I Will Not Stay Silent: A Southern White Woman’s Response to the Charleston Massacre

 

I have always willingly identified as a southerner. My mother is from Savannah, Georgia, my father is from Greenville, Mississippi and I grew up in various towns in Alabama. I am most at home when the humidity is above 80%, there’s a pitcher of sweet tea in the fridge, and folks stop by just to “visit.” Many people are surprised to hear that I’m from Alabama—I’m not sure why but maybe it’s because I don’t fit the stereotype that most people have. I don’t even know what the stereotype of a white woman in her 30’s from Alabama might be, but I think it probably includes a strong southern accent, a considerable lack of education, and cooking with lard, fatback, and streak-a-lean. Oh, and someone who stays in Alabama. Moving out of state to attend university gave me my first taste of the shock I would often encounter when meeting someone unfamiliar with folks from the Deep South. They are often genuinely surprised that we can be levelheaded, articulate, and sincere.

Yates Mill

But I am from the south and, until recently, thought I would live there forever. A year ago, my husband, two young boys, and I moved to Long Island, New York. We knew it would be an adjustment and there would be hard moments. We knew it would take a commitment on our part to hold ourselves here, to wait for things to get easier, to trust that the decision to leave home— to leave everything we’d ever known—was wise. And we were right. It has been incredibly difficult at times to be so far away from loved ones who know us and love us. It’s been hard to find our rhythm in an environment where the pace is much faster than anything we’ve ever experienced. It’s taken a conscious effort on our part to remember why we came in light of how homesick we’ve been. This past year has confirmed that I will probably always feel more at home in a place that is hot and muggy and where the people move slower because of it.

And yet… I am becoming painfully aware in the wake of last week’s massacre in Charleston, SC that much of what made up the air I breathed as a little white girl growing up in lower Alabama was revisionist history. The “South” that I love and have been desperately homesick for, doesn’t really exist. I have always known this on some level, but I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t know the extent to which my ideas of home have been informed by things that just aren’t true. [1][2]

I’ve long been disabused of any idea that the Civil War was really about states’ rights or that the Confederate flag has any business being anywhere but a museum [3], but I can’t escape the fact that my very experience has been that of a privileged white woman. [4] And I can’t escape the fact that most of my friends are privileged white women. Amazing women. Gospel-loving women. And we have the privilege of going to church on Wednesday night without the fear that someone will gun us down because we are white. There is no flag flying high above a government building that symbolizes the hatred people had for my ancestors. The very fact that we can post on Facebook about puppies, vacations, and funny jokes in the days after the Charleston Massacre means that we have no idea what our African-American brothers and sisters are experiencing. [5]

I was born in 1979, just fifteen years after the Civil Rights Act was passed. Fifteen years. How can I think that the south I was born into and interacted with as a little girl was so very different than the south that tore itself apart in the 1950’s and 1960’s?

I think the problem white people in my generation have with understanding race issues is that we see it as taking place a lifetime ago, long before we were born. My mother tells me about a time in the 1950’s when they didn’t have a television, when she was required to wear either a skirt or a dress to work in the 1960’s, and about the first microwave they bought in the 1970’s. There is a vast gulf between her childhood and mine. Her history seems far away, so separated from our society today. The videos I’ve watched of the protests, marches, and speeches from the Civil Rights Movement seem to be from a different time, much like Armstrong’s walk on the moon seems to have more in common with the invention of the automobile than with my daily experience. And though my father went to the University of Mississippi in the 1960’s around the same time as James Meredith, I often forget that particular part of his history. I forget that the man who raised me was raised in Greenville, MS in the 1950’s.

I forget because my parents are wonderfully loving people who tried very hard to raise their children to see everyone as equal. They talked often about making friends with people of all races and set examples for us in their own lives. They didn’t, however, talk much about the reason it was so important to intentionally treat everyone as equal. They left it up to the schools to teach us about the Civil Rights Movement in that very sterile way textbooks teach everything—I certainly never read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in school. [6] My parents and many other white parents didn’t talk to their children about the things they must have witnessed in their schools, on the buses, at water fountains. I know that living through the Civil Rights Movement in the south impacted my parents and I know the collective history of the south is one that must be painful to them and others like them. Therefore, like many other whites from that time, they didn’t talk to their children about their true, painful, bloody history. And so, our history— our heritage— didn’t become real to us. Instead, we were left to parse together a romanticized version that leaves us feeling incredibly defensive whenever someone comes along and challenges our love of home. [7]

