Posted in Seeing Race and Racism

Seeing Race and Racism #3 “Look Up”

So HR (Husband Robert—you should know that by now!) and I ventured up to Atlanta this past weekend to see, believe it or not, the Atlanta Opera‘s rendition of “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs.” Beyond fascinating, the opera focused not only on Jobs’ incredible technological accomplishments but even more on his nature as a flawed human, similar to all tragic heroes. And like each of us, I suppose.

Near the opera’s end, at Steve’s memorial service (you may remember that he died of pancreatic cancer), wife Laureen sang a cautionary song about the advice an evolved Jobs would perhaps give to the world: “Version 2.0 of Steve might say: ‘Look up (from your phones), look out, look around. Look at the stars. Look at the sky. Take in the light.’”

Of course, walking out of the Cobb Energy Center after the performance, many in the departing crowd were multitasking by seamlessly looking down at their “One Device” (including me, I must confess), while walking without falling.

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While in Atlanta Robert and I stayed at the incredibly beautiful Georgian Terrace Hotel on famous Peachtree Street.

The Georgian Terrace Hotel

The grand old hotel, completed in 1911, has hosted Presidents and other luminaries over the decades. (Btw, we got a good deal, and an upgrade—we always request them everywhere we go. Try it.) And one morning we learned, after grabbing our morning coffee and chocolate croissants on the hotel’s terrace, that the stars of “Gone With The Wind”lodged at the Georgian Terrace for the 1939 World Premier of the iconic movie.

Historical marker just off the hotel’s massive terrace

But hold on just a second. Our history lesson was about to take a somber turn. See the last sentence in the historical marker’s second paragraph? “Clark Cable, Vivian Leigh, and most of the ‘Gone with the Wind’ cast stayed here ….” Interpretation: the white actors stayed at the Georgian Terrace, not the black actors. The black professional actors did not stay at the Georgian Terrace because they were not allowed to attend the world premiere at nearby Loew’s Grand Theatre. The Grand was a segregated theatre in 1939.

Butterfly McQueen (“Prissy”) did not attend. Hattie McDaniel (“Mammy”) did not attend, even though she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Butterfly McQueen and Hattie McDaniel on the set of Gone with the Wind

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Here’s Robert, in front of the hotel’s very cool multi-level marble staircase, which Clark Gable, “Rhett,” probably traversed.

And here’s Robert on the 17th story rooftop (we bypassed the fancy stairs for the elevator), beside the pool.

Do you see that little bump in the distance, to the left of HR’s head?

To the far left in the photo below.

It’s Stone Mountain.

(travel channel.com)

Ever heard of it? Well, Stone Mountain is a quartz monzonite dome monadnock (okay, that’s a mouthful). “The mountain is the world’s largest single piece of exposed granite. It weighs over a trillion pounds and covers 583 acres. Only about a third of it is visible above ground. It was formed completely underground and has been uncovered over millions of years of erosion.” (stonemountainguide.com)

It is also the home of Stone Mountain Park.

From the “Explore Georgia” website … “Stone Mountain Park is Georgia’s most visited attraction. With more than 3,200 acres, the park is a unique destination where guests can experience an exciting variety of attractions, entertainment, and recreation. Check out Sky Hike, the nation’s largest family adventure course in the treetops … The Lasershow Spectacular at Stone Mountain Park is the world’s longest-running laser show. Other attractions include Summit Skyride, Dinosaur Explore, Dinotorium, Historic Square, Farmyard, Camp Highland Outpost, Scenic Railroad, Great Locomotive Chase Adventure, Geyser Towers, golf, and museums.”

But there’s something else at Stone Mountain, something that’s kept pretty low in the advertising. “The largest high-relief sculpture in the world depicts hand-chiseled figures of the Civil War. At Memorial Hall, visitors can see the carving’s original designs, scale models, and an 11-minute feature film.”

The carving depicts three Confederate leaders: Jefferson Davis (President of the Confederacy), Robert E. Lee (a general and overall commander of the Confederate States Army) and Stonewall Jackson (another Confederate general and one of the best known commanders after Lee).

But that’s all in the past, right? Old history.

Climbing up, 2021. ABC News

I SO agree with The Stone Mountain Action Coalition about the problem TODAY with the carving …

“Stone Mountain Park, a public park owned by the State of Georgia, is the world’s largest Confederate memorial and shrine to white supremacy. The Park is the birthplace of the modern Ku Klux Klan and was established as an official Confederate memorial by the State in resistance to desegregation and the civil rights movement. To this day, the Park’s prominent hateful symbols continue to cause pain and attract hate groups and violence.” (stone mountain coalition.com)

And with ideas about what could be done …

“The Stone Mountain Action Coalition wants to reclaim Stone Mountain Park from the state-sponsored Confederacy. We are calling for immediate changes including removing Confederate flags, renaming Park streets and features currently honoring Confederate and Ku Klux Klan figures, and advocating for new legislation to address the restrictive Georgia laws that require the Park to serve as a Confederate memorial.”

Stacey Abrams says it best …

“Confederate monuments belong in museums where we can study and reflect on that terrible history, not in places of honor across our state. Paid for by founders of the 2nd KKK, the monument had no purpose other than celebration of racism, terror & division.” (Fox 5 Atlanta)

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I’m married to a black man.

