Aunt Jemima, Confederate Generals, Bad Cops and Uncle Ben’s — Time to Get Rid of Them For the Greater Good?
Innocence Is Bliss – Are White Southerners Naively Unaware of Their Part in a Growing Racial Descent
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how I perceive things verses how someone else does. Oddly the whole Aunt Jemima thing brought this to the fore again. I remember loving this syrup when I was a child as well as the Mrs. Butterworth’s bottles shaped in the form of a woman. Plus you could use the empty as a doll if you could not afford to buy a Barbie. To be honest, most of the time we bought the generic brand of syrup because Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth’s were too expensive. The commercials for the syrup always made you feel warm and fuzzy though like your own mom cared about you and wanted the best for you.
As I grew older I began to wonder if the depiction of Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth's dressed like southern mammies were really appropriate and as I got older still I realized there was no maple syrup in either – only high fructose syrup with caramel coloring and artificial flavors. It is strange how your love of a certain product changes as your awareness of it changes. I have not bought either brand of syrup in over 35 years, yet when they announced they were getting rid of the products or at least the names of them, I went from feeling nostalgic to feeling like another part of my childhood had been ripped away and I was a bad person for wanting to hold on to my supposedly racist, white privileged past.
I understood how people felt, but I had no feelings of animosity towards Brawny Paper Towels for depicting white men as muscle-bound flannel-clad yokels, nor did I feel Hungry-Man Dinners were sexist because women get hungry and need larger portions too. Betty Crocker did not bring up images of white women barefoot and pregnant cooking immaculate dinners for their hard-working male providers. I admit a part of me felt it was ridiculous to get upset by an Indian’s face on a box of butter or a Chinese dragon on the side of a box of ginger-lemon tea, though understood that the stereotypical portrayal of Chinese with cone shaped hats and tiny feet carrying baskets of rice in a field was pushing the limits the same way depicting half naked women eating hamburgers while sprawled on top of a muscle car was not necessary to sell your product. Making fun of any race, sexual orientation or disability or inferring certain people are of lower status or intellect is not something anyone should do at any age or point in history. Everyone is worthy of respect and has value, but do we need to eradicate history and culture if it does not agree with our current view? Is it okay for women to belittle men and depict them as sex objects to reverse the damage done to them? Should we destroy artwork, statues, stores and monuments if they represent something we don’t like? Does destroying depictions of past wrongs make those wrongs go away? Should we erase the old hurts and start anew with everyone on equal footing or should we – as some people say – “leave it and learn from our past history rather than destroy it”.
As A Kid I Did Not Think I Was Racist But Was Impacted By It On Many Levels
I grew up entrenched in Southern culture. We visited Stone Mountain, watched Br’er Rabbit cartoons, read Little Black Sambo and participated in Georgia Day celebrations where half the class dressed as Indians and half as colonists. Our elementary school though mostly white in the 1960s was a mixture of races and cultures. We were not taught to hate, though I remember subtle and not so subtle cues from adults outside of class to the contrary. In school I had friends of all nationalities and races and got along well with anyone as long as they were kind-hearted and willing to seek the truth but when desegregation busing occurred as a means of forcing white and black kids out of their home school districts and into equally mixed schools, things took a turn for the worse and many of my black friends announced they could no longer be seen talking to me because I was the enemy and most of my white friends whose families had resources were sent off to private schools. School became less of a place to learn and grow and more of a place to survive with daily beatings, fights, thefts of property and harassment at every turn.
The classrooms were not as hostile as the hallways, gym and cafeteria where there was less supervision, but by middle school we had locked gates and guards and no windows in the classrooms. It was like being in prison. I am amazed any of us survived and even more amazed that some of us went on to college, but our teachers were good and fair and we were lucky enough to be in advanced classes where all the students, no matter what their racial or financial status were focused on learning and growing, not on getting into fights.
