I want to talk about my maternal grandmother. I called her Granny. Today would have been her 95th birthday. Ninety five years – that seems like a long time and it is when you think about a person’s lifespan but when you think about time in general, it’s really not.
My Granny was a change of life baby. The last of 8 living children. In fact, the two oldest children had already left home when Granny was born. To say she wasn’t welcomed would have been an understatement but then again she was because she was another helper in the fields. You see my great grandparents were sharecroppers and they needed every pair of hands they had to tend to the fields. Because my Granny’s older siblings were leaving the farm for city jobs and opportunities, my Granny dropped out of school after the 5th grade. She worked in the fields until she ran off to the nearest town and lied about her age to get a job in the lingerie factory where one of her older sisters worked. Granny laughed about making bras and underpants one minute and making parachutes for WWII the next.
One day a handsome full of himself soldier home from WWII whistled at my Granny walking on the other side of the street. She cussed him out for being “fresh”. They married soon after and had six children. Only four would live to adulthood. My Granny and Granddaddy worked hard to support their family. My Granddaddy was a mechanic and my Granny a homemaker. When my Granddaddy got injured on the job and couldn’t work, she worked in a drug store that had a soda fountain until he could work again. Today we’d call them the working poor and they’d be eligible for public assistance. I was their first grandchild. I was brought home from the hospital to their house and would live there until I was almost 7. By the time I came along Granny was pretty grumpy. She complained A LOT about a lot of things but she never really complained about her lot in life. She was proud of how far she had come despite only having a 5th grade education. She had a house that was paid for and not a sharecropper house owned by some farmer. She would never suffer the indignity her parents had of being put out of their home when they physically could no longer farm the land. Her living children all went to elementary, junior high, and high school although not all of them would graduate at least they all went. A few years later her first grandchild would graduate from high school and college – the first in my family on either side to do so. When she died at 76 she left behind a pretty good legacy. She didn’t go down in the history books for doing great things but she was important to our family.
I told y’all about my Granny to say this – because of Granny and my other grandparents who share similar origin stories, I will never accept the premise of white privilege. When I hear phrases like “your people kept us down” and “your family owned my family” it makes my blood boil. My family worked right alongside black families in the field working for the man. My family scrimped, saved, and worked their asses off to get everything they got. Plenty of people tried to keep my family down but they kept trying to climb. One struggle is not equal to another struggle.
Do some people enjoy certain privileges due to social station, gender and/or race? Absolutely, but to lump everyone of a certain race together and make a blanket statement is completely and wholly false. Isn’t that one of the tenants of our current situation? Don’t make blanket statements? Don’t stereotype? Yet nowadays it’s almost a sin and a crime to be white. Newsflash y’all, no one gets to pick their race. No one gets to pick the social status one is born into. Racism has always been. One cannot change the hearts of people. People must change their own hearts. We must treat people – all people regardless of race, gender, or social station with kindness and respect. Until we all start doing our part nothing will change.
Photo Credit: Probably my mother. This is a picture of my grandparents. I miss them every day. That tiny head down at the bottom right is me. I was always looking up to them. I still do.