And even though we talk about all of this, I can’t truly understand his feelings and responses to it all. The horror goes back, way back, to the founding of our nation, built on the backs of slave labor. When all men were created equal.

Well, except for black folks. And indigenous folks.

States (including my own) are now passing laws making it illegal to tell what truly happened in our past, “Gone with the Winding” our racist legacy. “Protecting our children” from … truth. Here in Georgia, less than a month ago, misguided Governor Brian Kemp signed into law House Bill 1084, unconstitutionally banning free-speech discussions of “divisive concepts.”

cnn.com

Note #1: The celebratory revelers are overwhelmingly lily white.

Note #2: The location of the signing is Cumming, Georgia. Here’s another historical marker, this one in downtown Cumming, remembering the city’s and Forsyth County’s incredibly violent and racist past.

Question #1: Brazen insensitivity or purposeful symbolism?

Question #2: Why are So Many So Afraid of recognizing the significance of the year 1619? The year 20-30 enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia?

hampton.gov
In my old faithful study chair. With our newest read.

Question #3: Why keep the stone mountain hidden, obscured underground? Some things need to be uncovered, exposed.

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Maybe 2.0 Steve Jobs was right. We might be better off looking up, looking out, looking around, away from denial of what was, and in many ways, what still is.

Away from the racist carving near the base of the mountain. And up to the yellow daisies that occasionally appear on the summit.

Letting in the light.

New Georgia Encyclopedia
Martin Luther King Jr.
Posted in Seeing Race and Racism

Seeing Race and Racism #2 “A Fiery Night in Georgia”

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

I SO wish all my childhood memories were fond and happy. They should be, right? Some of mine, many of mine, maybe most of mine are joyful. Going into the woods to pick out and chop down our Christmas tree. Such fun. Summer vacations at a tiny, inexpensive motel at Jacksonville Beach. Neighborhood fish fries after softball games. I could go on.

But, if truth be told, not all of my early childhood memories are so happy.

I remember cowering under my bed, after watching The Wizard of Oz, thinking that those flying monkeys were absolutely horrendous. And might be up in the skies outside my window.

I remember purposefully and loudly falling off my bed as a little kid when I would hear my parents fighting in their nearby bedroom. I sometimes pretended to sleepwalk for the same reason.

But one of my most harrowing early memories is an uglier, impossible-to-understand one, a darker one, even though it involves such unforgettable hot and fiery light.

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I am a skinny, freckled, awkwardly sensitive little kid in hand-me-down shorts. My parents, four brothers and I live in a crowded small house in the Peach Orchard section of Cochran Field on the outskirts of Macon, Georgia.

It is summer, a sweltering night in the South. It is probably 1957 or 58.

I’m in the backseat of our ancient station wagon, dad driving, mom directly in front of me, at least one brother also in the back.

No air conditioning, of course. No seat belts. Windows down. Warm night air blowing my hair and keeping my outstretched hand standing up as we make our way down the road. Incredibly, I can occasionally hear the tires make sticky, sucky sounds as they roll over tar-patched cracks, still oozing from the day’s unmerciful Macon sun.

It’s a sultry night in Georgia.

“Something’s on fire,” one of my folks say.

We get closer. The fire appears on my side of the car. I can feel the heat before I can see what’s burning. I quickly pull my hand inside the window.

I am mesmerized. A cross, unbelievably tall, is on fire! I have to crane my neck up to see the top of the flames. I hear dogs barking. I see people in white Halloween costumes mulling around the cross. I smell gas. And see smoke around the flames. People are yelling. A weird party.

The cross is just SO big. Way too big for Jesus to carry up a hill. And the cross was’t on fire in the Bible, I’m sure of that. It is summer, and I go to Vacation Bible School.

“Neal, roll your window up!”

I’m scared. But I don’t know why I’m scared.

“NEAL, ROLL YOUR WINDOW UP NOW!”

I obey. But it’s like the heater is on full blast.

My father starts to speed past. But why? I’ve never seen anything like this. Why can’t we watch? I have to turn around quickly to see the cross get smaller and smaller. It finally morphs into a tiny lighted dot behind me.

It’s hotter than it’s ever been in the car. The heater MUST be on. It’s sizzling. Suffocating.

And it’s quieter than it’s ever been. Our car is usually loud with rambunctious boys yelling to be heard over one another.

Finally, I feel slightly cooler air begin to blow in from my mother’s window.

“Neal, roll your window down.”

We ride in silence till my father turns on the radio. I hear quiet music.

“What WAS that?” I ask.

“That was bad people doing something bad.”

I don’t understand.

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Over six decades later, I look upon that night as one of those loss-of-innocence junctures. I can’t remember exactly how my parents explained what was really happening at that “weird party.” But I did find out, at some point, that the cross was being burned in a white couple’s front yard to warn them about being sympathetic to the struggles of black people. Vigilante hatred. Burning on the cross.

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I wish I could say that the temperature has gotten so very much cooler in the South—or elsewhere in our nation. That the tar doesn’t still melt and stick to our tires. That air conditioning has decreased the scorch. That there are no more “weird parties.” But I cannot.

Just look at yesterday’s “Real Feel”:

Another “weird party” just down the road that stretches from my Savannah to Brunswick. You probably know the horrific story of that hot day in Georgia when vigilante hatred burned anew …

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May we somehow as a people learn how to live.

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.

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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.

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