When You’re Raised by Racists: Junia’s Story

race

Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Junia” is a pseudonym.

I was raised by a mother who was intensely racist.

I didn’t realize it for years, but she was, and is. My father is as well, but less obviously, more in an oblivious sort of way.

As far as education went, I always thought that we received above average education. My mother was committed to good education, erudition was a trait that my parents prized highly, to the point that friends of the family would comment on how intelligent we were and note it as a family thing. I will always be grateful for the education I received from her and from the other teachers, both in co-ops and online, that she arranged. But one area that I completely missed was race.

We’re white, with one distant Native American ancestor. But otherwise we’re Western and Northern European through and through. I never realized until the past year how much this has colored, no pun intended, my life and worldviews.

With history we were raised on the motto, “The South was Right.”

Slavery was justified because of Bible passages about how to treat slaves. If slavery was inherently wrong God would have banned it, wouldn’t He? We listened to speeches from the group The League of the South and read its literature. It’s still hard for me to admit that this group promotes racial inequality by justifying slavery. I was really into the Civil War, or as I called it, the War Between the States, in high school. I spent hours reading about it, but almost nothing from the perspective of anyone in the Union or the perspective of people like Harriet Tubman or Frederick Douglass. I even had a livejournal account about the War. Mostly copy/paste of historical documents or letters etc. Inspirational stories about specific individuals.

I had only friend growing up who wasn’t white. She was mixed race, her dad was black and her mom was white. She and I used to play together a lot. I’m not sure why my mother was okay with us, why she was friends with the family, but I guess the whiteness of the mom made the family safe as far as my mother was concerned. I know my friend was really sensitive about being mixed race. She didn’t feel like she fit in anywhere, she was too dark for whites and too white for blacks. At one point in high school she saw my livejournal account and asked me to take it down because she was offended.

I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t.

I told her that she shouldn’t be offended, I was just posting historical things. We drifted apart, for a lot of different reasons.

None of this is to say that I believed in white superiority or hated blacks or anything like that. I just obliviously dismissed stories of racism as playing the race card. I was uneducated about the true story of racial inequality and hate and the continuing structural racism that exists today. I was never allowed to read To Kill a Mockingbird as a child because my mother said it was racial propaganda designed to stir up race hate. I thought Nelson Mandela was a terrorist because the only times I heard my parents mention him were in negative contexts. A friend asked me within the last year if I knew who Jackie Robinson was and I had no idea. My boyfriend, now my husband, was the first person to tell me about the LA Race Riots. That they even took place.

Even this year I still clung to the idea that Southerners weren’t racist, they had slaves, but they weren’t really racists. There must be some misunderstanding. There’s just misunderstood regional pride. White people have moved on now anyway, we don’t allow slavery any more. People just play the race card when they don’t want to face that they didn’t get a job because they weren’t as qualified, etc. That minorities use their race as a weapon to get ahead.

I was blind to my privilege because I was born with the skin tone I have.

Then there was the murder of Trayvon Martin. I was angry and sad. I saw it as a crime that was at the very least made more likely because of Martin’s race, and at worst as racially motivated. But my awareness was still embryonic. It was after that that I decided that I should read To Kill a Mockingbird and find out what it was all about. I was shocked. I thought it was an exaggeration for monetary profit on the part of the author. I wish that had been true.

A few months later I read a newspaper article about the conviction of the ringleader in the murders in 1964 of the civil rights workers James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. I was horrified. I read the comments on the article and I didn’t know what one of the commentators was talking about when he referenced Emmett Till, murdered in 1955 at the age of 14. I felt sick to my stomach as I read accounts of what happened to him. A 14 year old boy was beaten and murdered for daring to flirt with a white woman, at worst for being obscene (if you were to believe what local white people said of him).

I now realized that To Kill a Mockingbird really wasn’t exaggerating.

It was all to true to reality. Then I followed more links and saw the records of more deaths, schoolgirls blown up in a church, men and women murdered sometimes just on the side of the road because of their race, men and women both white and black murdered because they were peacefully protesting inequality.

