Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Rare Moment With Family & As Expected It's Cringe Worthy

This week I received word that my grandmother is in the hospital near death. Yesterday, I rushed home to be by her side in the hospital. Grandma probably doesn't have much longer to live. When I arrived at the hospital grandma was laying in bed sleep with a feeding tube up her nose. The doctor was talking to my two aunts, a cousin and our pastor about grandma's condition. After he left, I went over to grandma's bed and tried to talk to her. She didn't even know I was there nor did she seem to remember me once she opened her eyes. 

About twenty minutes after I arrived at the hospital, my mother and brother arrived. Five minutes later, my dad arrived. Twenty minutes later, my aunt from Alabama arrived. This was an extremely rare moment. It is a rare thing to see my mom, dad and brother in the same room.

We began to chat. We joked around for a while, but then my mom began to talk about her grandchildren, my older brother's kids. My brother's kids are biracial (black/white). My mom told my aunt and her husband (the couple from Alabama) about her nosy neighbor and my niece's reaction to the neighbor. My brother, her father, often refers to this particular neighbor as "monkey." Why? Let him and my mother tell it, the neighbor looks like a silverback gorilla. 

My niece, after hearing my brother refer to the neighbor as monkey, began calling the man monkey as well. To most rational people this is quite offensive. I'm willing to give a child the benefit of the doubt. After all, she doesn't know any better. She is repeating what she heard. It's her dumbass father's responsibility to teach her better. However, to hear my mother (a forty-something year old black woman) tell this story with a broad smile on her face, while agreeing that her neighbor "does look like a silverback gorilla" (her exact words), is embarrassing to say the least.

I immediately noticed the startled look on my aunt and uncle's faces. Neither of them was amused. In fact, my uncle (an extremely educated man) opened his mouth to say something, but he was interrupted when two nurses walked into the room to change my grandma's diaper. 

I, too, was horrified by her candor and willful ignorance of the racism she was expounding. I remember thinking, My god! This woman and my brother are the two black people closest to my niece. Any information she receives about her blackness will come from them. God help that child!

Anyone who knows black history should know that "Monkey" was (and still is) a term used by whites to describe black people. The monkey caricature is a fixture in American history thanks to racist whites. For years, whites have depicted black people as monkeys, coons, etc in an effort to dehumanize us. So, to hear black people use this same racist and offensive language to describe black people is startling and polarizing.

After we left the hospital my mother offered to treat me, my brother (and even my father) to a meal at the local Golden Carrall. Once there, I didn't waste any time tearing into her ass...

Me: Do you realize the story you LOVE to tell about Bug (my niece's nickname) calling your neighbor a monkey is offensive as hell? Not only is it offensive, but it is shameful! Why in the world do you insist on telling everyone within earshot that your biracial granddaughter has come to associate dark-skinned black people who look like "insert neighbor's name" as monkeys? There is nothing funny about it! Your granddaughter is being taught to be racist. Instead of teaching her better you're sitting around laughing and agreeing with her. What the hell is wrong with you? Did you see the look on "insert aunt and uncle's name" face when you told them that nonsense? For God's sake stop telling that story. And stop going on and on about the "good hair" on Bug and her brother's head. It is sickening to watch you fawn over them based on a beauty standard steeped in white supremacy!

My mother didn't say a word. She looked away as if the ramifications of her story about my neice's antics were finally sinking in and bringing on embarrassment as a result. The contempt I feel for her has somewhat subsided over the years, but whenever shit like this happens it always comes roaring back. I find myself grateful the jest of my rearing didn't come from her. Grandma would have never tolerated me calling another human being (regardless of race) a monkey.

My niece is going to be in for a hell of a wake up call when she begins to come of age. She is going to realize she is too dark to be considered white and too light to be considered black. In the small segregated town where I'm from she will learn exactly what it means to be a person of color in this world.

Every time I replay this event in my head I cringe and I'm overcome with shame. 
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