And to this very present day, I have a visceral response to a white woman with a southern accent. It puts me on alert, makes me immediately suspicious and mistrustful. We rehearsed the lessons and rules of the system daily, and especially with my brother. The southern white woman--any white woman, actually, represented the threat of death to any black boy or man. One scream, one lie, one misinterpretation could be the cause of his death. Emmett Till didn't know the rules.
That sweet, sugar-coated smile and that slow drawl were dangerous weapons. We learned to beware, be cautious, do anything they asked and say absolutely nothing. Head down.
You may argue that I've been wandering in worlds of whiteness for my entire adult life. I should "get over myself." That was a very long time ago. I feel certain, however, that I am who I am and have achieved what I've achieved because I've kept every slave, every victim of Jim Crow at the forefront of my life and vision. I owe. I owe. And while the past doesn't oppress me or restrict me, it does make me acutely conscious of my gratitude to women just like those in that film--the mothers who pawned a found ring to send her twins to college. I owe.