In last week's column, I focused on my father's mistrust of white people following an upbringing in the segregated South. (I've received many responses from readers sharing their own fascinating stories on their families and the issue of race.)
But now I'd like to continue that with the other side of my family: my mother. My mother was born just two years after my father in the same town of San Augustine, Texas. My mother's attitude on race was totally different from my father's. She had friends of every race and raised my brothers and I to respect and accept everyone.
So what made the difference between their attitudes? It could be the fact that my father was the oldest male in a family where he had to step up after the early death of his father. My mother was the youngest in her family and maybe as such she was more shielded from the harsh realities of life in the segregated South.
Or it could've been my mother's faith which was always stronger than my father's. My mother truly practiced what she preached as a Christian. So maybe she simply internalized the Golden Rule. Perhaps she understood that she was her brother's keeper and looked past the indignities she suffered in a segregated world.
She would often quote the Golden Rule. She would pray for people who wronged her. She treated everyone the same.
An interesting side note is my mother's brother, my Uncle Phil, who has since passed on. You may have read about my Uncle Phil in my Christmas columns of the past. He would come visit us at Christmas from Texas and bring me and my brothers the same gift year after year: nothing. He was funny. And it didn't harm his popularity among my brothers and me that he was the only relative that came to visit us consistently as kids.
He grew up in segregated East Texas. He worked as a teen picking crops with my dad. As an adult, he got a job with the city of Fort Worth and lived there all of his life. He was married and divorced and had a daughter. He was a lifelong member of the Church of Christ.
But his attitudes on race were markedly different from my mother's and my father's. If you've ever caught an episode of The Boondocks on Adult Swim and seen the character of Unlce Ruckus, then you know where I'm going with this.
My Uncle Phil was prejudiced. He didn't like black people. I would listen to him say things like, "Black people don't have any sense. It's the white people that have all the sense." He would talk about how lazy blacks were and how hard white people worked. He would say black people were dishonest. He had nothing good to say about black folks. He'd talk about how Martin Luther King would stir up trouble in the South.
This wasn't the usual talk that's popular in barber and beauty shops critical of black folks. Contrary to what the mainstream media believes, being self-critical in the black community didn't start with Bill Cosby. There's a long tradition of blacks being critical of their own.
What may have started in that vein for my uncle, ended up in racial self-loathing.
I wanted to tap him on the shoulder and say, "You do know you're black, right?" i couldn't stomach these attitudes and would argue with him. His well-reasoned response to my arguments? "Bull." That's all he would say. "Bull." And then maybe follow it up with, "You ain't no kin to me."
Despite those attitudes, he was a good man. A decent man. (Made great peanut brittle and desserts) But I couldn't figure out where he got these ideas about black people. Certainly not from his parents. Perhaps from his experiences in Fort Worth. Going from a tiny East Texas town like San Augustine to a metropolitan area with its problems must've been jarring. I don't know what his experience was. I only offter it to say that race is a more complicated issue than we acknowledge.