Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Best Of The Drifts - Family And Race


Originally published March 19, 2008

The In Between

We finally reached a truce.

Following myriad pleas, cajoles and threats, my family finally agreed to not use certain epithets in my presence. After long arguments and subtle persuasions, both sides realized the gulf of understanding was too deep to bridge and instead chose that very southern solution - polite silence.

My mother would occasionally slip and seeing me nearby would apologize. It was one of those stomach flipping moments where all realized the child now led the way and the parent would forever follow.

My brothers and sisters continued to follow the truce until our mother left us. With her passing, we were placed in the position of the top rung of the family. Families, like the packs of predators which are their heritage, require leaders and perhaps it was that struggle for supremacy which led my siblings back to the hidden truth - they desired to again casually use certain words in my presence.

At first there were gentle corrections then as things turned ugly not-so gentle accusations. Soon, as four people splintered, sides were taken and I was inexorably pulled towards the brother who was most like myself - except he was 13 years older, a product of the turbulent sixties with its bussing and violence and although no one would ever say it was dominant in his life, bigoted.

He used certain explosive words as thoughtlessly as a man might use the word Coca-cola to describe what he was drinking. He flatly stated if his daughters brought home a black man, he would remove them from his life. When told that Barack Obama may win the Presidency, he rolled his eyes and muttered, "what is the world coming to?"

The polite silence was irrevocably shattered when one of my nieces finally crossed that ultimate line of race. For the dating habits of a 19-year old girl, I was sent flying on a 400 mile trip to attempt to heal a broken family.

After many tears, the family did not heal completely but remained together. They reached their own uneasy truce. The father would not interfere but the daughter would not "put it in his face". My brother frankly told me that he knew we were different and there were things I took as the way of the world which he could never accept.

We as a society have moved so far in this particular struggle but it is close by where we struggle so hard. I could no more remove my brother from my life than I could cut off my right hand because it offends. But events of this week have shown that we must all work harder. We must be willing to tell those we hold most dear, "brother, I love you but when I'm around there are things you can't do".

And change will come. Perhaps all the ones we love will not change but with each passing of that love change will be inevitable.

Many months after the "boyfriend incident" as my brother sat rolling his eyes at the possibility of a black man being President, my niece standing just behind her father sotto voce told me, "I think he'll be a good President".

1 comment:

Catherine said...

I was very moved by this when it originally appeared. Thank you for republishing.