Tuesday, July 21, 2009

overcoming and overcome

Anyone who stays here long enough has to make peace with the South.

This was my thought after watching Prom Night in Mississippi last night. I wanted to be appalled at what I saw, but rather than being shocked by the racism and distrust, I was appalled at how familiar the scenes were. The poverty; the pretty, outspoken, abandoned white girls; the rebelliously judicious white boys; the talented and overlooked black students; the angry parents. And - saddest of all - the apathetic crowd, who were both dubious of their parents' racism and uninspired to live differently. It's all very familiar.

And it reminded me how, if you choose to stay in Alabama, at some point you have to make peace with it. The racism is now more covert; it shows up now in real estate sales, declining public education, socially segregated churches. Most of all, it shows up in jokes and comments, in homes losing their value when "the blacks" move in, in refusing to shop in certain W@l-m@rts because of their proximity to "black" neighborhoods. The laws have changed, but the distrust remains.

I watched that movie and asked God to show me my role in overcoming racism in my city. Sticking my head in the sand is most comfortable; by living in a more integrated neighborhood (albeit undervalued as a result) and shopping in the stores in my area, it is easy for me to forget about The Great White Flight that has sent most of Montgomery's white citizens east or north (to the suburbs). My life may not reflect the values of the city, but this is still where I live. How do I avoid apathy? How can my life be a part of what is healing and good in the South?

That's what's on my mind today.


Lane said...

I like this. Upon not so deep reflection, I think 90% of the passive racism you talk about in a place like Montgomery comes simply from fear predicated on misunderstandings, lack of knowledge, or lack of understanding of cultural differences.

I think there's a difference between feeling "unsafe" in a particular neighborhood and simply feeling "uncomfortable." There are certainly neighborhoods in Montgomery, or anywhere else where people, even residents, will feel unsafe at particular times. But there are also neighborhoods - I would imagine yours, or a few blocks away from yours, is an example - where people from the east side might simply feel uncomfortable.

I'd like to think that such passive racism is some kind of lesser sin, only because it can be overcome with education and experience, though that may just be wishful thinking. And because, honestly, its something I find myself unconsciously participating in. When we drove through the Bronx, New York a few weeks back...I felt UNcomfortable, though I probably had no reason to.

It's something all of us from the paler nation could beg forgiveness for more often than we'd like.

Lane said...

Oh, and I twittered this, but...


When one of the most prominent African Americans in the country gets arrested IN HIS OWN HOME it drives the point that it's a human problem, not just a Southern one.

leslie said...

nothing against you, cause I'm certainly not saying anything bad, but in my experience over the past 16 years living here I've seen just as much racism towards white people as I've seen against blacks. I'm tired of the world seeing it as only whites against blacks. It's different cultures / ethnicities that are having problems with each other as well.

but very thought provoking, just the same.

Stephanie said...

Lane, I think discomfort/fear that comes from being somewhere unfamiliar is one issue; willful ignorance is another.

And Leslie, I agree that there is distrust on both sides. But as long as there's an us versus them mentality, there's never any opportunity for that to lessen.

Laura M. said...

I really like this post. It makes me think of a passage from the book "American Wife" by Curtis Sittenfeld . Main character is describing a weekend in her inlaw's New England coast vacation spot... they are supposed to be roughing it and Alice says SOMETHING like, "We had one bathroom in our home growing up and a toilet that didn't work at times but it never occurred to me that this was something to be proud of..."

The whole book really is about where she comes from and how she marries into this new culture of eliteness... and the doing good of upper class just for bettering the resume's sake... but a lot like the "burying your head in the sand" kind of thing you are talking about. Anyway, read the book.

I could on for days about this topic you are talking about. Being from Montgomery I know it and I live it. I feel like I am "doing my part" (that sound awful) by joyfully serving the kids I do and never desiring a transfer. Also, I have really close black friends that in my home I have discussed these same issues with. I am really really thankful for these growing friendships and am excited to see how God will answer yours and my prayers about "what can I do Lord?"

leslie said...

hey... here's another good post I thought you'd like to read...


Jamie said...

I don't know...I just don't know... but as a "wise friend once told me," God birthed me into this situation for a reason. If he wanted me to be elsewhere, I would be elsewhere...

Madame Rubies said...

I really want to see this movie.

My uncle asked me, last week, "Oh, Tupelo. You have a lot of blacks there?" I made him repeat himself 3 times while I stared, stunned. Finally, I answered with, "We have a lot of people." I wanted to just cry.

Brian and Ella said...

I am right there with you, stephanie!

papilio588 said...

I love the question: "How do I avoid apathy?" An important, and HARD, question when facing issues of racism, poverty, immigration, the list goes on. Being aware is the first step. And that first step is powerless without action to follow. Yet, that action can be harmful if it is done without knowledge and awareness (and love and grace and....). I love Lane's realization that a good percentage of what people perceive as feeling "unsafe" is really feeling "uncomfortable." I think that is a great check point.

Kendra said...

Wow. Interesting. When I finished reading your post, I gave thanks to God for the city we live in.
Portland is SO diverse.
Yes, I know racism still lives here, but it is NOT tolerated.
Dave and I live in an area we lovingly refer to as "the ghetto" (and can be found singing to ourselves "in the ghetto" regularly, but I digress...=) ).
I was amazed when we moved here from Salem and went to the local grocery store at how many different languages I heard. At LEAST 4. It's incredible.
My husbands degree is in teaching English as a Second Language, and the classes he is teaching in grad school are packed with students from all over the world.

I know this sounds naive, but I honestly can not imagine the scenes you describe! If I were to watch that, I probably would have written it off to being based on the past.
It was very eye opening to me, and it makes me realize that as my husband and I look forward to adoption in our future - most likely international as Adrienne's losses have terrified me to domestic- we will have to think about these things as we plan out where we would live.

Thanks for the eye-opening today.