If I was going to be a racist, that would have been the time for it to come out though. I had my purse stolen while I was in the bathroom stall. Had rocks and bottles thrown at me when I was late for the bus and ran to try to catch it and ended up walking four miles home. If the bus arrived late in the mornings, I had to run the gauntlet of taunting black teens who blocked the door so I could not get in the school and was bumped into, blocked and taunted when I went to my locker, forcing me to stop carrying anything of value and to keep all my books with me to avoid harassment. My friend – who was black – joined with me and we struck a deal with the librarians to let us study there during lunch hour. Later we took independent Spanish III which was no longer taught because not enough students were enrolled in college preparatory classes. There were four people in our Physics class which was self-taught and occurred in a literal broom closest between the biology and chemistry classes, but we were grateful to be able to do that and persevered to graduation. We didn't really blame the kids who were bused to our school so much as the administration who thought it would be a good idea to equalize the races by creating more disadvantages for all. That never made sense.
The whole integration thing was an effort to force the two primary races to interact with one another and provide equal education to all, but instead of uniting two races it caused an even greater divide and thirty years later the Public School system was in worse shape than it was before. It is hard to know whether this is the fault of the students, the teachers, the parents or the administration or maybe some combination of all, but it was obvious to any outsider that integration had failed and caused more problems rather than less.
We were still not equal, but instead of investigating the root causes, everyone blamed it on unequal income and taxed the public, including adding penny sales taxes so that all districts would receive equal funding, yet still this failed to produce a better outcome as well and many long-term teachers left in droves claiming they felt unsafe and overwhelmed by students who seemed unwilling to learn and grow. Teachers blamed parents and administrators for ignoring the issues they faced and failing to provide support. Parents blamed teachers. Students blamed a boring and outdated system that used them as tools so that the adults in charge could look heroic and have jobs. It was a mess as it seems the whole world was as well yet was race really the issue for declining schools? Would having more money solve the problem? Was the ever growing lack of respect for authority figures to blame or was it that students felt an education would not provide them with a fulfilling career and they would not be given a chance to advance in a society they perceived held them back in order to control them from gaining the power to make real change in their lives and the lives of others?
The Problem of Racism In The United States and Elsewhere is a Far Cry From a Black and White Solution
Oddly, the problem of race in the U.S. seems primarily focused on black and white despite the fact that the Hispanic community was growing in numbers and many immigrants from other countries were making their home here as well. Blacks put the blame on whites for enslaving them and still treating them as less than worthy in jobs, home ownership, respect and education and keeping them out of jobs in which they could advance. Impoverished whites debated the theory of white privilege and felt they too were being discriminated against and pointed to Affirmative Action policies which gave preferred admission to minorities and penalized employers and companies who did not hire or utilize more racially diverse populations. Yet in the 2000s many states began work to overturn this policy stating that it violated the rights of others who qualified for positions in school and the workforce but were not allowed to obtain such positions because of their race, not their ability.
This lead many to wonder if the black population in specific was not getting unfair advantages over whites in an attempt to put whites in a place of underdog as retribution for having done the same to blacks and the rise of white disgruntlement soon gave voice to the shallow-buried white supremacist movement and emboldened them to spark the seeds of hatred on both sides so that even the best intentioned of white people felt they were being labeled as racist because of their skin color and the history of their ancestors, not because of anything they did, but because they were not actively doing enough to end the negative attitudes toward young black males in particular.
In my own city, we drove over a bridge named the Herman Talmadge Memorial Bridge. Talmadge was a non-apologetic segregationist who served on the U.S. Senate from the late fifties to the early eighties and even though a new bridge was built in place of the Talmadge in the 1990s it still retained the name of the old one. As a tourist town we had a rich history of white plantation owners, shipping magnates and unique architecture built largely using slave labor and while we also had a rich history of African Americans, most of the tourism centered around white colonists while ignoring the contributions of other races. To make matters worse – many of the poor blacks who settled along the banks of the rivers were driven out of their homes by high taxation once white settlers found a way to control the mosquito and fly populations which made owning waterfront property unattractive before motor boats and paved highways. Even less-wealthy whites understood the unfairness of such practices and held a grudge against the ruling white gentry which sought to keep the best of life for themselves and keep others impoverished so they would be forced into menial labor the wealthy did not want to do for themselves, yet when these same impoverished whites were discriminated against as privileged rather than brothers in-it-together, a greater divide among the races wedged itself into place and created resentments and blame on all sides. We all knew we needed to make changes but how could you do that and still be fair to all?
