This has truly been a melancholic week for me, first with the loss of a classmate and friend, Becki Vinson Matthews. Circular thinking has danced inside of my head, remembering how happy, energetic and full of life Becki was at our class reunion in April. Gone too soon, much too soon. I confess, I do have a difficult time with death. One moment we are laughing with a friend, making plans to ‘do lunch or shopping,’ only to awaken to the reality that the friend is no longer with us. Poof. In the blink of an eye…gone too soon.
Yesterday, while listening to the morning news, I hear about Paula Deen. “What’s going on with Paula Deen now?” I ask, clicking on Google to read. By now almost everyone has an opinion about Paula Deen and her dreadful comments. Some of the reports on the Internet expressed that Deen said the N-word in 1986. Of course, I am not a believer of “if it’s on the Internet, it must be true.” Everyone can post things on the Internet, and sometimes they are hurtful and damaging, especially to a celebrity; nevertheless, I believe that IF you are a celebrity, you must conduct yourself in a respectful, moralistic manner. Celebrity status takes a while to achieve, and when reached, there must be a commitment to treat the public with respect and decency, not with disrespect.
If you are one of my regular readers, you understand I grew up in the South, during a time when separation and segregation existed. I recall seeing two water fountains and separate entrances in many locations in the State of Georgia. Once, when I was extremely thirsty, I rushed towards the “colored” fountain. Quickly, my grandmother grabbed my hand, moving me back to the line. “But, I’m thirsty and don’t want to wait in line…”
Grandma was persistent, so I reluctantly went to the other line. Later, I wanted an answer to the question still rushing in my mind. “Grandma, why couldn’t I drink water from the ‘colored’ fountain?”
“You never mind…you just follow the rules and stand in the proper line.”
“Rules are made to be broken,” I whispered, under my breath.
So began my life in a racially separated, but definitely not equal mill town. Bibb City was a lovely little mill village in Columbus, Georgia. A tiny town where everyone knew everything! Many times people shared with my grandfather that I was questioning things. I didn’t understand how the mill workers could hire beautiful black women to clean their homes, but the black men who worked in maintenance could not live in Bibb City with their families, simply because — they were black. Many of the people did not describe them as black, African-American and such. They used the “N” word in a tone and demeanor that left me cringing.
On one occasion I stood firm. I was a little child, but I could still place my hands on hips and share in the belief that I had…that we are all created equal, regardless of our skin color. After all, I believed that God was representative of all of the colors of the rainbow – not white!
During one summer while I stayed with my grandparents in Bibb City, I was ‘caught — playing with that little colored girl — the one who cleans the houses in Bibb City…’ Shameful, wasn’t it! There I was, playing with someone who did not say the “N” word and did not care about the color of skin. We had so much in common, until that afternoon when my papa came home from his shift at the Bibb Mill. He called me into the house and I knew I was in BIG TROUBLE this time. Papa had a switch waiting for me. When I walked inside, he swatted that switch on my bare legs, telling me over and over again that I had shamed him again. “You are not to play with that colored girl again…ever…not while you’re in my house.”
My leg was bleeding. I rushed outside, screaming, crying, refusing to understand what I had done that was so bad. Didn’t Papa want me to have friends…good “Christian” friends?
Flash forward many years later. America has grown to accept that everyone is equal. OK, we still need work on accepting that women are equal, and it is my belief that all men AND WOMEN are CREATED EQUAL, regardless of the color of skin.
We have an African-American President. Women and blacks are in Congress, the Senate, and South Carolina actually elected a woman for Governor — Governor Haley. That was a total surprise to me, and I admit, she appears to be strong-minded and a good governor. Living in South Carolina, and growing up in the South, I still hear people whispering about the color of skin, and how ‘women belong in the home, taking care of the children.’ In many ways, the South is still stuck in 1950! Yes, I hear people in the South say the “N” word. Many times I have stepped up, reminding them that we are all equal, regardless of the color of our skin. We should not judge others, just because their genes or skin colors are different from ours.
