Sit there and count the raindrops
Falling on you, it’s time you knew
All you can ever count on are the raindrops
That fall on little girl blue
– Nina Simone
photo: Flickr CC/ Cliff1066
Going there goes both ways and I have a story to tell you…about racism and hate. How it catapults inside itself, deftly back-tracking yet consuming everything in its path. Hate ricochets. We bring its sweeping evil encounters with us…it makes contact with everything we do, even things we love. We bring hate…home.
Home. My father ruled ours. His presence, felt all the more powerful in his absence. I loved him as a child and grew to respect him as an adult, but he taught me things I shouldn’t have learned. Things he’d learned from trusted leaders, father figures, men crafting their way through a relationship with the Almighty…hiding behind one man’s version of Islam. They didn’t understand. Men who felt the only response to a black and white world was to prepare for battle. He was…still green. I don’t blame him. But as a parent, he made the mistake of teaching hate. Hate he poured out on the children he sired as patriarch of 3 families.
His truth? The Muslim faith empowered him. He was impressionable. A young man looking for acceptance. Clawing desperately after manhood in a world that still called black men “boy”, I imagine his clenched fists…holding tightly to any speck of dignity a black man living in the United States could find. No matter its shortcomings, being part of this collective must have felt good. It must have felt good to feel…like a man.
I grew up in the late 60’s. A restless time in a volatile world….peace was not an easy or the only answer. The Muslim faith, helped him claim his identity…walk proudly toward freedom. Principles learned there sparked his entrepreneurial spirit. Tapped into his inner king. It demanded he rise up and expected allegiance. The Muslim faith, as he saw it, saved him.
I don’t think it was odd when the message was skewed. We all love a good cops and robbers story. The theme of good vs. evil runs through the greatest story ever told. It wasn’t new and when siphoned or spoon fed to a group of boys desperate for manhood – they ate it up.
His faith emboldened him. Through discipline and dictatorial leadership he learned pacifism was weak. Peace would be purchased with blood or fear. Draw the line. Prepare for battle, get and use your gun. Because you have to be ready…you have an enemy.
Every story is written from the vantage point of the person telling it. And Elijah Mohammed and his followers were cast as savior, the good guys. While white people, all white people were cast as the evil nemesis. The antagonist to their powerful protagonist.
I shouldn’t have learned what he taught but it was metered out on so many occasions, so many regular occasions.
My father owned and operated a stuffed toy manufacturing company. Skee ball machines, cotton candy, dust between our toes…a handful of times, when it was our turn (remember, he had 3 families), we went with him to the fairgrounds. But when it wasn’t, he’d return from the road and spend a few days with us. We’d climb on the bed after counting coins or gather around him as he sat in the big chair of our living room. We’d listen to him to tell stories about his life…before us, his life as a young man in NYC.
Sometimes those stories would veer off into historical jaunts about “the world” and our place in it. I can’t remember details of these accounts. They involved things like “how Europe got its name” and “why a woman’s hair is her crown” but they’d always include this phrase “the white man is the devil”.
Stories about the Ku Klux Klan and having lived the real life hate of a world divided, my father honestly believed he did the right thing by his children. He had no time for a white Jesus and rejected teachings from the Bible. Labeled food for dummies, its message was for weak minded people – a tool for the massive brainwashing that ruled our country.
We were an African-American family living in an African-American neighborhood in the early 70’s. There were no white people in my world. My teachers wore dashikis and Afros. With the exception of a few teachers at the school I attended and the ballerinas in the library books I poured over in my room late at night, I didn’t know any white people. But my father had warned, schooled me so to speak….so I knew …”the white man was the devil.”
He taught us this under the guise of self-empowerment. After all, if this is a story of good and evil – shouldn’t we know the enemy? And shouldn’t parents protect their children by preparing them for the world they live in? And I think he meant well. But hate is never good. Hate can never be love. And we grew up thinking it was okay because daddy said so.
I read this recently, and it prompted the telling of this portion of my story. Because for all the hate bred from groups like the Ku Klux Klan there’s always a backlash. A reciprocal response… a reaping for the sowing. Surely love in its purest form is the antidote for such a broad outbreak of hate. And many did respond in love. They vaccinated themselves and families against an epidemic of hate that nearly destroyed this country. But others did not. Hate bred only more hate. One act of evil spawned others.
Hate travels person to person. Skin to skin. A revolution of hate continued to infect because parents foolishly exposed their children. Hate knows its path and rides confidently along its course. Venomous words and glances leapt over what should have been a wall protecting our children. We, parents, should be the special protective sensors for our children. We should be the wall.
Hate is a pretty powerful word…one I don’t us often. Looking back I don’t think I really felt hate but I did learn insecurity….distrust, fear. For such a young girl I walked around with a pretty huge chip on my shoulder. It was a burden I shouldn’t have had to bear.
I didn’t know what to do with this information…these feelings…until I met Jenny Bernucca. Attending a specialized high school took me out of my ‘hood and sparked friendships with people that didn’t look like me. Jenny was a fireball of red hair and freckles that loved ballet. She had clammy cold hands, bitten-short nails and a wicked sharp sense of humor. It was love at first sight.
Getting to know Jenny brought genuine perspective to my life. With Jenny, my father’s generalizations didn’t pan out. As my world broadened I had more encounters. The vast majority refuted my father’s hate-filled claims. Others sadly seemed to validate it. I came to the conclusion that people should be judged by their actions…the content, as Dr. King would say, of their character. I was living the truth of our multi-faceted, multi-colored world. It wasn’t just black and white.
Jenny was a real live white girl just like the ones in the books I read. And she wasn’t the devil. And being friends with her opened my world and I know God was in the middle of our meeting. Knowing Jenny helped me process my father’s words…separate fact from family fiction. A teenager then, I was ripe for the questioning of my father. My eyes opened to see him see him then, not only as my saintly superior dad…but as a man…fallible. Human.
I know he didn’t mean for it to happen. But hate broke my little girl heart. Love…God’s love, set it free.
Dear Jesus, let this circle…. this cycle…be forever broken.
You should know….
My father was an entrepreneur …not loyal but brutally honest. He lived life on his terms and because of it gained my respect, if not devotion. He passed away 8 years ago. He was 81. Time had mellowed him and he did not die the man I write about here. Praise God for that.
And for anonymous…
His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire . . . Revelation 1:14 KJV
My father used the same scripture describing His hair to prove he was black. Of color. Like us. Thought that was funny.
Note from Deidra: The idea for “Going There” came about as a result of the 31 Days In My Brown Skin series I wrote in October, 2012. (You can read those posts here.) The series generated a lot of valuable dialogue, and when the thirty-one days were over, it felt as if the conversation wasn’t done. Now, I invite you to share your story as it relates to issues of race, ethnicity, and culture in your every day life.
The goal of “Going There” is to encourage ongoing dialogue about topics of race, ethnicity, and culture in a way that is thoughtful and that shows respect, with the goal of advancing our understanding of the beautiful diversity in the humanity that surrounds us. Interested in sharing your story? Start here.