Posted in Seeing Race and Racism

Seeing Race and Racism #1 “Earth Day and Gone with the Wind”

A blog category looking at a topic we white folks don’t like to talk about.

My husband Robert (who is black) and I (who am white) live in Savannah’s Historic District and belong to our Downtown Neighborhood Association.

According to the website, “The Downtown Neighborhood Association … was established in 1974 by downtown residents in an effort to protect the National Historic Landmark District’s architectural heritage, encourage restoration and beautification, safeguard Savannah’s unique downtown environment, and advocate public policies related to these goals.” Goals we fully support.

The DNA is also overwhelmingly white and older. As is the historic district itself.

An interesting, telling and ultimately disturbing incident happened at a recent meeting. One of the evening’s presentations featured Nick Deffley, Savannah’s Environmental Services and Sustainability Director, introducing our city’s bold and much needed 100% Clean Energy Initiative. Toward the end of the talk, a slide was projected showing a change in the location of this year’s Earth Day celebration.

The annual Earth Day event is usually held at one of Savannah’s larger parks—Daffin Park or more recently, Forsyth Park, our city’s showcase park in the historic district.

During the Q and A, one lady toward the back expressed dismay that Earth Day wouldn’t be in Forsyth Park as usual, immediately adding these words, “I’m sorry, I’m just so sorry,” apparently apologizing for having to vocalize her belief that Earth Day should remain in our historic district neighborhood. Maybe I’m wrong, but the “I’m sorry’s” seemed to drip with insincerity. And with privilege.

The three locations for the 2022 Savannah Earth Day observance are in under-represented, mostly black, neighborhoods. Nick explained that the city’s idea is to make Earth Day accessible to more people across the demographic spectrum.

We white people don’t like to talk or think about racism. Author Robin D’Angelo calls this hesitancy “white fragility.” Racists are those bad guys who do blatantly bad things to people of color! And we would never do that!

But I suggest that we are racist when we assume that our position (geographic, financial, professional, etc) is more important than that of others … of color.

It is easy to see blatant racism. Not so much so with ingrained and systemic racism.

************

Robert and I hosted our family’s day-before-Easter picnic at nearby Skidaway Island State Park. What a wonderful time we had!

But like at the DNA meeting, racism found its way in. That is for those who were open to seeing and naming it. At one point we were scattered around talking about movies, and one family member excitedly said, “Oh, Gone with the Wind is my favorite movie!” A couple of others agreed, and laughingly quoted several of the famous lines from the movie.

My husband, black, was seated in their midst.

Gone with the Wind portrays a disturbingly distorted view of people, the color of my husband, happily living their lives as devoted slaves at beautific Tara. Hattie McDaniel won best supporting actress for her portrayal of Scarlett’s Mammy. The actress was not allowed to sit with her white costars at the Oscars.

Robert and I locked eyes for a moment. His eyes, I saw, saw racism right there among the Easter baskets. His ears, as did mine, heard racism.

We looked away. Listened for more pleasant sounds.

************

We white people can be tone deaf to what a person of color hears so clearly. Day after day. After day.

15 thoughts on “Seeing Race and Racism #1 “Earth Day and Gone with the Wind”

  1. This happens in my family, as well, Neal, often right at the holiday dinner table. I have mixed race nieces and nephews (black/white and Asian/white) and sometime their own cousins spit out the most racist comments and are completely unaware. I seem to be the only one in the family willing to call it out…but I do what I can. My nieces (white/Asian) white grandfather actually said at the beginning of COVID that he was sure that the attacks on Asians were overstated in the media because he’d asked the owner of his local Chinese restaurant who told him he hadn’t notice anything. Enough said!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh my goodness, McKenzie. I think this issue is everywhere, simply inundated in our lives. And more often than not, we just don’t “see” it. And thus it continues to live.

      Like

  2. Such very well documented examples of everyday situations that are so easily overlooked. Maybe if “we all” could “lock eyes” with those in our midst (loved ones, neighbors, friends, coworkers) those hurt by comments could be finally “seen”. And actually “loved”, like we say. I think!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such an important post. I am a 72 year old white woman and as much as I may try to be non racist the truth is I have no idea what it is like to be black person. None whatsoever. But I am working on it. I read and I learn. The same things apply to our indigenous people here in Canada. The resicential school horrors have brought it to light and I am so saddened by the loss of all those young lives buried in unmarked graves.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. LuAnne! Your poem is gorgeous and heartfelt You “got it” even at an early age. You knew there was a difference, and an equality. Good for you. And you are still championing that belief. We are kindred spirits.

        Like

Leave a Reply to Robert J Jr. Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s