Pandemics, Protests, Police Brutality and Violent Riots Made Many Question Our Own Part in the Making
Spring forward to 2020 in the midst of a pandemic and a presidential nomination and suddenly people began to turn their focus toward racism again. It first started as the media announced that more black people than white were dying from Covid 19 and pointed to the poor living conditions in inner cities and the inability to afford preferred health care which could save or extend their lives. Then as if scripted by a Hollywood playwright, not one, not two, but multiple police officers use deadly force to subdue or arrest people for fairly low-key criminal activity like forgery and public drunkenness and two white men, one a former police officer chase after a black man suspected of breaking into homes and shoot him dead in the street as another white man captures it on video, even though there was no proof the black man did anything wrong, only that he was walking and jogging in a high-dollar white neighborhood.
Police officers quickly went from public heroes for risking their lives staying on the job during a pandemic to public enemy number one as rioters, upset over unfair treatment of blacks by mostly white officers, burned buildings, overturned police cars, threatened and blocked firefighters and brought a whole nation out of the grip of one unseen viral fear and into viral panic and anger over racial injustice. One could argue all they like about police and politicians being the problem, but the real problem appeared to be the never-ending cycle of racism and controlling others freedoms in order to protect one’s own level of comfort and security. No longer could white people be satisfied in thinking they were better-than other races and therefore deserved a bigger share of the pie. Black Americans were tired of fighting for justice in a country which prided itself on freedom and justice for all. Policy was not evolving fast enough to keep up with all the impoverished people who had been marginalized and pushed aside as a part of the problem and rather than included as part of the solution.
Now as I sit and listen to all the craziness, fear, hatred, misdirected angst and see the desire of both blacks and whites in the U.S. and in Europe to fight for what they think is right I am drawn back to those pancake syrup commercials and the marketing behind them. The stuff was really bad for you. It was mostly sugar and preservatives and had no nutrient value. It was poured over white flour pancakes or waffles which would also have zero nutrients if they were not chemically added back in to make it seem desirable as a food source rather than paste or glue, but we believed it was good for us. It made us feel all warm and fuzzy and made boring breakfast fun and special. We never thought about how it was made, who made it, how much garbage it created, whether it was unhealthy and probably should not be consumed at all if we cared about good nutrition. We only saw what was shown to us – a big warm hug, a smile, a chuckle, a joyful kind of love that only food and family can bring. That was what we were buying – not death in a toxic bottle destined to kill a sea turtle mistaking it for a jellyfish – not underpaid workers risking their lives in dangerous working conditions to bring us pleasure.
I imagine that most white people and black people too for that matter, tend to focus on the pleasantness of comfort and as long as we are shown happy pictures or joyful people, we will be content to believe that everything is good. If we love bacon, we do not take kindly to vegans telling us we are responsible for the deaths of millions of pigs which pollute the environment and die in agony for our pleasure. We do not want to hear that the fat in bacon and the sodium and nitrates used to give it such unique flavor nor the griddle we cook it on can cause cancer and heart disease. We ignore the facts and hold on to the belief that if our grandparents ate bacon every morning and lived into their 100s with no adverse health problems then the facts we are given by scientific research are really lies and should be ignored as propaganda from the opposing religion, politics or world-view. We only want to be happy. We do not want to feel cognitive dissonance. We do not want to change what we love to pander to someone who desires to control us and force us to do their will not our own. Ah!!! There’s the rub – or for non Shakespearean fans – we have just discovered the root problem of racism and liberal unrest.
The Root Causes of Racism and Inequality Should Not Come as a Surprise
For years, Christians have been associated with Crusaders and Imperialists who forced others to believe as they did or removed their rights to their own way of being. Christ himself said that he was the way, the truth and the light and that one could not come to the father except through him. We interpret that to mean that if you do not believe that Christ is the messiah then you will go to hell, though that is not exactly how Christ presented it.
