Something in my mom clicked at an early age, and she managed to break that curse of racism, raising me and my siblings to not only value, but to love, all people. We knew from a young age that Black Lives Matter and my mom steered our course in our predominately white community so that we would befriend people my grandparents hate just because of the color of their skin.
For many years, our family lived side by side, still gathering, tensely making it through times together, having fundamentally opposite worldviews.
To them, anyone other, non-white, non-southern, non-conservative, was an enemy to be feared and to wage war against. To us, everyone was interesting and unique and created by the God we loved. We had biases, of course, like anyone else, but my mom pushed us to challenge those biases. To be honest, if anything, I now struggle with a fear of older white people, or at least an assumption of their beliefs, that stems from my experiences with my grandparents.
But we tried to be different from them. To somehow balance out the hate they sent into the universe with an equal if not overwhelming sense of love. And they hated us for it. They called us judgmental. They were offended at even the mention of prejudice or racism, and continually tried to “educate” us to the differences between the races.
I remember the first time I spoke up at a dinner table against something terrible one of them said, and I remember seeing the hatred in their eyes as they leaned across the table and berated me for my “naïve liberal beliefs and my n-loving ways.” My 6 year-old sister sat at the table with us, carefully watching. I looked at my mom and we quietly got up and left, dinner unfinished. After I spoke up, my grandparents switched to code words, with only the occasional slip of overt racism. But I quickly learned the true meaning of words like “thug” and “lowlife,” and the heart behind the “take back our country” narrative. It was the same worldview, only thinly and angrily veiled. I knew, because they told me, that they resented the fact that they couldn’t “speak their minds” in our presence for fear of offense or judgment.
The last time I went to my grandparent’s house I took my very two young daughters. As we pulled up to the house, my oldest said, “Mommy, pretty flag!” I looked and hanging over my grandparent’s house was a ridiculously large confederate flag. A not-so-subtle message to us that their belief ruled over that house as it had ruled over their hearts and minds for as long as I could remember. I looked at my mom and said, “I’ll never come here again.” We managed our way through a tense visit, with so much of our division unspoken, and left as soon as we could. And for the last six years, I haven’t been back.
My girls are older now and don’t even know I have an extended family. I have moments where I feel guilt about disassociating us so completely, especially during sermons about respecting your elders and being a light in darkness, but I knew that I couldn’t allow my family to spread that poison to my own children. I have learned to screen calls and emails for times when I am feeling strong because the attacks against me, my mom, and my beliefs have been fierce.
What I want you to know is that you can break out of a family that represents terrible things, but it is costly and difficult. You will be blamed, shunned, and treated terribly. You will feel alone, but I think it is worthy work. For now, I try to be an ally to the black community in my small quiet way. I still seek out friendships with people different from me, and try to listen to black voices especially during times of significant news events. I often feel guilt that I don’t do more to offset the generations of hatred that spoil my family tree, but I pray for more opportunities to sow peace and love to all people. And I have to believe that my small efforts will reap rewards in the love and acceptance of my children’s hearts and the genuine friendships we develop with people whose lives truly do matter.