Racism Leaves Collateral Damage
In 1975, my parents moved me from Baltimore City into rural/suburban Baltimore County to a town called Owings Mills. I was four years old and remember that we were so excited to move into our very first single-family home. It was awesome; we had a great yard, and I got to pick my own room. I chose the second biggest bedroom in the house (I think my mother had that one slated for her sewing room). Mommy and Daddy tried to convince me to take a smaller room, but I insisted on the one I originally chose—the big room with two windows! This room had one window that faced the driveway, so I was able to hear the cars as they drove past.
As we settled into our new home, things quickly began to come undone. We were given notice by some unhappy neighbors that they were not willing to accept an African American family. They let us know by leaving KKK pamphlets in the mailbox, daily. My parents notified the police, but of course, nothing could be done. Things escalated as the KKK pamphlets kept coming and broken glass began to appear in our driveway, which brings me back to my front window. Every night I would hear screeching wheels and shattering glass sending me running for cover into my parents’ room. At this point I was not just a four year old; I was a four year old girl living in fear of the terrorism that was going on around me. My parents were forced to sit me down and have “the talk.” It was during this talk that I was taught about the history of this country and that thing called Racism. I can remember being very sad when I learned that people did not like me because I was Black. I can also remember being very afraid to be at home alone with my mother. I was certain that she would not be able to protect us from the cars and the glass. I thought that certainly whoever was driving the car and throwing the glass was going to come into our home to harm us, at least that is what my four year old mind told me.
After several weeks of the broken glass and frustrating interactions with the local police (who had absolutely no sympathy and even suggested that we move), my father decided to take matters into his own hands. He was working swing shifts down at Sparrows Point, so he decided to wait early one morning to see if he could catch the culprits. Just as he thought he would, he saw the car slowly pull over toward our driveway and the bottles began to fly. At this time, my dad pulled up and a chase ensued. Finally, my dad was able to run these people down and gave them a few choice words. It was not until this occurred that the bottles stopped and the KKK literature stopped.
I can remember my Daddy being so angry, just as I can remember my mother’s fear as she whispered some nights on the phone with my dad that they were outside. I would sit beside her listening to her whispers, terrified.
Constant, ingrained racism leaves a scar. Those scars may manifest differently in different people, which brings me to Professor Henry L. Gates, Jr. Many people say that he overreacted as he called out racism and his position as an African American in this country to the police. Many people would say that my father overreacted. Until this country acknowledges the permanent scars left by racism, we will constantly say that the Professor Gates of this country are overreacting. We do not ensure that all Americans are educated on the severe impact of slavery, racism, Jim Crow, police brutality, unequal education and all of the other institutionalized racial weapons used against Black people in this country, therefore, leaving open the door to lack of care or empathy for African American citizens of the United States.
I understand Professor Gates. Seeing him, I was reminded of my Daddy, my brother, my great uncle who ran north from Alabama when he was accused of being in a relationship with a White woman, feeling that his lynching was inevitable. I thought of my husband and my unsuspecting sons, who will more likely than not be victims of racism.
It is time for America to stop underestimating the impact of racism on the African American community. It is time for us to stop minimizing the ongoing scars and deeply rooted emotional turmoil caused by racism. What Professor Gates has done is created the opportunity to acknowledge the collateral damage of racism and to begin the process of healing for all people.