The premise is that if you believe in a lie and you defend the lie rather than examine why you hold tightly to it, then you will have no desire to seek truth. You will want to remain literally and figuratively in the dark. You can’t get to the truth if you are not willing to search for it. You cannot get to the father, or in this case the light, if you are not willing to go through Christ – the truth.
What does this has to do with racism and inequality? We tend to see only our side of the issue. We defend what we believe and are reluctant to let go of the things that bring us comfort, pride, security and continuity. If we all believe in the same thing, then there is no need to change what we are doing, but when someone comes in and disrupts the flow and suggests what we believe is now incorrect and must be changed to include those outside of our belief our tendency is to become defensive and resist change.
Let's say we have a dog at work and everyone loves dogs that works with us and the dog provides us with comic relief and comfort and seems to sense when we need a friendly face and a hug. We enjoy going to work with the dog there. He makes us happy but then someone new comes in and they do not like dogs because a dog once bit them as a child so they want us to get rid of the dog so that they can feel welcome in the workplace. Do we get rid of the dog or the new coworker? Is it wrong that we like dogs and the coworker doesn't? Was anyone hurt by the dog until the new coworker came along and felt fear when everyone else felt joy? Is the coworker wrong in suggesting the dog violates inclusiveness? What if the new coworker is allergic to dogs? What if the new coworker is actually essential to increasing business? What if the new coworker is the new boss?
It is easy to dismiss someone who demands something which takes away something we love, but the more essential that person is and the more our livelihood depends on our cooperating with them, the more likely we are to cooperate even if it means giving up something we find pleasant or comforting.
We are all imperfect. We all tend to put our own comfort above others at times. We may be generous in sharing some things with people, but selfish with others. If we have twenty pencils and can buy more for cheap, we are more likely to share, but if pencils are limited and costly, we will be less willing to share. The more valuable something is to us, the more we want to hold on to it and feel forced or coerced to let it go.No matter who tells us that we are wrong for wanting to hold on to what we feel is ours to begin with instead of sharing it or getting rid of it to make someone else feel better, it still feels disrespectful to us rather than the other way around. That is human nature, whether the pencils are statues or the dogs are the stories of our ancestors.
How You See Things Depends on the Focus of Your Vision
We all see through the lenses which colored our world as we were growing up and have a hard time seeing through the lens of others. Try this and see. Borrow someone’s glasses. Can you see out of them? Maybe you can see a little better, but it is still out-of-focus. Maybe you can’t see a thing. Would you then say, “these glasses are broken” or “these lenses are not correct” or "there is something wrong with your eyes because they do not see what I see" ?
What if your optometrist only offered the same prescription lenses to all people because that is the only way to be fair. If you want all people to see the same thing, then how can they do that if they look through radically different lenses? Get the picture? The pun is intended. Even if the frames of my glasses look exactly the same as everyone else's frames, the lens will always be slightly different because my vision is unique to me and me alone and cannot be made to be your vision even with correction. You can make everyone wear the same frames, but you cannot force them to see through the same lens.
Imagine that you have to wear eighteen different glasses prescriptions on your face at the same time with everyone wanting you to see through their lens to be fair to them? This is somewhat of a decent expression of what most of us are going through right now and the image we see is disconcerting at best.
We cannot see things exactly as everyone else sees them. We can conform to a degree and find a middle-ground where all can feel comfortable. We can be polite and accept people for who they are as long as they are willing to be polite and accept us for who we are, but when we are forced to give up how we feel, what we love, and are not allowed to express ourselves because it might offend someone who does not see the world as we do, then problems will occur.
So, to sum it all up – we cannot force our beliefs on others. We can use reason and logic and love to encourage them to accept our value if not our values and we can do the same for them. No one should have to live in fear that what they love will be taken from them, but if what they love or desire is used as a weapon to harm others who have done nothing to deserve hurt, then they need to evaluate why this is so. As humans, we can accept differences. If your friend wears a bracelet, you don’t really see that as offensive or out-of-the-ordinary but if your friend has 20 different piercings, a face tattoo of an emu eating a baby human and 100 different pieces of jewelry on, then it is a distraction at best that makes you feel uncomfortable because like the multi-lensed glasses, your attention is being pulled in so many different directions that it becomes confusing and is as uncomfortable as listening to seven different instruments playing seven different tunes and trying to appreciate them all at once. The human mind is not that advanced.
