This post addresses my observations from both sides of the issue. You will see that it’s clear on which side my loyalties fall.
The news has been so concerning to me for so long that when I was offered a room with a view of the garden or a room with a TV at the infusion center today, it was an easy choice. I so wish I could march with the protestors. I wish I could go to my downtown area tomorrow to join hands with others, and hug, and cry, and try to do something! But between the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and my compromised immune system, I’m stuck at home away from people.
So I’m going to do what I can from here. Donate, post, pray, write letters — anything I can physically, spiritually, or emotionally do, I will gladly do. You see, I was the black sheep in my family for so many reasons, and it took me awhile to be able to laugh about it. I dated “outside my race” during my teenage years. I was an embarrassment to my mother and a shame to the town of Fitzgerald, GA. I love who I love, and I will never apologize for it. One of the guys I dated was not a good person. The other was. But his life and mine would have been over had we stayed together. I don’t know why my parents were so shocked. They took me to the city as a toddler. The city opened my mind.
My parents moved the family to Houston when I was 2 so my dad could build a construction business with one of his brothers. Build it, they did. My dad eventually split off from his brother, so they each had a separate construction business, with plenty of clients to go around.
Dad had a third-grade education. His father was working in the field on their family farm that year, and he suddenly began to bleed from his groin. The family got him inside, but he bled out due to cancer of the penis and inguinal gland. All of the sons stopped going to school in order to work the fields and tend the livestock. They were strong, even at that age, because my grandfather starting weight training them as soon as they could walk, to build up those important back, shoulder, and leg muscles. “Weight training” involved things like hoisting a sack of grain onto their shoulders and stepping into and back out of a washtub. Imagine doing that with your toddlers! But it worked to make them physically strong men who were also very angry.
The Army made my dad even stronger (and more angry). He was in two major battles: D-Day (as a paratrooper) and the Battle of the Bulge (serving under Gen. George Patton). When he was done serving his country abroad, Dad signed up for vocational training with the Army, because he was not interested in making his living from the soil. He learned to make cabinets. Soon he was out there working for himself (and boy, what I wouldn’t give for some cabinets made by my Dad). He married my mother and proceeded to father six children with her. I was next to last.
One of the things that mars my memory of Dad is his bigotry and outright racism. Mom went along with it. The “N-word” was a staple of my father’s vocabulary. It was a staple in most white people’s vocabulary in Houston, to be honest. My parents grew up in the deepest of the deep South, in the Irwin County, GA, area. Many of my relatives never move more than a mile away from their childhood homes. It’s just the culture. Everyone we went to church with was white. Everyone I was allowed to be friends with was white.
On trips through the southernmost United States every summer, to return to the farm to see family, my mother was hypervigilant and very anxious that we not be caught in the wrong part of any given town after dark. I was never sure what the “wrong” part of town meant. I remember wondering if that just meant you were lost.
One time, as I stumbled toward the drinking fountain at the gas station, my mother jerked me back violently.
“Not that one,” she said. “That’s for the n****rs! It’s filthy.”
I looked at it for a moment. It didn’t look any different than the other ones. Mom pointed to the sign. “That says ‘colored’. You are WHITE!”
It was so confusing to my young mind. There were black children in my school and on my bus. They were very nice, as I recall, but I wasn’t allowed to have them over to my house. It wasn’t until the summer before my sophomore year of high school that I had a black friend over to my house, which horrified my mother at the time.
Lest you think my parents were only against black people, let me reassure you that isn’t true. My best friend’s oldest sister fell in love with and married a Korean man that she met through missionary work. The people at church were just horrible. My own mother had plenty to say about it, let me tell you. Our next door neighbor was a white man who came home from Vietnam with a Vietnamese wife. They had three daughters–one who was older than me and twins who were close to my age. I was not allowed to play with the girls, so eventually they started throwing things at me over the fence, calling me fatty-fatty-two-by-four, or just sticking their tongues out at me. I don’t blame them. They didn’t understand all of these societal constructs any more than I did.
In my very bones, I felt a pain whenever those awful, derogatory slurs were uttered in my presence. Still do. I have always felt a connection to all people, maybe with a few exceptions. I got away from my home environment at 16 and went back to Houston, a true melting pot. There, I felt I could distance myself from everything I saw in Georgia and everything my parents represented. I was not them.
I think it’s why I feel so deeply, have heightened emotions, and often take on the pain that does not rightly belong to me. I guess that’s how I, and many of my fellow white folk, feel about what’s going on with the entire George Floyd case. Does the anger belong to us? Well, in some ways, yes. We’re angry for you. We’re angry with you. We don’t know what it’s like to live in America and be black. But we are your allies.
If I’ve learned anything over the years since I came out as a lesbian, it is that protest is important, but your allies from other walks of life will provide you with access, legitimacy, fundraising, political influence, and hope! When our right to marry in Maryland went to a vote, I heard so many people in the community saying they were afraid to get their hopes up. It would never happen in their lifetimes. Some of these couples had been together for decades, but they weren’t even allowed to see their loved ones in the hospital because they were no relation. They lost homes and savings when their partner died without a will, or with a will that was overturned. They could not receive Social Security benefits from their spouse. Worse, they often had to lie about themselves at work, just to keep their job. Some pretended to be cousins sharing a home.
So when I tell you that I do know something about being made to feel less than, believe me. But my struggle is not the same, and I know it. I just want to tell you a little more, and then I will let you stop reading this long post.
The year that our fates went to a vote, we gathered and organized. We made posters and hung signs. We put out yard signs to urge people to vote For on Question 6. It didn’t feel like enough. We cast wider nets. We asked our straight allies if they would be willing to give us a favorite picture that showed their essence as a couple, along with the number of years they had been together. We were overwhelmed with their generous contributions!
I took the pictures and made a collage. You see, I had some of my gay friends send me their pictures, too. On a black poster board, I carefully mounted the pictures, mixing in the straight couples with the gay couples. The result was a wall of love interlaced with glitter and stars. The message on the board was “Love is All You Need”. We took the poster board and an easel to our town’s second annual Pride picnic. Along with our friends from church, we set up a table with information about the church and its outreach programs. At the entrance to our booth sat the easel with its beautiful message of love — all kinds of love. It sparked so many conversations that I lost my voice that evening.
Everyone in town loves our Pride events, but the first three were picnics rather than festivals or parades. As things grew, so did the size of our celebration. (We now have a HUGE party right in the middle of downtown Frederick.) Because these events are open to everyone, you naturally get the curious straight people who want to see what all the fuss is about. It’s those straight people who stopped and talked to us that year and were amazed by the longevity of the gay relationships we shared with them. They became allies. They are the ones whose numbers joined with ours. Enough to pass the new law.
So I urge you, my fellow Americans who are hurting in ways I can only fathom, to reach out to each other. Form bonds. Build bridges. Network! Organize. And learn about each other. You might be surprised how alike you are. That was a point we drove home with our simple poster. Love is all you need. We are all human beings, not colors or genders or sexualities or disabilities. There are no “others”. There is only us.
We want justice. We want peace. And we will change the world.