I know some of my white friends will be frustrated with me after reading this, and that’s okay. We have a shared history of silence when it comes to discussing difficult things. Race, poverty, and injustice—these are things that polite southern ladies don’t often enter into discussions about. [8] As my mama always said, “Honey, don’t stir the stink ‘cause it’ll just make it stronger.” Perhaps we don’t discuss these issues because we don’t know how to begin. Or because we are afraid of doing it wrong and making things worse. Or because we haven’t seen it modeled for us by our mothers and grandmothers. But I don’t want to stay silent any longer. I want to be part of the discussion. Mostly, I want to listen to my African-American brothers and sisters and learn about their experiences. I want my African-American students, along with all my students of color, to know that although I have not had their same experiences, I stand with them. [9]

I won’t remain silent any longer. Even if I mess up in my attempts to understand, I trust that my African-American brothers and sisters will be gracious with me and help me. The only way I know to start the process of reconciliation is on a personal level— through conversation. And so I am beginning. Will you join me?

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[1] Article on “Lost Cause” narrative, John Price, https://medium.com/@thejohnprice/yes-you-re-a-racist-and-a-traitor-6c4bb12c5b63

[2] What this Cruel War was Over, Ta-Nehisi Coates, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/06/what-this-cruel-war-was-over/396482/

[3] The Cross and the Confederate Flag, Russell Moore, http://www.russellmoore.com/2015/06/19/the-cross-and-the-confederate-flag/

[4] White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, Peggy McIntosh, http://amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html

[5] Eugene Scott quote on Facebook: What must it be like to live a life where the ‪#‎CharlestonShooting seems so irrelevant to your daily life that you can remain silent?

[6] Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr., Justin Taylor (notes and outline) http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2015/06/18/martin-luther-king-jr-letter-from-birmingham-jail-the-complete-text-and-an-outline/

[7] White Fragility: Why it’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism, Robert DiAngelo, http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/white-fragility-why-its-so-hard-to-talk-to-white-people-about-racism-twlm/

[8] I am very aware that the reason we don’t enter into these conversations is because we don’t have to. It’s another example of white privilege.

[9] Charleston and Teaching Children, Chris Lehmann, http://practicaltheory.org/blog/2015/06/18/charleston-and-teaching-children/

71 thoughts on “I Will Not Stay Silent: A Southern White Woman’s Response to the Charleston Massacre

  1. Natalie, what a wonderful article. You expressed in beautiful words what your uncle and I have discussed many times over the years. Thank you for your thoughts.

      • Have your grandparents or parents to tell the true history, the racial part and also what African American has contribute to American society at a family reunion then you will be making great progress. Until then your attempt will go unnoticed because we always seek advice,understanding, and approval from our elders. They will listen, make the knowledge a tradition to understanding that progression is made on the understanding of the past good or bad. Its what you can do now that would change history, this letter is good but lets not be good let be great and put a face to it cause its so easy to hide behind words.

  2. Excellent article Natalie. The idea of parsing a romanticized heritage among your generation due to a lack of these discussions is interesting. Thanks for sharing your honest perspective and upbringing, which contributes to the conversation of mutual understanding.

  3. I feel your pain over Charelston. We are a generation apart and our Southern experience differs. I grew up with racists, went to church with racist, and lived with racists. For most there was no hate but Souther arrogance. I worked in the fields and drank from the same cup and as far as I can remember I saw a difference but it didn’t make a difference. Over the years I’ve had my share of friends but the friendship ended at the cultural boarders that in some ways continue to divide us. Have a friend name Tino. He’s not black but I’ve seen him spoken down to. He would have been humiliated if he wasn’t so noble. Our mutual respect grew into love. He didn’t want nor did he need me to defend him. What he wanted was respect and he got it and a whole lot more. For the last year I was invited to teach in a black Bible School. When you genuinly respect people they know it. They don’t want my pity cause they don’t need it. They don’t expect me to be black any more than I expect them to be white. What they want is my love and I want theirs. In our conversations we found out that we share more culturally than we ever have before but what we really share is the same savior. When we say we are brothers and sisters we really are. On father’s day I had four text. One I number I didn’t recognize but the message was “Happy Father’s Day.’ I assumed one of the kids borrowed someone’s phone or someone just hit a wrong number. I texted back, “Thanks whoever you are.” Back at me, “One of your students RP.” Humbed indeed. Don’t really know where I’m going with this but have found it doesn’t matter where God places you, North,South, or Israel my goodness. Just be real. Don’t make anyone a project or a cause. Just love them for who they are and if who they are isn’t very lovable, remeber how much you are love. (unedited so be gracious)

