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.