Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Eyes on the Prize...Or how being a parent screws with your ability to be a badass

So I'm watching the re-broadcast of the Eyes on the Prize series (PBS is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the original broadcast). I caught the middle of the second episode, which was all about school desegregation after the Brown decision. Two things struck me:

1. Hardly a day goes by when I don't encounter some version of the "leave the past in the past" sentiment with relation to people of color and racism. Upset that people at school think your brown kid is lazy and stupid and violent? That's not racism. Racism is in the past. You must be mistaken. Some elected official suggests spaying women whose brown kids get into trouble? That's not racism. Racism was a long time ago. Let's not overreact. But here's the problem. I was watching people who participated in the riots at Ole Miss and in Arkansas talk about that day. I was looking at the students who integrated those schools talk about their experiences. It isn't in the past. These people are still alive. Those experiences are clearly still present for them. It's hard to look into that crowd of screaming white faces, a crowd gathered to defend segregation and southern "heritage" with violence if necessary, and not believe that some vestige of those feelings exist today. Or it could be that living in Charleston has colored (excuse the pun) my view of the whole matter.

2. The episode also featured the integration of New Orleans public schools. Norman Rockwell immortalized that historical moment in this painting:

Four black girls entered first grade at four different all-white schools. As I watched the footage of one little girl, her hair done up beautifully, her white socks folded neatly, her cute little coat (clearly her mother had spent a great deal of time getting her ready that morning), I just burst into tears. My own daughter is six, a first grader. And I just can't imagine sending her through a crowd of angry, irrational, racist white adults into a school where she would be harassed daily, endlessly by teachers and students. I use to think I'd be on the front lines of the movement, fighting for what's right, risking life and limb to make the world a better place. Maybe I still would. I don't know. I do know this though: I couldn't give my kid over to the movement. I wouldn't.

Strangely, this makes me all sympathetic with Condoleeza Rice's father, who kept his family completely out of the civil rights movement and was critical of those who used children in protests. But that's a post for another day.


Alison said...

Whoa. This is very cool.

I don't have a meaningful comment--I'm just logging in to say that you're setting the bar awfully high for your blog with a thoughtful, coherent post like this.

Maybe for the next one you can have some random rantings about banjos, or clothing, or what you did over the weekend.

John said...

It's amazing the thinking that oppression existed only during slavery. The custom of white supremacy, segregation, and the terrorist activity supporting these things were around when my parents were young.