I try to picture it. A young girl steps off the sidewalk because a white woman is approaching. A man has to go to the backdoor of a business to get assistance. An older woman has to wait until she gets home to go to the bathroom because there is no “colored” restroom in town. I try to see these scenes, but I admit it’s very hard. For me, they are quite literally otherworldly because Jim Crow – at least the actual legal kind – was gone by the time I was born in 1974.
It’s hard for me to understand segregation fully.
Yet, many, many people I know lived that life every day, my father included. Everyone I know over about 58 years old can remember segregation if they grew up in the South. Still, we act as it is as ancient and distant in history as the Mongul empire.
Genghis Khan might as easily have walked the streets of rural Virginia for as much as we act like the legacy of Jim Crow lives with us – and in us – today.
When I visit my grandmother in eastern North Carolina, she gets nervous when I go downtown because I might be in Five Points, the section of her city that is predominately black.
My grandfather in eastern Pennsylvania points out that the woman down the street is married to a black man “and she’s white,” as if somehow this tells me something about their character. His comments are often followed with, “but they keep their house so nice.”
At a restaurant here in central Virginia, when we discuss the challenges of involving people from all aspects of our community in our local Relay For Life, the people I am talking to begin whispering as they mention black people, using words like “them” and “they.”
In Alabama, a historian tells me, “That’s a black cemetery. You wouldn’t be interested in that.”
We act like segregation, prejudice, racism is gone.
Then, yet another state takes a referendum on the legality of gay marriage. Yet another state makes it illegal for gay people to marry.
We can’t even admit our wounds and scars about race; how will we ever begin to see how we wound and scar one another about sexual orientation?
I am sad today. So so sad.