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Weekend Soliloquy: Afrocity Hanging in Texas with “The Firsts” August 15, 2009

Filed under: African American,Sunday Soliloquy — afrocity @ 9:44 AM
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LBJ ALS 2

Afrocity at the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum, standing next to official White House portrait of Hillary Rodham Clinton

My last trip of the summer is to Austin, Texas.

My home for nearly ten years, Texas is the state that taught me to be a woman and laid the foundation for what would render her as the first conservative in her family.

Texas is also the state that took away the woman closest to me.

My mother died here.

Coming back was not easy.

The trip haunted me for months.

In 2007, with mother’s affairs all taken care of, I vowed never to set skirt in Texas again. Whether it was the intense Houston heat or the humiliation of losing her home in Lampasas  County that took its toll on mother, I blamed the entire state for her death.

Unreasonable thinking on my part?

Yes, but I needed a scapegoat and Texas  was fated to become a convenient villain in this tragic chapter of my history.

Replica of Lyndon Baines Johnson Oval Office on the 10th floor of the LBJ Presidential Libarary

Replica of Lyndon Baines Johnson Oval Office on the 10th floor of the LBJ Presidential Libarary

With the trip fast approaching, my ticket not yet purchased, I found it difficult to muster the strength and enthusiasm.  There was a “Lady Bird” Johnson tribute exhibit at the Lydon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum. Thrust into First Lady-hood after a violent assassination the sweetness of Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Taylor Johnson resonated with the wounded country.

Dear gentle Lady Bird died one month after my mother. I was still in Houston when the news broke. Mother loved Lady Bird. and it was fitting that her death occurred soon before that of the woman she admired so greatly. Two Texas women one black one white. One a willing and proud resident, the other reluctant but out of options. One lying in state, the other in the Harris County morgue awaiting a maternal DNA test.

Should I or shouldn’t I? After all, it was Houston and not Austin that it happened.  Anger and sadness  intertwined with a sense of nostalgia for the place I learned to love- albeit on its terms.  This was foreign land to the 19 year old Chicagoan. Exotic in many ways and new- literally new. The highways, glowed with reflecting lights during dusk.  Meat was cooked slow on the smoker. Potato salad, watermelon wedges, Mexican food that melted in your mouth. The sweet smell of chicken mole, hot spicy, mesquite wood burning in the August air. Heat, dirt, bugs, tiny toads.  Student Baptist tent revivals, Frito pie, Clint Black music playing throughout a woman’s dormitory, sorority girls, cheerleaders and hairspray. Lots of hairspray and eyeliner.  My mother’s tears, a scorpion’s sting, fire ants on puppies. All memories of Texas.

Afrocity experienced a lot of  “firsts” here.  My first time driving, my first time meeting real live Republicans, my first time “you know” first time.

My first time being called a nigger happened in Texas. I will never forget that.  It was 1989, rabid Neo Nazi Skinhead Tom Metzger stories were rampant in the news. Geraldo Rivera got a nose job by the best surgeon in town- a  stage chair. Remember that?

Geraldo’s fight was typical of what was going on with hate groups. That summer when mother told me I was going to Texas, I braced myself for lynchings. It was only my first week there when I was called a nigger. It shocked me because I did nothing but wash my hands in the sink of a public restroom and tried to help someone get a paper towel. Not a skinhead, but a little blond blue eyed boy. He could not have been more than six years old.

The Great Archives of Lydon B. Johnson. Every Box Has A Golden Seal.

The Great Archives of Lydon B. Johnson. Every Box Has A Golden Seal.

“Nigger,” he taunted as I bent to hand him the paper towel.

We just starred at one another until his mother poked her head in, and called his name, Christopher left me standing there holding the baggage.  At least we were now properly introduced.

Christopher allow me to introduce myself. I am Afrocity, the nigger. How nice to meet you.

Lyndon B. Johnson's Kewl Table Phone.

Lyndon B. Johnson's Kewl Table Phone.

Later, I met others that would make Christopher look like Prince Charming. While dancing at a club in Fort Worth a man came up to me and said “You look so pretty I could pull your skirt over your head and forget you are black.”   Two weeks later, I witnessed my first Klu Klux Klan march. Sure we had KKK rallies in Chicago. I could have seen one if I wanted to. Texas just made it difficult for me to escape the festivities with the KKK march taking place right under my dorm window and all.  Shutting the blinds, laying under my Wal-Mart sheets was how I spent that Saturday morning.

