My mom is one of those late boomer white women that only discovered their privilege recently and clings to it tooth and nail. For my generation, which is on the cusp of X and millennial, racism is both overt and subtle, tricky, slippery, and necessarily found out and eradicated when found to be living in one’s head.
My mom, on the other hand, seems eager to cling to the tenuous privilege she only lately found she had while simultaneously clutching her suffering as the worst. It’s an ugly fit. It lays bear the criticism some have of white feminists.
And it makes me terribly, terribly angry.
She campaigned for Obama. Living in SC, she volunteered, and was part of the mass effort going door to door to talk to people about why they should vote for the man who turned out to be our first black president.
She adores Michelle Obama.
She also casually and laughingly compared a day laborer to Mammy from Gone with the Wind.
The fact that she was smart enough to tell me the entire saga of the laborer and her back porch without mentioning Mammy, or for that matter, referring to the laborer as lazy, or dumb, is worth noting. She gets [I think?] how shitty that is. To me she told the story, mentioning he was black, and also pointing out that he was bi-polar. He had forgotten her instructions time and time again, and often this forgetting was absurd to the point of bizarreness, like digging a hole instead of filling one in.
He also went off his meds and got picked up by the police, which has happened to many [maybe all?] people I know that suffer from schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder.
It wasn’t until she was with my dad and his second wife that she began the story referencing Mammy, inviting the three of them to reminisce on “what those people are like.”
I don’t know how to process this. I don’t know what to do with what had been a deep admiration for my mom. She urged me to read Toni Morrison. She put James Baldwin’s “If White English Isn’t a Language Then Tell Me What Is” into my hands. I’ve continued to read Baldwin through out my life, he’s one my heroes, and he would have eaten her alive, so WTF?
No one heard her, which is to say, no one, other than other old white Southerns like her heard her. Except me.
But if someone else had heard her, what would I say? What could I say?
That she wasn’t like this when I was young? That she didn’t raise my brothers and I to think this way, that she used to be better, that slowly, subtly something has been happening to her mind, that as she has grown increasingly convinced of and clingy to her own narrative of victimhood, she has also become uglier to any form of Other.
Or is this, really, what has always been there, hidden too far back for me to see?
And at the same time one of the characters from her mystery novel is a black slave. I don’t know at this point what her chances of being published are, but it’s hard for me to read the portrait in her book, know that she means a world of well, and yet she doesn’t bother to see the current dialogue as relevant to her.
…and like all observations of my mother, the fear and the frustration are: will this be me one day? Is there some inevitability to her broken, drunken, selfish mind that will make it mine one day?