    • Wow, Jonathan- this is so beautiful! I love so much what you are exemplifying here which is caring deeply about the souls that God has placed in your life… regardless of their race or ethnicity. You know how much Michael and I love and respect you– your childhood and upbringing is one more example of what I mean when I say that I *forget* all the time that my parent’s generation was coming of age during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. I want to do a better job of learning for you and my parents about what had changed, what hasn’t, and how you think we can move forward from here. Much love to you and Vivian!!

    • Jonathan, thank you so much for sharing your honesty. I really enjoyed your post. So many people would benefit from reading your post with your perspective. Respect is the key, it always has been and always will be.

  4. Natalie: I am an African American woman who grew up in The South during segregation and the Civil Rights Movement, but I have lived in California for more than 30 years. A white, female friend of mine who lives in New York state forwarded your essay to me because she and I often share information that we both believe advances the dialog we all need to have about race and racism in America. I sincerely hope that your white friends and those who don’t even know you will hear your words when you say, “…our history— our heritage— didn’t become real to us. Instead, we were left to parse together a romanticized version that leaves us feeling incredibly defensive whenever someone comes along and challenges our love of home. [6]” We all–black, white, Latino, Asian, Jewish, whatever we are–need to let our defenses down for a while so that we can have an honest and open dialog about where we are and what we need to do to heal old wounds and make this country a better place for all of us. Unless we do this, and do it honestly and with the best of intentions, then what we can expect is more of the horror of what we saw last week in Charleston, more anger, more misunderstanding, more fear of “the other.” Is that the future we want for our children, for ourselves and our country? I hope that more people will do what you have done and open themselves up to having the kinds of conversations we all need to have to move forward, to love and to prosper.

    • Thank you for your words, Barbara- they mean so much to me! I love what you said here, “We all–black, white, Latino, Asian, Jewish, whatever we are–need to let our defenses down for a while so that we can have an honest and open dialog about where we are and what we need to do to heal old wounds and make this country a better place for all of us.”
      YES! I want so much to sit down with people, look them in the eye, and say it’s okay! We can have a conversation! You are safe! (How absurd is it that white people are scared to have a conversation??? We are the ones that always seem to control the narrative…) Anyway, thank you for your kind words. Blessings!

  5. This “hot” mess comes in the weak of the white woman who for the lack of a better phase” identified as black” good for her. My son is from a white mom and I love him dearly. The fact that there is evil in our world and through out our human history should be no surprise. This evil act is so painful because we as black people and the nation cares and all lives matter.
    Anger will only stop your heart and head from working no more or less.

  6. I grew up in Leland/ Greenville . I graduated from highschool the year you were born. I now live in Roanoke, Virginia. Other than different names and locations I could have written this article. Thank you . What happened in Charleston was so blatantly wrong, forcing us to end the silence and stand up for what is morally right. No one should die because of their skin color.

  7. I will join you Natalie. I read an article just a couple of days ago that defined racism as a misunderstanding of a race different from our very own. I appreciate your willingness to understand the African-American experience. Please let’s start the conversation.

  8. Thank you for honesty and open ness. I too grew up in Mississippi born in 1969. I had just finished reading an article posted on a white female classmates page and I was going to unfriendly her because I realized that she was sharing a rant by a white male military person. Who was tired of people being offended by something and white privilege.i realized he still does not understand the plight of African Americans. I can not imagine that he has been followed in a dept. Store simply because he was white.i can’t believe he understands what that feels like. I can’t imagine he understands how it feels to stopped by polices simply because you were in a certain part of town at a certain. I have a PhD in education and this has all happened to me in the last few years. And I have experienced this too many times to count as a black man. So thank you for being willing enough to start conversations.

  9. My thoughts on this are to question humanity in general. 1. I feel that lately we are getting into situations where there is only one winner and everyone else loses. Do northerns feel as if they haven’t “won” because there are historical markers, flags, monuments, etc? I get the flag issue, but where does it stop? There are numerous gravesites of confederate soldiers clearly marked, are we to destroy those as well? You see I’m not expecting a win-win because this is about family history, heritage and heartache. And peoples from any place usually hold those things most dearly. Finally, many of us southerners are in fact caring and respectful to our neighbors, however we also lead very different lives culturally, spiritually and emotionally. Isn’t that why we have “black” and “white” churches to begin with… We want to freely be ourselves without disturbing the other and without hurting the other. Yet that gets twisted into people thinking we hate one another? In the end, what does it take to “win” in this situation?

