This past week I was talking to a friend of mine, definitely one of the only three I have ever felt comfortable since I moved to Memphis, and he said something to me that made me question Southern Black mentality towards race, as well as White, and the intention behind both. I admitted my weariness about working with a large group of Whites in a setting where I would be the minority, simply because I have what many people call trust issues. Out of nowhere, the Confederate flag was mentioned- as one of our predominantly White fraternities on this campus owns one in their house- and I admitted that I believed everyone needed to let go of the Old South. “Some people just need to accept that the South lost that war…”, I said. Much to my dismay, he admitted that growing up in a rural town in Tennessee he wore Confederate flags all throughout high school because it was just something that country people did. He said, “I don’t not like Black people. I was just raised country and that’s what we do.” For this to be someone that I’ve known to hang with nothing but Blacks, never portray a Black persona, and represent Dyersburg every step he takes, I knew that his statement was sincere.
Here in the South, we often identify with our past life whether it affects our thought process or our habits. While a White person in the South may not directly identify with racism or view society from a socially superior standpoint, it is believed that every White person “feels some type of way”. On the other hand, it is the common belief that Blacks in the South have not strayed far from their depictions as watermelon-eating, barefoot people, and those who have high societal rankings just absolutely have to be Uncle Toms.The rest of us are believed to actually be racists that only call for activism when someone mistreats our own “kind”.
With this conversation, I had to think… Why do we assume all White people are racist? How do we know that their ancestors owned slaves? Factually, it is historically correct that several Whites here in the South actually did not own slaves and were actually prejudiced against as well if they were poor. Personally, I have to own up to being cautious around any White person that looks at me sideways. That is something that will most likely not change overnight. However, it makes me wonder what we are doing to recreate segregation and if it is a learned behavior or out of fear. No, my mother did not teach me to side step for anyone on the street (unless they’re elderly), but I will reroute my steps if I see a Confederate flag on a man’s belt. What she did teach me is to question everything and be sure of everything I believe, so am I switching sidewalks to save him from what I may say if he sneers? Even moreso, who said he would sneer? That could have been his grandfather’s belt or a gift for shooting a deer.
Just food for thought. Are we judging books by their covers or automatically painting them with the colors we find in documentaries like “10 Dollars an Hour”?