On the day before Thanksgiving, my husband, kids and I packed into our tan Nissan Maxima and headed to Oxford, Miss. We rode down Corridor X en route to my sister-in-law’s home with visions of smoked turkey and cornbread dressing dancing in our heads.
The closer we got to the city, however, the more anxiety rose within me.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to spend the holidays with my in-laws; it was that I kept thinking about the images of the University of Mississippi students rioting and using racial slurs the night of Pres. Barack Obama’s reelection. My sister-in-law lives minutes away from campus and I was reluctant to go to a city where something like that could happen.
Part of my anxiety was anger, anger that the participants were comfortable enough to do that. Another part, quite honestly, was fear. That scene brought back memories of when I was a little girl and had nightmares about the Ku Klux Klan outside my window. My grandmother told us horrific stories about her run-ins with the klan as she integrated post offices throughout Alabama. She rose within the ranks to become the first black female postmaster in the state. Her stories haunted me.
Once we arrived in Oxford, I stopped by the Wal-Mart to get some things to make my hubby’s favorite mac and cheese. From the moment I stepped inside, I tensed up. Every time I passed a white person who wore an Ole Miss shirt, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Was he there?” or “Was she one of them?”
Usually I am the sappy, Pollyanna type who aimlessly walks through Wal-Mart and smiles at everyone I see. This time, though, I was guarded, clinched my teeth and held my breath.
I hate racism and despise assuming someone hates me when they may or may not. It wasn’t a good feeling, but I couldn’t shake it.
Were passersby looking at me, a black woman with a short, Afrocentric hairstyle, big earrings, and hating me the way they hate Pres. Obama?
While standing at the deli, waiting on slices of smoked cheddar cheese (at Wal-Mart, IKR), I stood behind a tall, burly-looking white man. I kept my eyes forward and on the short, black woman who was slicing his meat.
“That’s good,” he told her.
She handed him the package.
“You have a Happy Thanksgiving,” he told her in a singsong tone.
Then, he looked at me and smiled. Right there, I breeeeeeeathed a sigh of relief and slowly bits of the fear and anger began to melt away. Thank God.