  10. I appreciate your perspective and think you make some good points. I do have one simple question though. Why do you use the term “white” and then “African American” instead of “black”?

  11. I would like to join the conversation. I am currently in a debate with my white friend about if the confederate lag should be removed. She simplified the situation as being something that offends people and if it offends what next should we take down, Barbie dolls becUse they offend or Christian symbols because they offend. My argument is that the flag represents hate and also at the same time it is the basis of what our country was founded on, other issues are currently a little small (maybe not Christianity). Now there seems to be a widespread plan to petition and remove other symbols of the confederacy. Her argument we can’t erase history, but we can learn from it. I just feel the best way to solve the history is to remove symbols of hate and put them in a museum. Someone else online argued we should remove Martin Luther King streets. We will be going back and forth hopefully until we find a great compromise. It is good to find someone who is really to be open to finding out our struggle and willing to talk about it in a relax honest setting. Thank you for being open and trying to get the ball rolling.

    • The battle flag is a symbol used by traitors and then again by conservative white supremacist Diciecrats Imed at keeping rights from blacks. Generations to generation it has been passed down as a symbol to keep that hate. It represents a war on centuries of oppression. I don’t think her Barbie theory has any significance next to that. Would she support a swastika being flown on government grounds?

  12. Thank you so much for this! I am 71 and left Texas when I was 27. Yes, there are things about the south I miss, and I wish I weren’t so far from family, but I’ve made the world my home instead, and I’ve never regretted it.

  13. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR BELIEVING IN BLACK PEOPLE. WE AREN’T BAD PEOPLE TO GET TO KNOW.I CONSIDER EVERYONE A CREATION FROM GOD. THE CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE WASN’T PREJUDICE WHEN WE ALL WAS CREATED. SO HOW CAN ANYONE ELSE JUDGE.EVERYONE BLOOD IS ONE COLOR RED. I PRAY THAT THIS NATION GET BETTER SO THE WORLD CAN BE A BETTER PLACE. FOR ME I CANT WAKE EVERYDAY WITH EMOTIONAL EXTREME DISLIKE TOWARDS PEOPLE. BUT I WANT TO THANK YOU FOR YOUR STORY. GOD BLESS

  14. Well stated. Beautifully penned. It is heartfelt, genuine, and simply wonderful, the fresh breath that you breathed into the reality in which you live, I live, we all live. I applaud your efforts, I admire your honesty, and I encourage you to continue the conversation with whomever will listen. I invite you to friend me, write me, hell even call me and we can chat, if no other person of color is willing. But we are willing, dear. Just like there are so many white, red, brown, black, pale, pasty white, blue black, BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE who are willing. I just dare to believe WE WIN….the open minded, well meaning, sincere hearts. We win. I love this article, and I love you, Natalie. Hello. My name is Tammy. It is my pleasure.

  15. Thank you for this much needed discussion. First things first there has to be a stop to the dehumanization of black Americans. See us as human beings. 2nd acknowledge that racism. exsist 3rd have a true and honest discussion about and understand that there will be uncomfortableness involved. Lastly then we can heal but everyone has to be willing to listen and understand the real history with scentific facts.

  16. Thank you, Natalie, for a well-written and thoughtful essay. I grew up in Meridian, MS and was in second grade when desegregation happened. I remember that almost all of my classmates’ parents took them out of school for the day, but my Momma was having none of it. She dressed us up and sent us out the door, admonishing us to be loving, polite and cheerful. In third grade, my Momma had saved up for me to have a skating party for my birthday at the local rink, but when we got there they wouldn’t let us in because I had black party guests. My Momma threw an EPIC hissy fit, got her money back and we all packed up and went to the only other rink in town (Dixie Bowl Lanes!). They closed the rink for two hours to let us have our party there. I spent the early Eighties in Philadelphia, MS, where I worked on the Choctaw reservation while in nursing school. I had a birthday party at my house, attended by many of my black and gay friends, and at 2:00 a.m. had a cross burned in mybyard. ON MY BIRTHDAY!!! The Choctaw in that town fared little better than the black folks. They both had to sit in the balcony at the one cinema in town…IN 1982!!
    I, too, love my hometown and state. I adore the humidity, I love the smell of the place, love the food, the music, the art and all of my family and friends there. Unfortunately, I have discovered through social media that many of the people I grew up with are more racist than I ever imagined. I have been quietly accepting their Facebook posts and excusing their behavior for being products of the South, but I AM A PRODUCT OF THE SOUTH. I will no longer be silent. I will no longer accept their horrible posts as “just the way it is”, but call them out at every turn. Southern women are FORMIDABLE. Let’s do this!!!!!

