Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Hiddenness of Our Wound

Okay, maybe it's not all McCain's fault:

“He’s neither-nor,” said Ricky Thompson, a pipe fitter who works at a factory north of Mobile, while standing in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart store just north of here. “He’s other. It’s in the Bible. Come as one. Don’t create other breeds.”

“I would think of him as I would of another of mixed race,” said Glenn Reynolds, 74, a retired textile worker in Martinsdale, Va., and a former supervisor at a Goodyear plant. “God taught the children of Israel not to intermarry. You should be proud of what you are, and not intermarry.”

“He’s going to tear up the rose bushes and plant a watermelon patch,” said James Halsey, chuckling, while standing in the Wal-Mart parking lot with fellow workers in the environmental cleanup business. “I just don’t think we’ll ever have a black president.”


“He doesn’t come from the African-American perspective — he’s not of that tradition,” said Kimi Oaks, a prominent community volunteer in the Mobile area, with apparent approval. Ms. Oaks, along with about 15 others, had gathered after Sunday services at Mobile’s leading Methodist church to discuss the presidential campaign. “He’s not a product of any ghetto,” Ms. Oaks added.

At the same time, however, she vigorously rejected the idea that race would be important in the election, a question met with general head-shaking from those assembled; Ms. Oaks said she was “terribly offended,” as a Southerner, at even being asked about this.
The quandary of the modern South in a nutshell: we have successfully excluded race from public discourse. We haven't begun to eliminate racism. What we have succeeded in doing is making racism unfashionable, and an offensive inference. But frankly, it was always that. In the South I grew up in "nigger" was an offensive term, and used as such. The only difference now is, people are more cautious about who they use the term around.

These sentiments are a distinct minority, just as it wasn't the entire town of Jasper, Texas, who murdered James Byrd, Jr. I've known some very decent people in East Texas; I still do. I've also known some very scary ones.

But America's hidden wound is only hidden because people insist on hiding from it. On the other hand, before you sink into despair, consider the generations espousing these sentiments, and what a minority they are today. Personal experience changes things, and in that there is always hope. Just consider the final words of the article:

“I’ve always been against the blacks,” said Mr. Rowell, who is in his 70s, recalling how he was arrested for throwing firecrackers in the black section of town. But now that he has three biracial grandchildren — “it was really rough on me” — he said he had “found out they were human beings, too.”

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