t understand. I asked questions that had no answers.
About three miles from where we lived, a brand new brick house was being built. Many people wondered who that fine house belonged to. Daddy said he found out the owners were either of Scottish or Irish descent with ‘Mac’ as the prefix to their name, that had to be it. When the school bus went by one morning I was surprised the new family was black. I didn’t tell but Daddy found out anyway and the usual diatribe followed, wondering how they got that name and the money for that brick home.
There was no reason I could see for Daddy’s hate and animosity except for the color of a person’s skin. It reminded me of the time many years before when my father had talked about having something against several groups of people but blacks were at the head of the list. Then there were Jews and Catholics, and those awful Irishmen who were drunkards. My father became the king of stammering when he learned his own ancestors were Scotch-Irish. For some people there is no more interesting hobby than racism. Truly, how many reasons are there to hate without a purpose in mind? The real kicker in this for me is that modern humans have now been traced back to the middle of Africa— the earliest humans. [There were several alcoholics on my father’s, mother’s side of the family and my father died an alcoholic.]
The two children from my first marriage had never heard the N-word until we returned to my family in the south after leaving the military— they were six and seven-years-old. I was sad and disgusted but living in the south it was bound to happen, and it happened almost daily. Using the N-word is a lot like swearing, parents can stop children from using such language just by setting an example and establishing expectations. To use crude, demeaning language does not hurt the image of black people; it lowers the stature of the person using the words. I include black people who use this as well. I would not want my daughters calling each other ‘bitch’ in the same way as a black person using the N-word to another claiming it is an affectionate term among friends. It is an ugly, tasteless word used to belittle and demean an entire race, why would anyone want to keep that word alive.
People have said to me that crime statistics show higher crime rates among blacks: drug use and sales, violence, robbery and so on. The stats may show that but I wonder at the same time if it is because law enforcement focuses their attention mostly on blacks. Crime rates do tend to drop somewhat when unemployment drops.
People like to use the example of a person walking toward a black person and then crossing the street to avoid them. If it were me, I would not cross any street if more people are around. I would cross the street though if there were no other people nearby no matter what the race. Any woman alone, or man for that matter, would be foolish not to do everything possible to stay safe.
Thinking of Trayvon, there are many ‘what ifs’ to think about. What if he walked with a cousin or his father? Any person will be safer in pairs. What if Trayvon stood still and held his hands high? What if his killer had approached him wanting to give him a lift home? It is senseless to replay what happened that night, we all know what happened. My question for everyone is how do we move forward to make sure there are no more Trayvons? What can each of us to begin to get to know each other better?
By Trayvon’s death, he has given us a golden opportunity to change how we behave and how we treat each other. I know Americans can rise to the occasion to meet challenges when needed. One of the most glaring signs of hope that I have seen was during the demonstrations across America— there were almost as many white participants as black. That shows me that I was not alone in my questioning and changing of attitudes in the white communities over the last several years.
We owe it to Trayvon and his mother to keep that door open. My father is dead and the days of his kind are numbered. If we work together, we can change outcomes, attitudes and minds. I want that for my children and all of those who come after me. How about you? Are you in?
With so much change from my father’s generation to mine, I have hope that it can eventually disappear completely.
Jackie Saulmon Ramirez has served as a volunteer with Parents Anonymous® of New Jersey, Inc. for more than twenty years, giving and getting support. Find her at her contact page.