    • Love this! And can relate to your experiences having grown up in small town north Alabama in the 60s-80s. You’re right about southern women – we can do this!

    • Cynthia that song is simply awesome where do we go from here. I wish I could raise my hand with a solution. I do know that if we do what we’ve always done we are Surely to get what we have got. Cynthia thanks for a song that touches your soul and heart.

  17. Natalie,
    Thank you so much for this inspiring word. I join with you in breaking my silence. Also, I am just curious about something…I, like your dad, grew up in Greenville, MS, in the 50’s. I am just wondering if, by chance, I knew your dad. If you are comfortable doing so, would you please share with me your dad’s name? Thank you, again, for this motivating and inspirational article. Please keep sharing.
    Thank you,
    Edna Shurden Langley

  18. Thank you for speaking truth about the issue of race in America.
    Let the conversation continue. God’s continued blessing. May God continue to open our hearts to real love for each other.

  19. I will join you. FREEDOM SUMMER (2001 S&S/Atheneum) and REVOLUTION (2014 Scholastic and a National Book Award finalist). I grew up in Mississippi. I’m probably your parents’ ages. :>

  20. Dear:Natalie I have read you letter very throughtful strong passion thank you for hearing our cries and sorrows in what we endure you have heart of gold to write something like this god is working you as his solider of chirst keep on doing what right and believe in.Thank You Randolph Taylor Jr.,

  21. Natalie,
    Thank you so much for saying what I feel many others wanted to.

    My parents are from Michigan and I was also brought up to believe all people are created equal with two exceptions. Japanese and Germans. My parents were WW11 kids and their hate was centered around Germans and the Japanese. But I interrupt their “hate” as fear. I am sure that was a scary time for everyone but particularly for 10 year old children. They did war drills in school, their parents built bomb shelters in the backyards – I would be terrified too if my parents, my teachers, the policeman – adults in general were implying “the Japanese and the Germans” are out to kill you…in your home or at your school so much so that you are in constant “defensive mode”.

    So does prejudice simply come only from fear? That kid that killed those 9 people in Charleston said “they had to go”? Why? What was he really afraid of? The definition of prejudice is preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience. Who or what is to blame for putting the notion in this kids head that whatever he was afraid of, and who really knows what, that it was worth killing innocent people over?

  22. Thank you for this well thoughtout article. Was thinking this morning that truth is not always easy to speak or to receive. Yet, we must be bold enough to speak this truth as it is revealed to us. Thank you for speaking your truth. You are right our learned attitudes,thoughts and beliefs needs to be shared and challenged in a place where they can be tried and tested by persons whose experiences are different from our own. Far to many good people fear being criticized and ostracized so they remain silence. We must find appropriate ways to share our learned thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs if we are to be transformed as a nation. As The Apostle Paul declares in scripture, we must be transformed by the renewing of the mind. We need both prophets and bridge builders.

  23. WOW! This is amazing, I am a bi-racial woman raised in California. Although gorwing up I also did not understand the depth of “our history,” I always wondered when, where, how, WHY? did this all happen. School was not a place I felt I could go for the answers to these questions. I am Jewish and Black, two of the most unwanted races in our country at one point in time. Where I am from black people were once not allowed to live. I was 1 of 20 black kids in my high school class of 965 students in 2008. My history, has and always will be important to me, I think what is missed is that racism still happens daily EVERYWHERE. it is just more subtle, and not so much in your face like it was in the 60’s. Until, people are able to take a deeper look at themselves and a honest look at how they view ALL RACES, racism will always be here. I loved your view of this matter and the extent you were willing to go into explaining what life is like for you. I as a bi-racial woman experience a high level of Racism daily, where i can be categorized as confused. I take high pride in the woman my parents raised me to be in the midst of all the grief and looks that came our way. my own grandmother (jewish) disowned me for being black, it doesn’t stop there. Your article hits home and is very much so appreciated. You are a leader, and keep taking one step forward, all it takes is each one of us making a decision to do so.

