…fear, fear. It is obvious to say that the relationship between race, racism, ethnicity and fear is intimate, and tightly woven. My last post told a story of white fear from a child’s perspective. Honestly, I’m embarrassed to discuss white fear when it comes to race. White fear is nothing compared to the years of terror, oppression, and constant fear experienced by people of color in the United States. However, if we do not examine white fear and the behavior it promotes, we cannot become better people dedicated to understanding and equality.
As a child I perceived that everyone was afraid in the 1960s South. Bomb threats at my all-white public elementary school made us afraid. Riots at my sister’s junior high school made us afraid. Driving through many neighborhoods and downtown areas frightened white people. So, when Daddy and Mama were unafraid I was attentive and will always remember the circumstances.
Every Saturday night my family went out to eat. We all piled into the Chrysler — parents, four kids, and two grannies. Many times we would stop by Daddy’s gas station and fuel oil business on the way to the restaurant. My father’s business sat on the edge of a poor, black neighborhood. Few white faces were ever seen there. However, on occasion Daddy would roll down the windows of the Chrysler and cruise through that neighborhood on our Saturday night journey to the restaurant. Mama and Daddy would wave at people sitting on their porches, who would respond by yelling, “Hey Mr. and Mrs. George!” My Dad’s first name was George. I was called, “little George.” We would stop the car and talk to groups of people gathered in the streets. We were unafraid. Why? Because Daddy was a decent businessman who believed in helping others, and believed in equality. Daddy refused to have Jim Crow restrooms at his station. “If you want to piss at my station you can do it in the same toilet as everybody else,” he would say. If white people complained he told them to piss someplace else. Also, no old person on a small, fixed income in the neighborhood went without fuel oil to heat their houses in the winter. They paid him when they could. Kindness, respect, and decency were more important than race and separation. Fear melted away.