Monday, January 15, 2007

King Holiday

My mother was born in Stuttgart, Arkansas to my A.M.E preacher grandfather and my schoolteacher grandmother. As a preacher they moved frequently but eventually my grandmother, tired of moving, bought a house in Memphis, Tennessee which became home base as my grandfather traveled to different churches throughout the 13th A.M.E. district.

My mother was not only in Memphis when Doctor King was shot but they lived near the Lorraine Hotel where the shooting happened. In my grandmother's house, there were unpatched bullet holes there as constant reminder of how my family lay on the floor in the rear of their home during the riots that ensued after Doctor King was killed.

I was every day of 20 before my mother relayed this to me. Why it never dawned on me before then that my mother had been at ground zero for this horrifying series of events I can only chalk up to being naive and unwilling to put two and two together.

For when I had gone south to visit my grandmother in the summer, she had driven me past the Lorraine hotel and explained that this was where Dr. King was killed. Even then, at age 7, I understood what this meant, but even my grandmother didn't tell me about the riots and the fact that my own family had been in jeopardy.

I am not a full generation removed from Jim Crow. Dr. King was killed in 1968. I was born in 1971, only three years later and Ye Old Mate was born the year before. Our parents; and I must reiterate, our parents, not only our grandparents were subject to the humiliations of segregation and Jim Crow; Whites Only signs, sitting in the back of the bus, rear entrances or no entrance at all.

And for all those who think that this only happened in the South, my mother moved to Cincinnati in 1970 and she will tell you that things in Cincinnati were not much better.

It is now 2006. Many white people are willing to denounce racism as a thing of the past. There are black faces on television an in movies and there's probably at least one Shaquan or Sheniqua where you work. You may even have black neighbors. Oprah Winfrey, the patron saint of white women everywhere, has done more to convince people that they aren't bigots than any other living person on the planet.

Is racism over?

There are neighborhoods we still won't go to unless we absolutely have to and then it is with the resignation that it's not if we will be pulled over but when. There are jobs where I have been ostracized, promotions my mother never received, and jobs Ye Old Matey was never considered for because of race.

Black people and "black language" continue to be the butt of many jokes on television, in movies an even on the radio.

Black men continue to be first and foremost victims of police brutality and are still considered too "dangerous" to be brought in alive. Whites are talked down off the ledge. Blacks are still targets for the first eligible kill shot.

Oh, I know, you'll come with a dozen different reasons why we get pulled over or how maybe we just weren't "the right fit" for whatever job. Or why that black man was way scarier than the white guy who did the same thing?

One person, possibly, you might be able to explain. Three people? Possibly. Now multiply this experience by every black family in America.

Explain it to my mother.


  1. It would be so nice to think of racism as something of the past, but I still see it. I don't think it will disappear in our generation, but I have high hopes for the next one.

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