  24. Thank you very much for your passion and your honesty. Hopefully, others will be inspired and do the same.

  25. I don’t, as a black man who has experienced blood-curdling racism firsthand, refuse earnest reflection and outreach on principle. Practically speaking, there’s a world of good it can do, and it does take spine. Kudos for that.

    But a part of me can’t help but feel, when I read a piece like this, that it’s all too little, too late. Century after century of brutality and injustice and engineered social ills and what finally reaches you? Why, white people reporting on TV and commiserating about how horrible it is that nine black folks were murdered. After centuries of rampant barbarism and lunacy? White people picked a convenient time to snap out of it. Due respect to the white folks who were on board all along–but color me skeptical.

    And for every white person who experiences a sudden awakening with regards to this country’s history of white supremacy and utter barbarism, there is another, and another, and still another, who remain aggressive in denial; meanwhile, policies remain stagnant.

    So I applaud your efforts. They are not without merit. I accept them on behalf of the vulnerable who will benefit, perhaps, someday, from increased political support from whites, assuming that the discussion doesn’t end with the final implosion of the Confederacy, which it very well may. Not that my acceptance is of any real consequence. But personally? I’ll take you, because you’re better than the alternative, but I’m also pretty much over you. Insulated and self-congratulating white people seeking newfound moral authenticity through compassionate dialogue–with each other and whatever blacks happen to be in earshot–are a bore.

    • I want to understand how you feel but I cannot understand the under laying hostility. Yes it is much to late for many and we will never really feel as you do because we do not walk in your shoes, that does not mean we don’t see the injustice. In WW11 we were to late for millions of Jews but if we had never started to understand then millions more would be gone. Being late is never good, not showing up at all is worse. I think you need to try to understand us a little too. There is no congratulation due, I want you to accept my feelings as you want me to accept yours.

  26. THANK YOU!! I grew up in a small town in northwest Georgia. I can relate to everything you described. My mother once told me how when she was in high school in this same town, attending the same school that I later attended, they made the Africans american kids exit out of the back of the building, and leave in a completely different area, in the eighties! You’re brave and gracious. I felt as if I were drowning in a sea of white oppression this past week while posting on social media about this tragic situation. It is very real. Racism and the incredible divide, specifically in the south. I am grateful to you and I make you this promise, I am not going to be silent either. Women like us were meant to be heard. We have a gift of tact and can carry this message to people that wouldn’t typically listen to their Africans american peers. Keep on going!

  27. Natalie,
    Thanks so much for writing this. I am a black female who’s family is spread out throughout the U.S. but currently reside in Mississippi. One of the most beautiful things I took away from the article is the message of opening up a line of communication. Whether people agree with me or not, as a black woman in the south, I happen to know some VERY racist black people who are silently opposed to open dialogue because it would expose their true feelings for the “other”…whoever that may be. The beautiful redeeming element here is that no “side” is blameless for preemptive or knee-jerk actions in response to discrimination. And for the love of God, I’m tired of standing by and hearing that only one party involved is to blame for the collective disconnection. So from the bottom of my heart, I feel that I need to assure you that I KNOW that all involved, blacks, whites, orange, and reds alike, will have to ultimately do what you have done and face their own life circumstances and stand in support and love for their neighbor. I also want to say that I affirm you as much as my neighbor as a blood relative. One day, love and common sense will hopefully win and until then I’m committed, with you, to beginning loving conversations with no guards up and all reservations aside. Because, after all, we have a lot more in common than we are used to acknowledging. Peace

  28. Natalie: I’m so ready to “stir the stink”. Thank you for your honesty and reflections of a past, as you put it, that never really existed. The awakening that many of us are experiencing after Charleston is sharp, jagged and may just be the one that creates conversations that really matter. All the best, Linda

  29. Natalie, I live on a little island in the Caribbean- Barbados. I am still distressed at the events that tear us apart as humanity. Thank you for this beautifully written and shared article that really asks of all of us- black or what, what is our role and responsibility as individuals to work towards a better world. Understanding clearly that we should not be discouraged because change wont happen in our lifetime. Thank you for your courage.

  30. Thank you. Interesting. I have read all these comments. I like what Broseph adds to the mix. I cannot deny black racism also. The Molatos place, in black slave culture, continues today to spin its web in Caribbean culture and influence.