Texas tough love taught me to be tolerant.

“Can I touch your hair and skin? I have never seen a black person before.”

It was a question asked by mt sorority sister. We were in the back of a pick up truck, Winn Dixie bags filled with stuff for smores, quesedillas, and of course booze.  My sister was beautiful and blond, kind and completely innocent. I put my brown hand on hers bent in her lap so she could stroke my hair.

“Why is it so straight?” she asked. ” How do y’all do that?”

“With an iron,” I answered.

“Y’all iron your hair on an ironing board??” He eyes were popped out.

“No silly!!!!” (Giggling) “We do it with a pressing comb. It is heated.

Portrait of a First Lady Burd

Portrait of a First Lady Burd

My brother told me I should of slapped the hell out of her for asking such a stupid question.  My reaction was “too kind and naive” he told me. I did not mind the question, it only served to endear her to me.

For the first time, I felt black. Texas complicated my racial identity. In Chicago, my Caucasian friends never touched my face. Their mom’s never made me iced tea served in a mammy doll glass, on mammy doll table coasters, atop the mammy doll table cloth.

“They are just collector’s items you know,” said the Arlington, Texas mom. “My nana and I collected those since the 1930’s”

She was kind, a good God fearing woman who collected black mammy dolls.  My iced tea was nice and cold. My friends were starring at me, awaiting a response to the museum of kitsch and racism.

I smiled, “You didn’t poison my tea so you could make a doll out of me did you?”

That Texas kitchen was bursting with laughter. My friend hugged me. “You are too funny.”

The Texas mom was off the hook and we girls would continue our slumber party in the living room watching Pretty Woman on pay per view. Pillow talk, popcorn, peach Schnapps and Everclear would finish us off. We were going to Dallas in the morning to work the Special Olympics, the alcohol needed to be out of our system. Surrounded by central air and white skin, I pryed my way to the kitchen for a glass of water.  But someone was in the kitchen. It was Texas mom, drinking coffee, smoking a cigarette and communing with the mammy dolls.

“I am sorry,” I said. “I am thristy.”

First Ladies of Fashion.  A dress worn by the First Lady during the Johnson years.

First Ladies of Fashion. A dress worn by the First Lady during the Johnson years.

“You’re fine darling, she said getting up to get me a glass. She opened the cabinet and everything inside was mammy doll themed. Her head went down. “Let me get you a foam cup.”

“That is okay, I will drink from anything. “

She turned and looked at me. “I am not a bad person. In Texas this stuff is normal but you are from up North. …I just want you to know that I do not hate black people. My daughter loves you…I have never had a black person in my house before, there just are none here. We have Mexicans in here to do yard work…”

I pulled out a seat at the table. This woman was interesting. “You know the dolls are from a bad time for my race but to you they are mere decorations,” I explained. “Like Nazi stuff.”

“I would nerver-“

“To blacks this stuff is the same thing.”

” I am a bad person.”

“No you are not. You just didn’t know.” I smiled at her, “I never have seen so many in one place…My mother in Chicago would freak out.”

The Texas mom laughed. “Do you forgive me?”

“Yes, I forgive you but the next time you buy one think of me.”

She nodded, “I will Afrocity.”

Sleep never came up again that night. Texas mom walked with me through the kitchen, mammy doll by mammy doll. Each one had a story behind it. Surprisingly her narratives were not racist at all. She was just a strawberry blond Texas tween, antiquing with her mother, ignorant of the pain caused by her hobby.  Someone had to tell the story of race in America. What better storyteller than one’s kitchen.

Today’s pictures tell you that I did buy that ticket to Austin. 106 degree weather, smells of beer from 6th Street, college football, LBJ-land, good Mexican food again.  Sushi with a PUMA pal. Texas, I forgive you. Thank you for allowing me grow as an African American woman. Thank you for the “firsts”.

Autographed Letter Signed,

AFROCITY

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20 Responses to “Weekend Soliloquy: Afrocity Hanging in Texas with “The Firsts””

  1. Carolina Nan Says:

    You are a class act!!! Thank you for the insight.

