It’s never too late for racial unity in your family

written by Anti-Racist Parent columnist Liz Dwyer; originally posted on Los Angelista’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness

When my black mother and white father got married in 1969, interracial marriage had only been legal for two years. But just because it was legal, that didn’t mean their families were happy about it.

My mother’s family left Georgia in the early 1900′s due to some white men having gone on a “let’s kill the black folks” rampage.

Why did this happen? Well, a black man in the town had been having a relationship with a white woman. All the black people knew but kept things quiet. However, when white folks found out, the white woman claimed, as was often claimed in such instances, that she had been raped by the black man.

The black man and his brother were both murdered, and their castrated, naked bodies were dragged behind horses down the road. Then the white men decided to teach the rest of the black people a lesson by setting fire to the black owned houses and barns. My grandmother and her family hid in the swamps, and then left the town.

One generation after this horrifying (and all too common) incident, my mother announced that she was going to marry a white man. You can imagine this information didn’t go over too well since their family history had taught that having relationships with white people is dangerous and results in being murdered. But, after much family discussion, her parents eventually accepted that my father was a good man and they came to the wedding.

Unfortunately, my dad’s parents did not accept their marriage, did not attend the wedding, cut off most contact with my father, and for many many years, that was that. They also told my aunt and uncle that if they attended the wedding or associated with my parents, they would cut them off.

Needless to say, the legacy of those actions, knowing that even when my father’s mother died we were not welcome at her funeral, has been an incredibly painful part of my family’s history.

But the wonderful thing is that families and people can change. There is no need to blindly imitate the racist or prejudiced traditions of the past. And there is always the chance to apologize, make amends and build something new.

Yesterday my father’s sister, brother and my uncle’s two children came over to my parent’s house to visit with all of us. My mom’s sister also came, as well as my own sister and my two nephews. A few minutes after they arrived, my uncle pulled me aside and asked me if it was my parent’s anniversary coming up in a few weeks. I told him that it was and he smiled and said, “Good, because I have a little card for them.”

He went on to say that their family had given my parents such a hard time all those years ago, and even if it didn’t make up for it, he just wanted to apologize for it. And then he got choked up… and so did I.

A few hours later he gave the card to my parents and apologized for the family’s racist treatment of them. It was one of the most touching things I’ve witnessed in my lifetime.
It made me reflect on how incredibly important it is to apologize for the wrongs that have been committed because of racism. It’s also so important to forgive. If you can’t apologize or forgive, you can’t move forward. When I saw my mom hug my dad’s sister and brother with complete forgiveness, well, my liquid eyeliner ended up on my cheeks. In that moment, it felt like I could see healing taking place on the faces of my mom, my dad, my uncle and my aunt.

It is undeniably sad that my paternal grandparents and so many other relatives missed out on so much because of racism. They never truly got to know my mom. And they never got to know me.

Yes, my cousins, nephews and my own sons are growing up knowing that having people of all colors and cultures in your family is normal. But the really wonderful thing is that the chance for unity doesn’t stop just because you’re older. My dad, his brother and sister, and my mom and her sister can all forge relationships beyond what their parents ever believed or thought possible between black and white people. They’re all proof that it’s never too late for racial unity in your family.

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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