There was a whole world of pain that I was utterly unaware of.

When I was in middle school and high school I vaguely remember that my older sister who had married at 18 and left our home say things about racial inequality. My parents would say that she was just full of white guilt, and that it wasn’t right for us to feel guilty about the crimes that some white people committed against those of other races. I had never investigated for myself, to my shame.

I was perpetuating racism without being aware of it. And I would have been more in tune with reality if I had been taught about racism and black people with any depth. If my knowledge of blacks in American history hadn’t been limited to knowing a lot about George Washington Carver and that Rosa Parks was tired and said no. If I hadn’t been told that Harriet Tubman was making the problems worse by encouraging runaways, which was clearly in violation of things like the book of Philemon.

But I was taught a white centric view of American history and life.

I feel deeply handicapped in dealing with life today because there was so much racism in my family of origin and I am so far behind in what I should know about what minorities, especially blacks, have been facing at the hands of a white dominated society.

I’m grateful in so many ways that I was educated at home. But because of the issue of race, I would never be a homeschooling parent.

2 comments

  • Posts like yours and many others on this site are clearing up in a very frightening way the reasons why my kids and our family never were fully accepted into the evangelical homeschool circles we found ourselves in. We realized there was some racists, elitist, and theocratic thinking going on but we had no idea how blatant and purposeful it was. Not only were we a mixed race family, but we were not even evangelical and worst of all, we are not necessarily conservative politically!
    As such, we experienced homeschooling in a much different way than what is generally described on this site. When surrounded by these extreme and close minded world views we generally kept quiet and went home to discuss the other sides of the issue freely as a family. We were purposeful about not using curriculum that had racist, patriarchal, or politically biased slants and made sure that our kids got to read and discuss with us anything but from all sides. This meant and still means we as parents do not have all the answers, but our job is not to fill our children’s minds with answers but instead to light the fires of curiosity, compassion and courage to find answers to their questions. I tell you this to encourage you to rethink your ( and many others’) false assumption that homeschooling equals racism or fundamentalism or any other extreme ideology. Homeschooling is simply a neutral method to educate ones children. it is the parents’ worldview that is the problem. I encourage you to consider homeschooling as a wonderful opportunity to expose your children to a whole world of facts, opinions,cultures, ethnicities, stories and religions. It is not threatening to study someone different from yourself unless you are not sure what and in whom you believe in the first place.

  • My parents were not in any way associated with any of the “really bad” subgroups of homeschooling (such as Quiverfull adherents, Pearlists, or anything like that), but they were and still are racists. To be racist means to be anything less than radically, zealously color-blind; and color-blind my parents were not. One afternoon when I was fourteen, me, my mom, and my sister were at the recreation center. A guy who was probably a year or two younger than me politely asked if he could have a dollar to buy a snack out of a vending machine. I took a dollar out of my wallet and gave it to him, and he thanked me. Thirty seconds later, my mom pulled me out to the parking lot and told me to put my wallet in the car, and threatened to take me home if I didn’t. She told me that she wasn’t racist, but that blacks were more likely to be criminals than whites, or something along those lines. The fact that that kid was black was the last thing I noticed, but the first thing she noticed. Nor was that the end of the story. At dinner that evening, she told my dad, and my dad told me to “be careful around blacks” or something along those lines. I knew what they were saying was wrong at the time. I just regret not having the guts to stand up to them and tell them that singling out any race to “be careful around” is racist; and I regret not thinking to tell other people about what they told me and out them.

    They are no better now than they were when I was fourteen. In 2010, my dad said that he believed it was acceptable for police to use racial profiling for the purpose of enforcing immigration laws, simply because most undocumented immigrants are Hispanic; and that he believed airport security should use racial profiling just because a lot of people who have committed terrorist acts on airplanes happen to be Middle Eastern. Currently, he does not trust any Syrian refugees just because of crimes committed by a few of them.

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