  2. LJSNAustin Says:

    Yet another brilliant and moving post, Afrocity. Your descriptions of all things “Texas” is spot-on. Having been born and raised in a small town in Texas, I have known many moms and daughters just like your sorority sister and her mom. Racism was alive and well in my small town–and it still is to an extent. Your spirit is so forgiving. You were so sweet to your sister and her mother. I imagine they will never ever forget you and the lessons you taught them. So glad you made this trip to Texas and so glad I could share sushi and good times with you!

  3. Joanelle Says:

    Thank you, Afrocity for sharing 🙂

  4. GinnyPub Says:

    Once again, I was with you, my mind seeing everything you’ve written….Beautiful.

  5. jgregg Says:

    Afrocity — Is ALL of this true? Is there any hyperbole in this very moving piece re: your time in Texas? I have seen my share of racist acts (and many more reverse racist acts since I dated/married/was divorced by a wonderful woman of color), but almost all in California and some in VA where I went to grad school. But, in all of my dozens of work-trips to Austin over the last 3 years, I never witnessed any 6 yr-olds running around using the N-word, or a-holes on the dance floor spouting such filth (and believe me, I’m hyper sensitive to this trash with two beautiful light-skinned sons), but perhaps one or two older gals with babydolls in their kitchens somewhere.

    Look forward to reading more of your pieces!

    Jg.

    • afrocity Says:

      No hyperbole. I wish there was.

      • jgregg Says:

        Thanks for sharing, again, what must have been some painful memories. My (ex)father-in-law, who is still the proud papa of his two adoring grandbabies, and I used to talk about all of the terrific garbage he faced in Nashville (more like, Murfreesboro) as a child. After his time in the Air Force, he came to L.A. and conquered the town, and started a small Real Estate empire. If my kids grow to be like him in any way, they’ll be blessed.

        Jg.

  6. Amarissa Says:

    Thank you for sharing this very moving story. I’m glad, although not from Texas, that you had the courage to go back and face your past. Even though we never forget, we do forgive most of the time and learn, through these experiences, to move on and better our lives. I think you are on the right track on the latter. Keep traveling!

  7. johninca Says:

    The beautiful blogger here does not play the race card. If she says a child called her the n word, then, as far as I’m concerned, that is what happened.

    In my church, we are taught to see Christ in one’s neighbor. It was never very hard for me to see Christ in black people because, for most of this nation’s history, they have been unjustly nailed to a cross.

  8. bob Says:

    Afrocity, if you are not writing a book, you’d best get busy. You are a good writer.

  9. InPalinWeTrust Says:

    Wow.

    If you are not REALLY proud of yourself for sharing this post, you should be!

  10. tom metzger Says:

    Racism is here to stay. Its normal. The opposite is abnormal!

    • boldandbald Says:

      So, are you saying that racism is good? I think you may need to do some clarifying.

  11. WestTexas Says:

    Afro, I found your site through lgf. What a touching story. It pains me to hear that some people in this world can be so ugly without a cause other than one’s race. I know that it happens, but it is always a shock. You have a wonderful site and I hope that you continue to share your wonderful stories with us.

    Oh, and Tom Metzger, it will stay, but the goal should be to turn it into an abnormal practice. You need some soul searching.

  12. boldandbald Says:

    In an age when we see people cry ‘racism’ at every corner it is very refreshing to hear from someone like yourself who knows what true racism is and understands that some of it comes from ignorance. That doesn’t excuse it, but your reaction to it, your quiet understanding, doubtless helped some of those that you have met to overcome some of those racist feelings that came from ignorance. I consider it an honor to count you as a friend, though I have never met you.

  13. Thank you for this post. I never would have guessed all that stuff could happen in what, the early 90’s? Stunning and sad. It really makes one’s paradigm shift.

    Thank you for sharing your journey with your mother. It’s very poignant. I wish I could do a fraction of what you have done in that area. Maybe a few decades from now…..

    (PS–love the pics! And I am shocked at the size of that LBJ archive.)

  14. fritzi Says:

    You are a teacher of virtue. In the face of the offensive, you find tenderness and forgiveness, whereby you are able to stretch the heart and mind of those limited in their understanding, that is loving.
    What a tender story with heart-melting power. I hope you are working on a book, you are wonderful writer. I’ll be one of the first in line.

  15. Marianne7 Says:

    This little walk down your memory lane shook loose a memory of mine.

