MUSINGS OF A MIDDLE AGED WHITE WOMAN

My heart is breaking for all of the hatred and bigotry on display in Charlottesville. But I have no time or extra energy to focus on my own “feelings.” I am a safe white woman and there were quite a few women who look a lot like me taking part in those so-called “alt-right” rallies. So as I see it, my “feelings” are pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

They began on Friday night by upgrading to tiki torches, which is much worse in my eyes because that means they had more fuel for the fires they brandished as an extension of their clenched fists, as well as the fires in their bellies to extinguish all who do not look like or think like “them.” And it strikes me as I write the word “them” while at the same time noticing that so many of these people look like they could be my neighbors… and even my family. Hell, for all I know they ARE my neighbors and unknown extended family.

And it strikes me that many of “them” look a lot like ME.

So it seems to me that the “them” I’m referring to is more like “us” unless we each do something, at least make a beginning… at least some effort put forth at educating ourselves as to the very real threat of the white supremacist, neo-Nazi, KKK, and many other similar group’s actions and ideology actually represent to our African American and Jewish neighbors, along with our fellow citizens who are people of color. I would also add the serious and urgent threat they also represent to the many immigrants now being scapegoated and under siege.

How many of us white folks can say that our parents and grandparents can tell us the oral histories of how they and their forefathers and foremothers were terrorized as they watched an angry mob of hooded local authority figures in the flickering light of their kerosined tree branch torches along with the blaze of a cross burning in their own front yard? And even worse, how many of us even know the meaning of the phrase “strange fruit?” That it refers to the tortured dead bodies of Black men – and women – hanging dead from trees with ropes around their necks after being lynched as white spectators looked on and cheered and celebrated the terror and agony of those who were being mutilated and murdered before their very eyes? It was much more than murder, it was a message. And it was nothing short of the same terrorism and “extremism” of today… the messages of which differ in name only and, for some but not all, in religion.

And it worked… for a while. For a very long while… too long a while. It worked until people of all colors and creeds finally came together in the common cause of human rights and dignity. It wasn’t quick and it wasn’t easy and many, like the young woman this weekend, died in the pursuit of equality for all. But the events of this weekend reveal what many of us know for sure and what some others have long suspected but did not want to entertain. That there is no such thing as a “post racial America” so we can’t pretend to be IN one.

I can’t even begin to imagine what seeing those torches and hearing those chants and slogans this weekend must have evoked for those who actually lived it… as well as those who survived, and those who’s ancestors’ eye witness accounts are a part of their lived experience. My guess is that it would be nothing short of a form of generational PTSD and a psychic wound that would be torn open and left raw from the reminders. But as a while female, I can only guess.

But here’s where the truth of “our” history… of MY history comes in. I’ve done some digging into my ancestry. I have found grandfathers and uncles and cousins of various numbers removed who fought in the Civil War. I have found relatives who fought for the Union as well as the Confederacy. In one case, as was not uncommon, I also found two brothers who chose the opposite side and fought against one another.

But even more significantly, what I also found – and was not surprised by – were slave holders in my family tree. I have read the wills of great grandfathers who included human beings – named individuals – being left to their surviving wives and/or their children. Here is one example, from my own sixth great grandfather, Robert Booth, who lists the names of sixteen human beings – listing them only by their first names – interspersed with land, cash, farm implements, furnishings… as simply an object to be handed down to his heirs:

“…I give and bequeath to my son Beverly Booth two Negroes
named Jacob & Judy to him his heirs and assigns forever…. I also give to my son Moses Booth six Negroes / to wit / Nan. Dinah. Fanny. Dick. Ned. and Joseph to him his heirs and assigns forever. I give and bequeath to my daughter Elizabeth Booth three Negroes / to wit / Patience Hannah and Crese to her, her heirs and assigns forever. I also give to my daughter Elizabeth twenty pounds. I give and bequeath to my grandson Robert Booth one Negro boy named Jerry to him his heirs and assigns forever. I give and bequeath to my daughter Lucy Sykes two negro’s / to wit / Mourning & Lettice to her, her heirs and assigns forever. I give and bequeath to my granddaughter Maze Booth one negro girl named Ede to her her heirs and assigns forever. I give and bequeath to my grandson David Booth one negro girl named Cherry to him his heirs & assigns forever.”
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Pretty chilling stuff.

