From early on in my childhood, I had been exposed to racism, even though I had not realized it until I was almost an adult. For most of my life, I did not see if for what it was. However, when I was well into my teenage years, I started to pick up on little signs that there was a problem. The first time I specifically remember noticing anything that was out of sorts, was when I was a teenager, I was about sixteen years old, and I had been working at the local sewing factory. I do not even remember why, but there had been a company come in to the plant to take photos one week. It was kind of like when you had school photos done as a child. I had a friend, and we had become best friends at work. I had talked about her all of the time at home, so my parents were familiar with her, at least as far as her name. So, on the day the photos were to be taken, we had decided to have our pictures taken together. We were so excited. We had one individual photo taken and then several of us together. For the next few weeks, I talked non- stop about the photos and how excited we were to get them back to see how they turned out. My parents had very little to say about the photos one way or the other. Finally, the day arrived, and the company came back to the plant to deliver the photo packages. Tracy and I waited anxiously to get our photos. I had never ad photos taken with anyone other than my brother and two cousins, and she did not have siblings, so she had never had hers taken with anyone else. We were very please with how they had turned out. That evening, when I arrived home from work, I had mustered up all the excitement I could handle to show off the photos to my parents. I expected them to go on and on about how well the photos turned out, how pretty we looked, as we had coordinated our outfits to match in sheer perfection. They stood silently for what seemed like eternity. The looks upon their faces were not that of parents who were pleased with the result of seeing their child captured in picturesque gloriousness. I stood there, confused, wondering why they were not saying anything and why they looked horrified rather than smiling. My dad was the first to break the awkward silence. He tossed the package of pictures down onto the table and said some pretty harsh words, the “long story short” of which translated into that I could throw the package of pictures away. They were not interested in keeping them at all. But I had paid for them with my own money made from my job at the plant, and I would never wish to throw them out. I was shocked and horrified myself now, as I wondered why I had looked so bad in the photographs that they had rather toss them in the trash than to keep them. They both went on for a time, mainly yelling curse words at me about how they were unacceptable. I still did not understand why, neither of us had dressed in any way that could have remotely been considered provocative or sexy. Then it happened, like a freight train slamming into a semi. My dad yelled it out at me, He did not hold back any taboo words when he exclaimed to me that the problem was not in our dress, or our hair, or our smiles. It was the fact that Tracy was black. I was taken aback. I had not thought about how during my life time growing up, I had heard that word before, but had never really associated it with any specific person, or group of persons. In that very moment, my innocence was lost to the world. They had never had any problems with Tracy and I being friends, when I talked about her, because they had never met her and just assumed she was white, like us. My gut reaction was one of shock and dismay. But the more I thought about the whole ordeal, I became enraged. How dare they think such horrible thoughts about my dear friend, just because she was different than them? They did not know her; how funny she was or how kind she was to me. They did not see how we laughed and talked about everything from Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups to boys. We were, in essence, two sixteen-year-old girls. Girls who should have still been in high school, planning what kind of dress to wear to our senior prom, what kind of college we would like to attend, and what kind of shoes to wear under our graduation gowns. But life and circumstances had forged its way into our life plans, and for whatever reasons, we had both dropped out of high school, and were working in the same local sewing plant. Being that many of the ladies working in the plant were much older than us, we needed each other. We were spending our days in an adult world based on productions totals and incentive raises, and we needed each other to remind ourselves that we were still only sixteen years old, and we still needed to enjoy some part of our lives. To this day, I still have those pictures. Not long after that whole ordeal, when I made a feeble attempt to give out some of the pictures to my family members, it was quickly made apparent to me that my entire family felt the same way as my parents had, and they wanted nothing to do with the pictures either.
Over time, as I grew older, I began to disassociate myself from my family. I have been mocked and shunned by various member of my family for not inheriting the same family beliefs. I had a huge falling out with my own brother when my sister in law was babysitting my daughter for me, and I learned the he was teaching her those same beliefs, at only three years of age. I had a friend who then I got to start keeping her and my son after school for me. Only to later learn that her husband had proved to be a very negative influence on them. When I had picked them up after work on a day that was a school holiday, and on the ride home, my son was explaining to me that he had taught them it was “James Earl Ray Day.” I could not believe what I was hearing! Obviously, I was out another baby sitter. Growing up in a small town rural north Georgia, it is something that is near to impossible to escape from. I am just grateful that I somehow managed to have the compassion and foresight to not buy into that dangerous way of thinking, and that I believe people are not inferior or superior to me simply based on the color of their skin or intelligence level, or really, anything at all. We are all equally human beings, some good some bad, but all human.


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