    I went to college at Antioch back in the 60’s, a liberal arts college, very liberal, which required that students spend half their time working at various jobs around the country, called co-op jobs. My first co-op job was in the OR at Cuyahoga County Hospital. One of my fellow co-op students was a black girl from CT. We had a blast together exploring Cleveland, and upon returning to campus, decided to switch roomies and room together. We enjoyed rooming together for about a year and a half, and it was a period when a lot was happening in the civil rights movement. Antioch, now defunct, was sufficiently liberal to get the distinction of being the only institution to be put, in its entirety, on the FBI’s subversives list. Roomie and I spent many a dinner, and dorm bull session with our friends discussing politics, and generally having lovely rants against various establishment figures.

    Then the movement came along amongst the most angry blacks on campus to segregate themselves from whites to find their own identity. We got a black dorm from the administration. The most radical blacks moved in immediately. They found themselves not very many, even on our campus. So, they started accusing their dorm neighbors, and all other blacks on campus. whites were racist and guilty, if only be association (same skin color as “Bull” O’Oconner). Blacks who were hanging with us were all poor confused “Toms”. Just pathetic.

    Ok, the upshot of all this was that ALL blacks on -campus, within one semester, dumped their dorm rooms and moved into the black dorm. Oh well, sh*t happens. I got myself a single, and decided to knuckle down and study my way out of college. I would of course go sit with my black firends at lunches and dinners, and at first it was fine. Then after a few days, the seat was taken, so I quit going to sit with the large group. Then one day, I saw my ex-roomie sitting by herself for lunch, and moseyed over to sit with her. She then told me to please not sit there. She was getting a lot of flak for having white friends, and she didn’t want anyone to see us together.

    wow. I was stunned, and went to sit elsewhere. And I kind of kicked myself for not figuring it out before, like perhaps when she dumped her white boyfriend? But hey, how many boyfriends do we dump in life? *sigh*

    Anyway, I got sensitized, and always waited for a black to take the initiative to say hello after that. Some kind of signal that he/she didn’t object to talking to me on the grounds of too little melanin. After all, that would only be polite if the person had an aversion to talking to me. Except of course in professional situations, when we had an outside reason to talk about something.

    I was well into my 30’s before I thought about how that must come across if the person didn’t have a hang-up about lack of melanin. I’d be behaving pretty stand-offish. So I made an effort not to be paranoid, and just by my blabby self. It worked well. But then, I’m not a shy person.

    I am coming to the conclusion that whole episode in liberal America was spectacularly destructive. Large numbers of people, black and white, ended up hesitant to continue our national dialogue on race. Race discussions ended up on the list of topics not discussed in polite society. Which of course means only the loonies are talking about it. In listening to the aforesaid loonies, we all have a tendency to have that opinion about the topic being impolite re-enforced, and we all avoid it more! Ok, this isn’t good.

    How quickly would something like that book that came out about 10 years ago expounding the thesis that blacks were not as smart as whites, and therefore shouldn’t be afforded college educations, etc, because there was a consistent difference in test scores would have been debunked if the regular people in the US had been able to talk about it to each other instead of a bunch or left/right loonies on the tube? I remember talking about it to my white friends along the lines of’ “well, I’ve often accused men of thinking with a different organ than their brain, but I wasn’t referring to their skin..”, but it was definitely a topic I never brought up, even for hilarity, with my black brother-in-law (who’s an excellent engineer, by the way).

    Maybe we should just go ahead, and not be so polite.

  16. I loved this piece and agree with the other commenter who said you should be writing a book. I am from Texas, born and raised. I have come across a very minute amount of Texans who behave the way that you described. I am sorry to see that you encountered so many in such a short amount of time, but again glad to see that you were the bigger person and had to have given them a realization that their thoughts and actions were ignorant. The mentality of Texas mom is one that I have heard more often than the others you describe. “I am not a racist, I have black friends…” I am always disgusted by a descriptive of someone which begins with “I saw this black (man, woman, child) [and then the rest of the story is good].” Oddly enough I’ve never heard those same people begin a story with “I saw this white guy the other day.” Surely there are times when color would be relevant and not offensive, as in, “I saw this woman the other day and she had the most beautiful shade of caramel skin, her hair was like….” But the need to point out that someone is black serves the speaker better by pointing out their ignorance. Luckily, most of Texas is not like that today, and those select few Texans who are that way are not admired and accepted by the many who are not.

  17. bluelyon Says:

    Wow, Afrocity, powerful piece! And the wisdom you showed to that woman and her daughter…amazing.

    Thank you for this post.


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