I was and still am sickened when I read this and I’m guessing it’s most probable that the “Negro boys (and) girls” being “bequeathed… to (his/her) heirs and assigns forever” were the very children of the adult slaves (unable to legally marry but bound to one another) who were scattered among his own privileged children. It’s obvious that this man of means – my own ancestor – scattered these enslaved human beings with no regard for their familial connections….

But as even more of this legal yet incomprehensible document sinks in, I wonder if one or more of these enslaved people represented nothing more than easy money to one or more of his children. Any one of these inheritors could easily have put these people up for sale, never to see their Loved ones… and quite likely the children they gave birth to… ever again. And even if they weren’t sold off, there is still every possibility that they were never reunited unless it was for the benefit of their captors.

And as I read this, it also doesn’t escape me that the ancestors of these enslaved people listed in my sixth great grandfather’s will may never be able to be discovered by current generations. The human beings named here are their own sixth and fifth great grandparents but they are listed as possessions instead of people that my own grandfather “bequeathed.”

So if it sickens ME to read this, I can’t even conceive of the emotions it must invoke to the ancestors of the above Jacob, Judy and the other people listed here…. along with all of the other Jacobs and Judys from all of the other slaveholders in Virginia, the land of my ancestors. Slavery is MY legacy… and I am on the wrong side of it. And I am on the wrong side of history if I never bother to learn about and discover ways to address this ugliness that benefits me to this day… simply by virtue of having been born a white person in the U.S. of A.

While it is true that the majority of my ancestors were coal miners and farmers of much lesser means who never actually held slaves, I can still safely assume that it was due to a lack of funds and not a moral imperative that they did not purchase human beings that they would ultimately bequeath to their children. And even if they didn’t have the means to purchase human beings, their lives, their livelihoods, and the vast majority of their institutions – literally, as in their government and university buildings; and specifically, as in an ingrained system of supremacy – gave them an unquantifiable advantage that continues to this day.

So no, I don’t belong to nor do I subscribe to the ideologies of this nebulous yet dangerous cult mentality that is the “alt right.” But unless I’m part of the solution I am part of the problem. And yes, I’m shocked and horrified and saddened and ashamed of the violence and the death… including the two police officers who lost their lives as a direct result of the permit that was granted to – but not followed by – these groups to gather around a statue for beliefs that had nothing to do with that statue… or any statue.

All of “those” people who look like me… people who could easily be my neighbors or my distant cousins… brought their guns and their vengeance to Charlottesville for reasons only they can justify but I and any other decent human being will never understand. And don’t kid yourself, this same violence could very easily and is quite possibly in the planning stages of coming to a town near you, just like Seattle, even if you don’t have a statue for them to use as an excuse to gather and spew their hatred and scatter more seeds for their demented “cause.”

But as disgusted and frightened as I am, in reality I could simply dismiss “those radicals” and my life could go on ignorantly and blissfully unchanged…

because I am not the target of their hatred.

I can go about my day to day life and never know if this neighbor or that distant cousin buys into this insanity. I have to endure neither the implicit nor the explicit words or deeds that result from the mentality of “those” people who look like me.

And I’m left to wonder, if I WERE one of the targets of their hatred, how would I know if I could trust ANY person who looks like “them…” who looks like ME? If the world seems to have gone crazy to me as a middle aged white woman, what must it feel like to have watched this unfold as a middle aged Black woman… or a young Black man… or the mother of a young Black man… after what I’ve seen in Charlottesville and beyond?

So yeah, I’m like, FREAKED OUT about all of the violence and hatred of this past weekend.

But I’m not the target of it.

So my own “feelings” just seem pretty pathetic in the aftermath… and in grand scheme of things to come. There is too much work to do.

MLMB…

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