The state of North Carolina has become a coveted battleground state for the 2020 Presidential election. Depending how the voting numbers inevitably fall could make or break either one of the candidates. This election will also show the world what North Carolina is made of; what we value, and what North Carolinians would like to see for themselves and their bretheren moving forward. Good or bad, this election will say much about the people who live here.
I have deep roots in North Carolina. My father was born and raised here. It was my grandparent’s home. My ancestors were enslaved in this state. The racial climate was why my father fled North Carolina. He’d been fourteen the first time he was picked up and held by Durham police. He’d been walking home from the local golf club where he had worked a summer job caddying for the club’s wealthy, white members. He’d made two dollars that day and was excited to take his earnings home to his mother. It brought him joy to feel like he could contribute to the home and help his family.
For three days he sat in a jail cell, no one knowing where he was. When they found him, they were never told why he was being held. One of the officers stole his two dollars, telling him he’d have no use for it where he was going. He was eventually released, never charged, and no one apologized for their actions. He was admonished to remember his place and he was called the N-word as if it were his name. It would not be the last time the local authorities harassed him for no reason. He learned early that being a black male in the South could easily be a detriment to his health.
A year later, at the age of fifteen, he enlisted in the US Army. He lied about his age and his mother signed the papers for him to go. Both he and my grandmother believed he would be safer with Uncle Sam. Military service took him to Germany where he learned a language and a trade. When he returned to the states, he headed north, landing in Connecticut where he met and married my mother. She had been a transplant from South Carolina herself and they bonded over their southern roots.
My father left North Carolina in his rearview mirror, returning only for funerals, the occasional wedding, and holidays to visit with elderly relatives who had stayed. Despite his misgivings about North Carolina, the decision to return after retirement was an easy one. He was a self-made man, financially solvent, with adult children. He was able to pay cash for his expansive home and has been able to enjoy the fruits of his labors.
When I announced my decision to move to North Carolina my father wasn’t overly encouraging. I had a young son and he worried for us in a way that was disconcerting. To some degree I’d lived a sheltered life. Raised in a middle class, predominately white community, I had no true sense of the racism my daddy had endured as a child. What I had faced had been whole-heartedly different, not as overt or as caustic. No one had dared called me the N-word to my face. I didn’t know how to prepare for what I might be walking into.
My first home was in a wonderful neighborhood out in the country. It was a small town that I instantly loved, affording us a sense of community where a little boy could run and play and have no fear. I could not have been happier. I’d rented my home blind, a family friend doing the walk through with the landlord and taking photographs for me to see. I still remember the landlord’s surprise when he discovered I was a black woman married to man who was perceived to be white. But we came with cash and green has always been bigger than black or white has ever been. He did, however, forewarn us to be mindful of our neighbor, saying he was racist and didn’t take kindly to interracial relationships.
Duly frightened, I was mindful to make sure Son-shine stayed clear of that side of the road and I didn’t go out of my way to be a nice neighbor. A dog named Jaxx changed that. He was a massive Rottweiler who loved to explore with his boy. The two would disappear into the woods behind our property for hours on end. Then one day, Jaxx took off next door to explore. Son-shine chased after him and I chased after them both. I apologized profusely as the dog and his boy both climbed the front porch to sit beside the homeowners. Minutes later, the dog was chewing on a bone, Son-shine had a plate of fresh baked cookies and we had made new friends. It would be many months later when I would share with them what had been said, kicking myself for believing what I hadn’t bothered to learn for myself.
North Carolina became home and I have been glad for it. I’ve grown here. I’ve watched my son become a man here. I left a toxic relationship behind, and I found love here. North Carolina has been more good than it has been bad. But never before have I seen the wealth of racism here that has reared its head over the last four years. Neighbors have turned on neighbors, strangers are ugly to each other, and more times than not race is centered around the conflicts. I fear for my black son, my black husband, and I understand that this fear is what moved my grandmother to think it safer to send her fifteen year old son to the military during a time of war than keep him home in a state that did not value his black life.
I worry that North Carolina will not rise above the fray. I fear the hatred that is suddenly running amuck will be validated if the state remains polarized. I don’t trust that the voices of reason have been heard over the chatter of insanity that’s become so prevalent. I’m scared that this state will cease to be home to many of us who have loved it here. But mostly, I worry that North Carolina will soon be a battleground for far more than this election.