I grew up in a small Florida town where Mexican children and their parents worked in our orange groves. Teachers hollered, No Spanish in the lunch line! In this town we called the place that African-Americans lived the ‘quarters.’ They sneered on Martin Luther King Day: Oughta’ celebrate the day he was shot! Once, we waited in a long line to watch a re-mastered “Gone with the Wind” at the movie theater – a few ladies dressed as plantation owners and they were admired.
In this town I heard that slavery wasn’t as bad as ‘they fuss about.’ And a white woman who marries a black man is white trash; her children will be ugly and laughed at. African-Americans are gorillas for jokes – lots of jokes behind their backs.
In this town, we worshiped blonde Jesus and laughed at the notion of black Jesus, because of course, that’s not true…haahaa! There was ‘thank God’ no law to make us worship in the same church, so given the choice, of course, we did not. They said black people were generally ungrateful because they never appreciated that they would have been forsaken in Africa – living in huts, wearing animal skins, without church.
We were not racists. We knew ‘good black people,’ watched Oprah, gave charity, and loved Aretha Franklin. We were patient, Christian, and kind, though under siege – plagued with integrated schools, affirmative action, and political correctness.
I grew up in this town like thousands of other towns; you also grew up there.
A town that can be loved, but cannot be loving.
The election of a KKK-endorsed candidate should not surprise me. But, it does. Thanks to Facebook I’m aware that many childhood friends voted for Trump. Years of sharing photos, announcing milestones and oozing ‘likes’ did not rally me to Trump, nor humanize my biracial family to them. The safety and psychological well-being of other children, not like theirs, meant nothing in the end. People from my town voted for a candidate whose platform specifically targets the emotional and physical health of other families. I fervently disagreed with them and they fervently disagreed that I had any reason to be concerned in the first place.
One childhood friend posted an announcement from evangelist Franklin Graham:
Hundreds of thousands of Christians from across the United States have been praying. This year they came out to every state capitol to pray for this election and for the future of America. Prayer groups were started. Families prayed. Churches prayed. Then Christians prayed. Then Christians went to the polls, and God showed up.
God showed up for a sexual predator – a seventy-year-old man who giggles about walking in on young girls changing at a beauty pageant, and brags about his own sexual assaults. God showed up for a man with a record of discriminating against African-Americans. God showed up for a man who makes fun of Jewish people and stated that he would have Muslims register just like Jews leading up to the Holocaust. God showed up for a man who makes fun of disabled people. God showed up for the same man that has a white supremacist fan club.
If God showed up for that man, because of these small-town prayers, then I think a lot of people around the world would be terrified to know it. No one in my town is capable of racism or sexism because those evils are defined so narrowly, the devil himself is a saint.
That is my town. It may greatly disturb other people to know that I still love it. You can love a place that can never love you back. My town is my flesh and my memory, though it is not my writhing conscious. It is my heavy heart, but it is not my thirst. It is my tears, but it is not my yearning. My yearning is to the common bond of sister and brotherhood.
My town is too fragile to yearn. It has been broken by the burden of its own generational rage. If it does not change, if it does not open itself to returning love, it will destroy itself. Like Pharaoh’s town, it will be suffocated by its own oppressive hate.
Some people are trying to figure out how this election outcome happened. They scramble for explanations. But we know because we grew up there, that not much has changed. I can hear the town in my ear. My childhood ear.
Jesus loves the little children of the world/Amazing grace how sweet though art! /For the Bible tells me so/Love thy neighbor/Lord, have mercy!
Pride always cometh before the fall.
Their voices make me cry. I do not think that they can hear their own words. Their tongues speak, but their hearts do not know. They do not cry for the others. They shout ‘victory, victory!’ They cannot feel pain beyond rage.
My town can be loved, but cannot be loving.