Money. Politics. Religion.
Granny said one should never discuss these three topics in polite company. The key word here? “Polite.” That’s why even though I am a writer, a blogger, I try to avoid these topics. Manners, y’all. Manners.
But sometimes you have to wade into the muck. Sometimes you have to speak your piece. Granny, forgive me.
I was recently talking to a friend of mine, a black friend. She told me how she and her mother had traveled from Birmingham to a small central-Alabama town to go to a particular shop. She mentioned that they had been scared to make the drive. Scared. Not because they worried about having a wreck, or a flat tire, or running out of gas. Scared because they were two black women driving through a rural, white county.
I didn’t know what to say. I’ve never experienced that sort of fear. It’s never even crossed my mind. As a woman, I’ve certainly been cautious about where I went and when I went there, but I’ve never been scared because I was white. I’ve also never been scared because I was straight. I’ve never had anyone make disparaging comments about Husband and me, or our family, or our lifestyle. At least not to my face.
But here’s something that does scare me: Intolerance. And ignorance. Both of which breed hate. Both of which make people scared.
The recent tragedy in Charleston where nine black people were gunned down in their church by a white boy in addition to the Supreme Court’s decision that gay couples are entitled to marry has ignited tremendous, contentious, and often ugly debate. Should the Confederate flag come down? Should it stay up? Should judges follow the Supreme Court’s ruling? Should they issue any marriage licenses?
And throughout this debate the South has gotten a bad rap — rightfully so — because we are shackled by our collective ignorance and intolerance. We are blinded by years of dark history we can’t seem to overcome. We are deafened by the pounding of Bibles. And despite the fact that I am Alabama born and bred, I’ll be the first to admit that Southerners are many bad things, including racist.
So is everyone.
As long as there are people dragging their knuckles across the face of the earth, there will be someone who doesn’t like somebody else because of the color of their skin. Black. White. Mexican. Asian. Mixed. There will also always be homophobes. And radical Christians. And anti-Semites. And pro-lifers. And pro-choicers. And chauvinists. And feminists. And terrorists of all stripes. And fat shamers. And victim blamers. And people who just flat don’t like you for no apparent reason.
Is it right? Well, no.
Is it wrong? Well, yes.
But it’s human nature. Everyone has at one time or another — no matter how much you try not to, no matter how much you want to deny it, no matter how much you wish you could say you didn’t — had a hateful thought. I’ve had plenty of thoughts I wish I hadn’t. Thoughts that caught me by surprise. Thoughts that I was ashamed of. You have too. And if you say you haven’t, you’re either a bald-faced liar or too blinded by your prejudice to recognize the hate in your heart.
So what is to be done? What is to be done in the last state to legalize interracial marriage (not quite 15 years ago)? What is to be done in a state that insists on winding up on the wrong side of history?
Better. That’s really all we can do. That’s really what we have to do. Better. Every day.
We have to listen better. Speak better. Try to understand better. Mind our own beeswax, cornbread, and shoe tacks better. Learn better. Love better. Live better.
Maybe I’m too naive, too innocent, too Pollyanna. Maybe we can’t do better. But I think we can. If we look back to Granny’s advice, we’ll find a key – not to avoid these hard, painful, important topics, but to approach them as members of a “polite” society. Listen to the arguments. Research the history. Speak clearly and calmly. Educate yourselves. Be civil. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes, just for a minute.
Imagine that you are black or gay. Imagine that your family/lifestyle/job/home/church is threatened. Imagine that you are scared.
Then do better.