What next? | Dear Friends
As some of you know, I’m a survivor of childhood PTSD. My father’s behavior toward me was the most difficult part of my growing-up years. It cost time, money and effort to become the woman I am today.
Yet I still haven’t faced what it means to be a white woman right now. Specifically, this particular white woman whose childhood set the table for racial blindness. It’s ironic. Nearly every day of my life from age 7 ½ to 14 I rode through colored town, and witnessed the realities of colored life in the Deep South.
My father’s approach to Deep South manners amounted to ‘be polite, smile a lot, and just keep going.’ Don’t ask questions, don’t debate anything, and remember you’re the eldest daughter of the white preacher who speaks from time to time at the Colored Community House.
Still, I was inquisitive. I remember asking my father more than once why things were this way. I’d lived most of my early life on the West Coast. I don’t remember seeing black people in Seattle or in Southern California.
According to my father, it all came down to the way colored people ‘like’ to live. Or what they found ‘most comfortable.’ Or how much money they made, or how they spent it. That was their choice.
Every school day during my grade school years, my father or a neighbor drove us through colored town on our way to and from school in the city. Colored town was about a quarter of a mile from our house.
Yet my father never talked with us about why colored town was there in the first place, why most of the houses needed repair, or what this meant in the larger picture of the Deep South. Perhaps he’d never looked into it.
I’ve decided I can’t avoid looking into it. Not as an academic exercise, but to face what happened before, during and after Jim Crow years, and how I’m now part of the problem.
Thanks for reading. This is a busy month for everyone, so I appreciate your visits even more than usual!
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 December 2020
Photo of segregated city bus in the 1950s found at aapf.org
I have tried a number of times to find a black female classmate from elementary school (1956 -1962). Her name was Esther Williams and she was the brightess of all in our class. We lived in the beginning of an experimental planned integrated community in Bristol PA near Levittown. But it was not without the segregated villages like Rockdale, Windervillage, and Terrace 1 and Terrace 2. As I recall when we entered junior high it seems Esther just disappeared never to be seen in a class photo again. I often wonder if other classmates question to where she went. And then again when we are gone will people wonder to where we’ve gone after all we matter don’t we each and everyone. I think maybe the childhood PTSD causes us to seek out those answers perhaps more so than children who have never experienced the anger of a sometimes brutal alcoholic father. I guess the important thing is that we keep on trying to find the answers – all part of the journey of surrendering.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks for sharing your own experience. I do know the issues of childhood abuse follow us through life, even after we’ve made peace with whatever happened. I think of it as being rewired (punished into certain ways of behaving in order to survive). Life in those early planned communities must have been quite an experience. Esther Williams made quite an impact on you. I think it would be wonderful if you ever found out where she is now, or what happened to her. Thanks for sharing this memory, and your comments about childhood PTSD. It never goes away completely. I also think it can give us insight we wouldn’t otherwise have, especially (for me) in churches and pastors’ families. As for whether each of us matters, yes, we do. We’re never forgotten by God or by those who most love or appreciate us.
Dear Elouise, have you done any good or have you made a difference? You bet your life you have. Your blog posts have done more to open my eyes that the BLM movement, the writings of James Baldwin or the rantings of the politicians. My task is to turn my eyes away from America and focus on Australia. But it is easy to change an attitude – it’s hard to pay the price of changing the reality.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Oh, John. Thank you for this comment. It’s all a bit wearying (what’s going on right now). I’m grateful my posts and I found our way to you, and vice versa. As for our current political mess, Covid-19, and the rise of the BLM movement, it all echoes back to my childhood and younger adult years as a white child/woman. Your comment about the high price of changing reality is spot on. I would also suggest that changing our attitudes changes our reality. Especially the way we relate to and talk about others. That’s more than enough for me, since many family members, friends and neighbors see the world through very different eyes than mine. Who would have dreamed our senior years would come to this?
I don’t think we can hold ourselves personally responsible for the current state of any one community, whether that community is inner-city black, or Appalachian white, or anything in between.
Have we personally interacted with those different from us with Christ’s love? Whether that means a different skin color, a different financial bracket (whether richer or poorer), a different educational background, or, oh my goodness, a different opinion from us?
Love those whom God has placed in our life’s path – that’s challenge enough without burdening ourselves with taking personal responsibility for the faults of a nation.
The BLM movement is a reaction to injustice. Injustice abounds throughout the world, and it always has, and reaches far beyond the BLM movement. The BLM movement, as reported by our news media, is predominantly a human reaction to injustice, not a godly reaction, so it’s bound to fail. How will it fail? Likely there’ll be an exchange of political power for the acquiescence of BLM leaders.
We live in a fallen world, and this is usually how we settle these things.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Hi, Matt. Thanks for your comments.
I agree: Not one of us is personally responsible for what’s happening in any community. I would, however, make an exception for the communities in which we personally live, work and worship.
Still, this post isn’t about that. It’s about the way I was raised to see and not-see the world in a certain way. I’m no longer a child. I’ve had multiple opportunities to work with and for people of all colors and Christian outlooks. What I see today is an opportunity for me, one aging woman raised in the Deep South, to look back and scratch the surface of what was going on in front of my eyes, including how it shaped me as the adult woman I became.
Will that change the world? Probably not. But that’s not the point. It will, without a doubt, change me.
The Black Lives Matter movement, plus devastating losses during Covid, gives us an opportunity to look into a different mirror. Not just in order to know ourselves and examine our own behaviors, but also to acknowledge truth instead of trying to dress it up, bury it, or explain it away. That’s part of living in a fallen world, part of loving “those whom God has placed in our life’s path.” Just that would be more than enough for me as follower of Jesus.
Elouise, thank you for the thoughtful reply. Your statement about not changing the world, but changing yourself is so filled with wisdom – wisdom that is so desperately needed in 21st century America. Political victories have become an opportunity for the “winning” side to force cultural change at the expense of the “losing” side. Both political sides do it, our country jerks right and left, depending on the election cycle. Why? Because people want to force their ideals on others… Does building a wall to keep “them” out change people’s hearts? Does tearing down a wall to let “them” in change people’s hearts? This kind of effort, and many other efforts, is simply attempting to force our neighbors into submission based on the winning side’s will being done. Your example – having a heart-change deep at the center of your being is how we change. This kind of change can be a slow and frustrating process. 21st century Western culture is not fond of waiting, we prefer using a political baseball bat over our neighbor’s head. These human efforts only apply a thin layer of varnish to rotten wood, and likely delays true heart-change. All the best!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you, Matt. I’m grateful for your response. You describe our current challenge well. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to find, together, who “we” are? Even on a small scale.