Since Charlottesville, #2

As you may recall from my previous post, I’ve come out of the closet.

I have publicly come out as an angry old white lady. Our culture mocks old people: our hearing losses, our driving habits. A woman publicly expressing anger? It’s social suicide. Combine “angry,” “old,” and “lady.” What is more worthy of parody? Let me thrash my cane about and grumble about the younger generation. I’m supposed to be either the nurturing grandmother or a boomer who likes sailing and golfing and searches dating sites for a fun-loving mate.

Since events in Charlottesville, Virginia, the weekend of August 13 and 14, I’ve seen pictures of people wearing t-shirts with the slogan, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

Ever since Donald Trump appeared on the scene, I’ve been outraged. Outraged by his mocking primary opponents, by his obvious narcissism, by his lack of basic knowledge about the Constitution. I was especially outraged by the sexually abusive recording on the bus with Billy Bush.

Why weren’t others outraged? Either they weren’t paying attention, or they had no moral compass.

Yet after the election I decided to lay low. Not expose my anger. It would only widen the gulf between Trump supporters and those of us who opposed him. And, more important to me, it would sap my emotional energy.

Oh, the inconvenience of anger.

I want to write, and my age has added an urgency. I want to market my most recent book. I want to hike with my husband, visit my grandchildren. Most of all, I have dreaded the emotional drain of anger.

The violence in Charlottesville forced me to rethink disengagement. Who were the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists marching against? Individuals I care about: African-American friends in whose homes I have experienced warmth and hospitality; gay friends in whose homes I have experienced warmth and hospitality; Jewish friends in whose homes I have experienced warmth and hospitality; immigrants in whose homes I have experienced warmth and hospitality. I, in turn, have welcomed them into my home.

Those the protesters marched against are people of compassion and intellect, who add depth and richness of character to our society. They are teachers, pastors, business people, students, volunteers.

Anger an inconvenience for me? How ashamed I am.

 

Nancy Werking Poling is author of Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987).

Since Charlottesville

As a white girl growing up in the 1950’s South, I was socialized to suppress my anger. “Smile though your heart is aching,” Nat King Cole (a frequent target of racists) sang. “If you can’t say something positive, don’t say anything at all,” my mother taught.

When Trump was elected, I was devastated. I recognized the evil his new status as president had unleashed. Since then my heart has been aching. I am terrified. I am furious.

Not wanting to dump my anger and all the negatively I’ve been feeling on social media, I’ve taken a break from blogging. On Facebook I’ve mostly “Liked” and “Shared” what others post about the political and social climate under the Trump administration. Besides, plenty of excellent writers have been expressing my feelings much more eloquently than I can. Let them speak for me. I even set a new goal: find positive stories to post on my website (which I never got around to).

I thought I was doing the right thing, being silent these past seven months. Saturday’s violence in Charlottesville challenged that notion.

I may not have profound insight. I may not have profound words. That doesn’t mean my voice is worthless. I plan to express my anger and fears on my site in coming days.

For now, let me just say—not with eloquence—that as a white woman, I abhor the racism displayed this past weekend in Charlottesville.

 

Nancy Werking Poling’s most recent book is Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987). It is available in paperback and on Kindle.

I didn’t know: racial violence out Route 50

“Florida doesn’t count,” my North Carolina friends say when I tell them I consider myself a Southerner. After all, I attended Robert E. Lee Junior High, my classmates weren’t Yankee retirees, and I like grits.

I’m sad to say that my southern identity has been confirmed by the non-fiction book, Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America (2012, Gilbert King, author). I have no memory of ever hearing about events in Groveland, located out Route 50, less than forty miles from my home in Orlando.

In 1949 seventeen-year-old Norma Padgett, white, falsely accused four young black men of raping her. The NAACP defended the three young men, the fourth having been hunted down and killed when he fled capture. In one horrific chapter after another we read about a brutal sheriff, a judge with no regard for fairness, and a unabashed racist community determined to administer “southern justice.” By story’s end, three of the four defendants have been murdered. The home of the head of Florida’s NAACP has been bombed, he and his wife killed. Homes of other black citizens have been burned to the ground.

Events in the book are not from some vague, distant past; this virulent racism occurred during my lifetime.

Court rulings don’t extinguish attitudes that go to our community’s core. The increased visibility of African Americans in professions and a former black President can be daily reminders that white people no longer hold all the power. No, racism like that in Florida of the 1940s and 50s doesn’t simply disappear in one generation. The children of Norma Padgett, of Sheriff Willis McCall, of Klan members intent on lynching the Groveland Boys—many are likely still alive. Their grandchildren too. “Political correctness,” they’ve come to call expectations of civility, of respect for people of another race or ethnic group.

Under a Trump presidency racism need not be concealed any longer. In fact, according to Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, “2016 was an unprecedented year for hate. The country saw a resurgence of white nationalism that imperils the racial progress we’ve made, along with the rise of a president whose policies reflect the values of white nationalists” (http://abcnews.go.com/US/trump-cited-report-finding-increase-domestic-hate-groups/story?id=45529218).

Devil in the Grove and the resurgence of blatant racism leave me with a disturbing truth: If growing up a white girl in a segregated society enforced by violence is a credential of being a Southerner, then I’m a Southerner. As an adult in the era of Trump, though, I will not remain unaware of violent racism that has been unleashed.

Nancy Werking Poling is author of a new book: BEFORE IT WAS LEGAL: A BLACK-WHITE MARRIAGE (1945-1987)