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
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