To some degree we need to be harmonious and we cannot be if we are all torn in many directions at once with none of us willing to give-way to the will of another. We have to find common-ground. We have to take turns sharing our story not all yell them at once vying for the most attention while drowning out any voice which is not our own. We have to tone down our differences in order to create unity. We can still express ourselves and be unique in our own place in life, but when we come together with many different people, we have to find acceptance and cooperation. That is what builds great civilizations – working together as one mind and for one purpose – to serve the needs of others without sacrificing our own needs just toning them down a bit. No one should have to give up everything they love to fit in with people who do not love them in return, but we each have to rein it in a bit.
If you have ever been to a team riding event or cheer leading or marching band performance, you know that each person on the team has a role which is different. If you are riding in formation then the person on the far outside is going to have to go faster to keep up with the person in the center to stay level with everyone else. Cheer leaders have positions that provide differing support but still create unity as a whole. Band members not only have to keep the beat of those around them, despite playing different instruments, but they also have to be willing to stay within a designated spot, performing the same routine. Imagine everyone running around wherever they felt like going and playing whatever tune they felt like playing. That is sort of like the discordance of politics and belief right now. We have no unified focus. Each person and group wants to do their own thing in the name of freedom, but at a great cost to the group as a whole.
So, Should We Be Forced to Give Up What We Love To Be More Inclusive of Others
A friend of mine posted on Facebook that if anyone reading her post was truly her friend and did not support the group Black Lives Matter then they needed to unfriend themselves from her forever because she wanted nothing to do with them. If you go to the BLM website it will tell you that they started out as a chapter-based, member-led organization whose mission was to build local power and to intervene when violence was inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.
Most people wouldn't have any objections to that, but if you keep reading you find this – We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.
If this makes you feel uncomfortable, you are not alone. Not simply, we encourage others to embrace the fact that not all children have a mother and a father to care and nurture them, so we are obligated to be there to help fill that gap, but we disrupt – throw into disorder or confusion, drastically alter or destroy the structure of (something). That is how the dictionary defines it. BLM the movement, not the sentiment, wants to destroy the traditional family and replace it with their own model of transgender, gay, lesbian, multiple moms and dads taking the phrase – it takes a village to raise a child – to a whole other level.
While most of us are willing to be equitable to different races and gender identities and desire fair treatment of all people, we bristle at the idea that a nuclear family unit needs to be dismantled and replaced as if having a loving mother and father and a stable home life is an old-fashioned American idea that no longer fits today's society.
This is ultimately why people want to protect their identities. We do not wish to be absorbed into a universal thought process which dehumanizes us. We value individual differences, but only to the degree that they mesh well with our own.
We can give up our syrup bottles and rice brands. It will feel a bit sickening to lose that part of us, but in reality it is just a name. Watching confederate monuments destroyed is also a hard thing to see, but if they were purposefully erected as a slap-in-the-face defiance of racial equality then maybe their placement and meaning should be reevaluated, but when a group wants to replace the traditional family and moral values of a nation – that is where it gets scary.
The more people associate themselves with radical groups, the more it tears people apart. It does not matter what your ethnicity or skin color, if you seek to destroy something that is meaningful to someone else without giving them a voice, you are doing the same thing to them that you believe they are doing to you and by your own words this is wrong behavior.
We may all see things a bit differently. We may all play a different part. Some of us got a raw deal in life, no matter what our background, but that doesn't mean that those who got a better deal owe us anything or are inherently better than us because of the advantages afforded to them by others. Our government does need to represent all of us, not just those with money and power and position. No one needs to be kept in the darkness. Our light does not shine brighter when we oppress others, it shines brighter when we seek to rid the world of darkness no matter what our skin tone or political affiliation.