Growing Up Black
November 30, 2020
By Dianne Davis
Writing and reflecting on traumatic events is emotionally draining. People of color often are asked to relive the pain of racism over and over again. I wish we would ask the Anglo community to reflect and write about when they intentionally used their privilege or a time they knew they were racist. Racism is not ouR issue to solve and we should not always expect people of color to bear the burden of fixing racism.
I submit my story. Growing up, I was always aware of racism. Although I was young and didn’t have the language to articulate, I had a close-up view of what it looked like in a small town. Living in a small rural area established by free Blacks, we were very aware of invisible racial boundary lines drawn between the neighboring all-white community. They were obvious! No, there were no signs that distinguish the boundaries, but we knew. Those of us who were of color knew how far to venture into the white neighborhood. We were allowed to enter their neighborhood for work in the whites’ homes (day or housework). We were allowed to go to the bank and shop at the local store. We were allowed to go to the local mechanic. However, we were not allowed to live or linger after dark. We could go to the firemen’s annual carnival to work in the kitchen cooking oysters, hamburgers and hot dogs but we could not attend the festival as a family outing for the fun rides and cotton candy. Ironically, we earned and spent our money in their town but purchasing a home was out of the question. So, I always knew the distinct difference between the races, even as a small child.
Someone found my father’s car on the bridge in that little white town. Now, the report said he committed suicide by jumping off the bridge. It took several weeks to recover his body. So, as a little girl, I certainly didn’t know how to question the authorities. Moreover, something in my entire being felt it was odd. I didn’t know how to ask the who, what and when questions. A Black man’s car and body found in an all-white town! A blatantly racist town! Strange. So, I have never wholly resolved his demise in mind and spirit. I cannot determine that he took his own life, given that we lived in an era that it was more likely that someone pushed him and knowing what I see happening to Black men today. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. To this day, when I cross over that bridge, there is a tug in my heart. His death left me suspicious of most Anglo people. My Christian journey has taught me that not all Anglo people are racist, so I learned to allow love to see God’s image in white brothers and sisters.
By the time I was ready to start first grade, I had witnessed racism and understood it to be a way of life. I started school in a segregated school, so my first teacher looked like me. However, after a year, we were thrown into another school in a different town in the name of desegregation. I didn’t see another teacher that looked like me until high school, and even then, there were only one or two. In my opinion, I didn’t receive the quality of education that my older siblings received. I never felt the warmth and care of a good teacher. Often when I hear my siblings speak of the good old days of school, it’s with such delight. Reminiscing about their teachers and the camaraderie with classmates is fantastic. For me, I felt like I was thrown into a foreign land, so my experience was different. I often was a project, and the teacher had to teach me because it was the law.
So, my entire life, I have seen racism up close. Change has to happen; when will it happen? I don’t know. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated in his sermon, The Drum Major Instinct, “When the church is true to its nature, it says, ‘Whosoever will, let him come.’ And it does propose to satisfy the perverted use of the drum major instinct. It’s the one place where everybody should be the same, standing before a common master and savior. And a recognition grows out of this that all men are brothers because they are children of a common father.”