Today’s 5 from my Tribe will stray a bit from its typical format, but we had a moving discussion as we drove home from visiting the African American museum in D.C.
5 from my Tribe
me: Tell us about an exhibit that was striking.
- Bear: The 14-year-old boy that was murdered.
- T-man: Emmett Till.
- me: Emmett Till. And why was that striking for you?
- Bear: Because it was really sad that he was just a good kid and somebody murdered him and, like, tried to make his body disappear so nobody would find him. And how they described what he looked like. It was really sad.
- me: That was hard to listen to. T-man? What was striking to you?
- T-man: Emmett Till, too. It was just…wrong. I don’t know why people would do that for no good reason.
- me: Do you remember why they killed him? Did either of you catch that? These were boys from Chicago visiting Mississippi. His mom was telling him this is not Chicago, that you step off the sidewalk and you keep your eyes down. But there was part of the story where he was walking by the general store, and when the woman stepped out what did he do?
- T-man: He whistled?
- me: Yeah, he whistled at her. One of those pretty girl whistles. But he was black, and the woman from the store was white…I had a hard time watching his mama talk about that.
- T-man: Bet you she still has nightmares about it.
- me: I’m sure. She’s had a long time to make peace with it, but do you remember how she described him?
- Bear: Yeah. He had an eye out of the socket and somebody took a hatchet to his face and to the back of his head.
- me: Yes. And she said the civil rights movement had found a leader and her son was the sacrificial lamb.
- T-man: Oh.
- me: I had a hard time with two exhibits. When we saw the exhibit with shackles, and there were the grownup shackles and the child sized shackles. I knew that children were taken as slaves; I just never really thought about putting shackles on them. That was hard to look at. And then that KKK hood.
- T-man: I saw that but I didn’t read it, what was it about?
- me: Well, it told about when the Ku Klux Klan formed and why they wore hoods like that. It was not just to disguise their identities but to make them look ghostlike – which if you looked at the hood it was kind of creepy, the dark eye holes. They were intended to be intimidating and ghostlike to the people they terrorized.
- Bear: There was that part where I saw a picture of them and I just couldn’t walk in there. I was like, can we skip that section?
- me: This is hard stuff, that makes sense. What was a striking exhibit for you, BrightSide?
- BrightSide: So much of it was remarkable. Some things that I learned that were fascinating…the fact that in the 1700s in the Carolinas over 50% of the population were slaves when they were working the sugar plantations. The fact that Jackie Robinson was not the first African American to play in the major leagues. And I liked all the movies they had. It’s a neat museum where you can read all you want but it’s also interactive with the movies to visually see history. It was amazing.
me: Did you guys hear any facts today you didn’t know before? A lot of that was stuff you haven’t learned in school.
- BrightSide: I didn’t realize Thomas Jefferson had 609 slaves.
- Bear: The fact that Thomas Jefferson’s kids were his slaves.
- T-man: I didn’t realize how much of an impact blacks had on culture. Like sports – blacks are extremely athletic.
- me: And there was a large music section as well.
- Bear: I really enjoyed the culture part. With all the different outfits and everything. I thought that was really cool. And the sports section.
- BrightSide: I didn’t realize it wasn’t ’til 1989 that there was the first African American head coach in the NFL.
- Bear: Dad, did you see the costumes from The Wiz? They had the actual costumes.
me: If you could take one friend to the museum for a day, who would you take and why?
- T-man: Iz. I think he’d find it interesting because he’s black and white at the same time, like me.
- BrightSide: First ones that popped into my mind were sista-friend and Big D ’cause the experience with them would be amazing. They’d have a lot of insight and they think deep….I’m trying to think if I associate with anyone that has racial tendencies, to kind of open their eyes to what reality is. It’s like, people that are still ignorant – hey. Go learn what true history is and how your mindset today, if you still think black people are inferior, it’s time for you to grow up and learn. It’s nothing but pure ignorance.
- me: I think gem would have an interesting perspective because she grew up in the north.
- BrightSide: I wouldn’t call him a friend but I’d love for Mr. Mutton’s butt to go through there.
- Bear: Who?
- BrightSide: The county commissioner –
- me: – who’s backward as all jeebers.
me: Okay, everybody gets a chance to ask their own question.
BrightSide: My question would be one I’ve already posed to [the kids] – I’d like them to try to help me understand what [their] feeling is. Because I’m interested in both of their perspectives on it.
me: Okay, you’re gonna have to sharpen up “what your feeling is” because that’s where they’re floundering.
- BrightSide: I can share what my feeling is. Part of it is absolute shame being a white guy, that a race of people would do that to anyone else just absolutely breaks your heart, that people could ever think like that. Part of it is absolute anger. Very mixed emotions.
- me: I felt…horrified. Horrified that people with my skin color in this country owned people and treated them as property. I was embarrassed to be white –
- BrightSide: White people would not see you as white, though.
- me: I know, that’s kind of ironic. I was embarrassed standing in that museum with all those people around me who were black and African American. I was embarrassed to be white. And there was a part of me that was thinking, I wonder…there’s no way for them to know whether I’m that prejudiced person or not.
- BrightSide: And what did I learn about myself from this? I learned if you see an injustice and you see an opportunity to be on the right side of things, be more active. Be more ready to step forward and express how you feel. Stand up for what’s right.
me: (to kids) Does that give you a better idea of what dad’s asking? Deep down inside, what did standing in the museum make you feel?
- Bear: I was kind of scared because it could happen again. Like, in theory, it could.
- me: And that’s a hard thing to look at and think “that could happen to me.”
- T-man: I guess it was kind of scary to think about what people had done and how, with what’s been going on in the world, it could happen again.
- Bear: I was also kind of angry because people were sold like animals and furniture. They were sold along with that kind of stuff. And like, all these families were torn apart.
- me: Yes. Did any of it make you angry, T-man?
- T-man: Yes. I felt like just turning around and punching somebody or something.
- BrightSide: I get that.
- me: Yeah. I think it would be hard for anyone to walk through there who has a history –
- Bear: Just like, to think about that. It could have been my distant relatives…it probably was.
- me: Yes. Going back through your bloodline? Yes, you would have ancestors who were slaves.
- BrightSide: You read their stories.
BrightSide: Where do you think we are right now with “All people are created equal”?
- Bear: I think we’re a lot farther than we were, but people are still mean and prejudiced if somebody’s gay or disabled or black. People are still mean to them. And women’s rights, it’s still the same way with that, too.
- BrightSide: So the people who are in the Black Lives Matter movement, do you think they have a reason? ‘Cause it’s really not equal yet, is it?
- Bear: Yeah.
- me: What do you think, T-man? Does it seem like things are equal?
- T-man: Not really, no. Because we still have people being discriminated against. Like Donald Trump to the people who are fleeing the war [torn] countries. We’re like the “promised land” people, but not anymore. ‘Cause they’re building barriers.
- me: You’re right, we don’t treat everybody as equal. Not everybody has the same value in a society like that.
- Bear: I like to think about what gem said, about how a body’s just a suitcase for a soul. So everybody’s the same. It’s just what’s on the outside, and that doesn’t even matter.
These people, my tribe – they are my heart and soul.