    This is an essay about beginning a dialogue between races that feels to me as if that would or is enough to be its end point. Can your children love and marry the people you now want to chat too? How integrated do you feel like being today? I say all the way is the only way. Human being loving human being.

  31. Natalie, As a Black woman I can’t tell you how much your article meant to me. It allows me to believe that we can open this dialog, we can move forward, we as human beings don’t have to stay silent.
    God bless

  32. And so the conversation begin AGAIN! May this open an even bigger door to an a growing wound that continues to deepen! May God enlarge your territory to enlighten, encourage & empower myself & others that now matter the age, race or gender, the conversation must continue!! My prayer is the world will be transformed & won by the love that God has for us all! Thank you for challenging us all by your transparency!! There is work to be done!!! And what better time than PRESENT!!! God bless you Natalie!!

  33. This article touched my heart
    Its amazing that so many people took the time to share in our pain.This the start of a beautiful thing.Love has no color
    Thank you for sharing.

  34. Thank you Natalie for you candid expression of your experience growing up in the South and how different things are and have been for those of color. Your feelings were eloquently written. The most recent events are, unfortunately not new, they are just finally being reported. There is beauty in the South, I have spent my summers there in my youth on my great grandfather’s farm, and even then realized not everyone was prejudiced or racist. But some do need to acknowledge the truth of what the history is and it’s effect on all of the citizens of this country just as you realized. The Charleston tragedy was the act of one person but this type of behavior must have been taught whether by family or the media because it is not the natural order of things. And although it is a horrible tragedy it has at the least opened some eyes, ears and hearts and forced people to talk. I pray we can come to some middle ground and develop some sense of civil tolerance so there will be less of this and alot more peace. Perhaps not in my generation or the next but one day there will be peace within the New Earth just as God has promised.

  35. Thank you Natalie Holm. Part of the healing/growing process does include exactly the idea that even nice people can operate out of racist understandings, based on their own personal experiences. That is the most common underpinning of the encounters I have had as a black American. Most of my “injuries” are not from weapons that kill, but from words that demean or overlook the stark reality of this country’s economic history: Africans were brought here as chattel for economic gain. Our country’s psyche is tangled up in dehumanizing African Americans every time we miss an opportunity to begin the true honest conversation you had initiated by your beautiful essay. Thank you for posting this. I look forward to reading/sharing more. God be with you and all of us as we grow together!

  36. I really enjoyed reading this comment Natalie and I commend you for being so honest about your experience growing up in the South as a Caucasian Female. I myself grew up in the South as well, in small town in Ga with a population of around 4-5000. First thing first, I love everybody regardless of who they are or what they look like. My mother, single mother of 4, never talked to us(me and my brothers, 4 of us) about race. I grew up treating people as if we were all the same. I get so upset at people, racist, that concentrate so much on hating other races or differences in the society as a whole. We should love each other as if we were blind and couldn’t recognize a face or color. That flag that has been the focus of conversation shouldnt be and issue because a physical symbol shouldnt be the reason a person feel the way they feel, or be a symbol of worship of how they feel, especially one that has been used as a symbol of hate and superiority towards another race! I never had issues with it(the flag) because symbols dont hurt me, its the treatment of my race, physically, that hurts me. Police brutality, unequal opportunities for better positions on jobs, accusations that we are trouble makers and dont want to work for a living. Furthermore, we are thieves, welfare recipricants that are the reason we are in the position we’re in! This hurt so bad because the people who are saying this hasn’t, and won’t, experience anything that we have been though in a lifetime. I have so much to say and so much to educate people with as far as growing up in the South but cant get it all in this reply. But I’m glad that its people like you that understand us, and I’m giving a THANK YOU to everybody that dont judge other people until you have lived a life where you are qualified to judge, and none of us has lived like that!!

  37. God bless you for having the courage to speak truth. As a Black middle aged woman, I thank you. If I may, here are a few things to ponder as you continue to develop your ideas around the black white issues in the U.S.

    Tolerance is not is not what I wish for but instead appreciated for the human being that God placed on this earth for a purpose that is good.

    The “The Platinum Rule” is to do unto me as I would want it done. How you want to be treated is not necessarily how I want to be treated.

    If your children never see a Black person in your life and at your dinner table and not just for some church sanctioned event but to truly show hospitality, then they will be no better off then what you have heard about the bigotry of the 60s and earlier.

    Lastly, when you do the right thing for the right reason, you will lose so called friends. You will be making room for a life of character and for a legacy that will change lives.

