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 many of us 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? When we went to the movies and saw our Saturday double-feature westerns, how many of us cheered for the cowboys?
How many 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? Who among us 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 me or dressing up in black face, 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.”