I recall on one occasion when I was in high school. I had joined the USO group and was active. The soldiers at Fort Benning in Columbus visited our events on weekends. I was broken-hearted from a recent engagement break up so I decided I could heal my wounds by dancing. My weekends were spent at the dances at the USO. On one occasion, two black soldiers asked me to dance. The GSO would not permit black girls to join, but they were quick to allow soldiers, of all colors, to attend the dances.
I danced a slow dance with both soldiers. Never did we move together bonded tightly as one. Their hands were in their proper places. Never did they make a play for me.
After dancing, the President of the USO tapped me on the shoulder. “Follow me to my office, please,” he said. “I need to speak with you.”
Reluctantly, I followed him. He closed the door. “We do not allow our girls to dance with the black soldiers. Don’t do it again!”
I shook my head. “What?” I shrieked. “You’re telling me that it’s OK for you to take their money, but as a white girl, I cannot dance with them? They can fight our wars in Vietnam, but a white girl and a black soldier who is brave and ready to fight for our country and treats me respectfully — you are forbidding me to dance with them?”
“That’s not the way I would put it, but yes. I forbid you to dance with the black soldiers ever again!”
I burst into tears…so stern and cold, just like my grandfather and mother. I rushed out of the room. Five soldiers were standing near the doorway. I knew every one of them. I suppose they knew that I was in trouble. I rushed by, opened the front door and left. I called my mother at the pay phone.
Someone tapped me on the shoulder, dressed in military uniform. “What happened in there,” Larry asked.
“I can see it on your face. Did they tell you that you cannot dance with a black soldier?”
“How did you know? It’s not right,” I said, wiping my tears. “They can go off to fight our wars and we cannot dance with them. You know they don’t allow black girls to join, but they certainly don’t mind collecting a black soldier’s money.”
My mother arrived and I left.
Days later I had made the decision to resign from the GSO girls. Larry phoned me at home, telling me that he and five of the soldiers had met with the President. “You’ll be getting a phone call from him this week.”
“Why? I don’t want to talk to him.”
“They’ve changed the policy and they are not accepting your resignation.”
Sometimes being an advocate has just rewards, even at the age of seventeen!
Now, it is 2013, and we still hear people being so judgmental and prejudice. One would think our world, along with the citizens, would not be prejudice. No longer do we see ‘colored’ written on water fountains or entrances. No longer are blacks required to ‘move to the back of the bus.’ We have Rosa Parks to thank for her courage to stand alone and be heard.
As for Paula Deen? I lost respect in her when she announced she was Diabetic. She was still cooking with all of that butter, and sugar and such fattening ingredients. I quit watching her show. My belief is we must step forward to be an example, and she was not.
Now, I hear that Food Network has cancelled her contract…not renewing her contract…http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-207_162-57590532/paula-deens-food-network-contract-wont-be-renewed/
Much of this controversy occurred after Paula Deen flew to New York to appear on the Today Show, only to cancel due to ‘exhaustion.’ Please, Paula Deen and her staff, do you actually believe America is naive enough to believe that?
Perhaps Paula Deen has simply forgotten where she came from and how she became a star, all to the credit of the Food Network.
Yes, she made a video with an ‘apology.’ I’m not believing it at all. Last night I unsubscribed from her e-mail newsletters. I suppose I am taking a stand to vocalize that we in America need to stop the segregation we are still living in many ways. We must recognize that while it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a country to fight bigotry, racism, segregation, and downright hatred.
This week was a reminder to me that life is short. Today, we awaken to life. Let us all pay our life forward, to give back to those who we might have judged, ridiculed or hurt. We must not back away or criticize simply due to the color of skin. I’ve had many friends in my lifetime who are black, Latino, or gay. All different but precious. I still cherish each and every one of them. Life is to be lived in the fullest every day. Let us conduct ourselves in a manner where we can look in the mirror in the morning, smile and look into who we truly are. Don’t let us judge, just because we are different, or our skin color is of a different color.
As for Paula Deen? She has a lot to learn about living her life as a celebrity!
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