    God bless you. By the way, my parents are both from Savnnah and with all the hate they experiened, they never passed in on to me.

  38. I grew up in Charleston and came of age in the 60’s. I was taught of the heroic deeds of my ancestors in fighting for liberty from the tyrannical North and that the civil rights act was another in a long line of attacks on our beloved South. I was encouraged to join the Children of the Confederacy where further attempts were made to glorify The War.
    By the late 60’s the facade was beginning to crack. During the hospital strike of 1968 men in the downtown neighborhoods spent the nights on their roofs armed with rifles to shoot any ******s who dared break the 6pm to 6am curfew. This was the first glimmer I had that something was not right.
    Then one evening I was in a car crammed with high school friends when the boy riding shotgun yelled slow down, leaned out and shot out the front tire of a black bicycle rider sending him sprawling into the center of Church Street. He had to hear the laughter echoing from the car as we sped away. I was the only one not laughing and the only one who turned their head to see the young man painfully pulling himself up from the pavement. The shame and horror I felt in that instance remain with me to this day.
    This was the South we grew up in. A land of separate and unequal despite Brown v Board of Education. I attended an all white school that was founded in the mid 60’s so white middle and upper class school children would not have to mix with “them”.
    This was the South we grew up in. Where old times there are not forgotten but remembered with fondness and embellished with lies and falsehoods.
    Despite all this I love my city and we are hurting. We are struggling to understand how this could happen. How could anyone be filled with such hate? The answer is there. It lies in the not so distant past when we were all taught to hate. Many escaped to embrace diversity and equality but in some the evil took root and its fruit showed up at Mother Emmanuel last week.

  39. I admire your honesty and your bravery. As an African American man, it gives me hope to know that there are white women (cuz mothers are early-childhood behavior models) who will raise tolerant children who are respectful of all cultures. God bless your journey!!!

  40. I was born and raised in Alabama, had white friends, some openly and others silently. Never have I read anything as compassionately as this. I pray that other will open up also. Its all about communication. Thank you, may God bless you as you spread the word.

  41. Thank you so much for this insightful article. I was born in Knoxville TN in 1931. We employed Afro-American people in our home and in my father’s business.
    They ate with us when they were in our home; I played with their children; we went to their funerals. However, I never really understood how they were treated until I was in summer school at U.T. and had a Afro-American professor. One of the books that we were required to read was “BLACK LIKE ME”. This was a real eye-opener to me. I hope we can let go of our hate and let the love and guidance of our Lord lead us.

  42. It wasn’t until my Son and his family lived in Knoxville for 5 years that I was forced to give up my own stereotypical prejudices about the south and southerners. They were embraced and loved by many good Christian folk who were as progressive as themselves. Imagine that! (Also, the food was magnificent!)

  43. As tears flow down my cheeks, I write to say thank you for writing this article. My heart has been so very broken and my mind has battled anger as we continue to witness so much hatred in our country and world. Charleston has reopened wounds barely healed from recent murders of young black men (all of them) and women and in most instances, justice becomes a joke. Church has always been the one place we could go to soothe the pain and wash the stinch of hatred from our spirits. And now, hatred was bold enough to enter, take a seat, listen to the word of God be taught for a full hour before it took the lives of nine human beings. I imagine my people felt the same shock and fear when the four little girls were killed when the Alabama church was bombed so many years ago. As me and my community struggle with this pain, I have been AMAZED at the absolute silence of my white “friends” on Facebook. Not one post from any of them…..not one private inbox message……not one. You have, perhaps given me some insight into why the may be. Then again, they may not care ….the silence means I just don’t know. So, yes, let’s begin the dialog, even if we stumble and have to be patient with each other, let’s begin the conversation and trust that healing, based in understanding, can happen. Let’s at the very least have the conversation so tht we know, for sure, we are not alone in this horror. I believe in miracles. Natalie, it appears you do too.

  44. Haven’t read all emails so perhaps this has been mentioned. There’s a GREAT book for white people to read to understand who they are, what their privileges are, and how to move forward: “Waking Up White & Finding Myself in the Story of Race” by Debby Irving.

  45. I grew up “white” in Georgia in the 40s and 50s and chafed under Jim Crow. I left never to return for very long but will be returning for what I hope will be many constructive talks as I read my upcoming book “The Family Tree: A Kinship Lynching,” to be published Jan. 5 by Simon & Schuster.

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