Let Northam gov­ern and ‘do bet­ter’

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Linda G. Mor­ris

As a 70-year-old, African-Amer­i­can fe­male, I have seen a lot and done a lot. Who among us can say he or she has never done any­thing to of­fend any­one's cul­ture? Let any politi­cian who has noth­ing for which to re­pent cast the first stone.

For those of us African Amer­i­cans who are so self-right­eous about black­face, how many­ofus played cow­boys and In­di­ans with war paint on our faces? How many of us im­i­tated Tonto of “The Lone Ranger” TV fame? How many "In­di­ans" did we shoot with our six-shoot­ers? When­wewent to the movies and sawour Satur­day dou­ble-fea­ture west­erns, how many of us cheered for the cow­boys?

How­many of us had racist team names in high school and col­lege? I am a proud Ed­mond­son grad­u­ate of the Class of 1965, but weren't we the Red­skins — un­de­feated — with our tom­a­hawk chop? Whoa­mongus has not used a racial or eth­nic ep­i­thet in their teen years, and maybe even un­til to­day, to re­fer to other groups.

Just stop! If we are go­ing to have an hon­est con­ver­sa­tion about race, we all have to ’fess up. We have too much work to do than to judge each other for do­ing what was the norm for our times.

Yes, I know the pain slav­ery has caused and con­tin­ues to cause us. I have traced the roots of my late mother, a daugh­ter of the East­ern Shore of Vir­ginia, back to the Holly Grove Plan­ta­tion near Nas­sawa­dox, Va., and our fam­ily back to the late 1700s — five gen­er­a­tions. My great-grand­mother, Rosena Beck­ett, was 8 years old when she was eman­ci­pated. Our fam­ily stayed in Vir­ginia un­til 1930 when my grand­mother left my grand­fa­ther, who was from Bal­ti­more but en­joyed be­ing a big fish in the small pond of Mid­dle­town, to bring their nine chil­dren north to Bal­ti­more for a bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion and life

My mother was very fond of her grand­mother, and she of­ten talked with me about things her grand­mother told her. I am, and will for­ever be, haunted by a con­ver­sa­tion we had in the late 1990s. We were talk­ing about Great-Grand­mother Rosena, and my mother's eyes welled up with tears as she be­gan to speak.

She said, "Grandma used to say that every­body on the plan­ta­tion had to have a job." I looked at my Mother and naively said, "Grandma was only 8 years old when free­dom came. What kind of job could she have had?" My mother said, "Grandma said she had to warm her mas­ter's bed." I saw the pain in her eyes and watched a tear roll down my mother's cheek, and we said no more. I was stunned — speech­less.

That was one as­pect of the wretched in­sti­tu­tion of slav­ery that had never even crossed my mind. That's why to­day, when you ask me to get up­set about some­body call­ing me the n-word, not want­ing to serve meor dress­ing up in black­face, that be­hav­ior doesn't even reg­is­ter emo­tion­ally any­more. Un­less we can go back and undo the dam­age done to all the girls — and I'm sure boys — who were used as bed-warm­ers for their mas­ters, I don't care about these cos­metic re­proaches. I will no longer al­low these ves­tiges of slav­ery to have do­min­ion over me.

I have no doubt that at some point in this long life, I have been cul­tur­ally in­ap­pro­pri­ate. How­ever, it was the way things were. As Maya Angelou said, "Do the best you can un­til you know bet­ter. Then when you know bet­ter, do bet­ter."

The gover­nor of Vir­ginia — the cra­dle of the Con­fed­er­acy — started know­ing bet­ter once he started work­ing with people who did not look like him. I'm sure that there are chil­dren of all races who have ben­e­fited from his care as a doc­tor. I say, let him be gover­nor and do some good for the people of Vir­ginia’s East­ern Shore, where my mom was born 100 years ago.

Linda G. Mor­ris is the prin­ci­pal au­thor of “Cherry Hill: Rais­ing Suc­cess­ful Black Chil­dren in Jim Crow Bal­ti­more.”

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