SBS 301 Cultural Diversity         Fall 2001        Personal Memory Ethnographies

White Supremacy Still Lives On

 My emotions are uncontrollable.  Tears are running down my cheeks.  I am seven months pregnant with my third child.  I have a three-year-old son and had a stillborn son one year ago.   I have just gone through the most difficult year of my life.  I am sitting in a large church auditorium and the minister has been speaking on abortion.  He said that the majority of the time when a woman has an abortion she feels pressured into it and then must deal with emotions and regrets for the rest of her life.  I finally understood why my sister had taken her unborn baby’s life two years earlier and I knew deep down she did not really want to have the abortion.  Sherrie was pressured into the abortion because the father of her baby was a black man and my family and the local community would not accept a biracial child.

Prejudice runs deep in families, sometimes so deep it will take a life, even over strong religious beliefs.  My family lived in an agricultural White-European area in the Midwest.  Our lifestyle growing up was pretty simple.  We all helped our father on the farm, went to school, and to church.  This area had many different nationalities such as Polish, Bohemian, Swiss, Swedes and Germans, but there were very few people of color.  I don’t recall seeing and African American in person until I was ten years old.  My younger sister  Sherrie had a fascination and love for people of color.  The movie series “Roots” was on television and she was very moved by the slavery stories.

 My parents were strong Christians who really lived what they preached.  They showed compassion to others, we always had extra people over for Sunday dinner.  My parents never swore, or drank, or smoked, or did anything to offend others.  We had daily family devotions and went to church at least three times a week.  My parents supported the church and missionaries financially and were very involved in the church.  We were taught in Sunday school that abortion was wrong, it was the taking of a human life.

 My sister, Sherrie left home when she graduated from High School (1981) and went to the University about 80 miles from home.  The University had a student body of 25,000 so it was a huge difference from where we were raised. Sherrie felt freedom for the first time when she went away to college and was free of our parents’ fundamentalist religious beliefs.  She was exposed to different cultures and lifestyles and discovered that she was not sure if she wanted to live in the restricted environment she had been raised in.  When her life style caught up with her and she ended up pregnant I think she went back home for direction from my parents and wanted help making decisions.

My parents were worried about Sherrie and discovered that she was pregnant with an African American man’s baby.  The first thing they did was to call their pastor because they were just devastated.  The pastor advised them of some choices: have the baby and either put it up for adoption or keep it, or have an abortion.    The pastor and my parents pushed for the abortion mostly because the baby would be bi-racial.    They considered this abortion option acceptable because of white supremacy beliefs that are imbedded in the family and community.  I think Sherrie made a decision to sacrifice this child and break away from these racist unjustified beliefs.  Sherrie and the father of the child chose to have the abortion.

My parents told me about the situation because my sister came to live with me the summer after it all happened.  My mother was very stressed and we all thought it would be the best thing for everyone if Sherrie stayed with us.  My sister doesn’t know to this day that I know about the abortion (it happened 18 years ago).   So Sherrie came to spend the summer after this incident with me and my little family, husband and 14 month old son.  I think Sherrie was looking for my support with her bi-racial relationship and  was  disappointed when the relationship between us became strained.  At the time I tried to convince her that a biracial relationship would be difficult in this area where white supremacy is so dominant.  I see now that I still had the prejudices I grew up with.

Sherrie knew what she wanted and over the next few years dated and then married a black man.  My parents and I tried to discourage the marriage because Sherrie was going into basic training with the Army at that time and the couple would be separated for the first few months of their marriage.  We also did not know Carl very well and he did not have a job.  Sherrie and Carl applied for their marriage license in my parents’ small town then got married by a justice of the peace in a larger town before she flew out for basic training.  My father found out about it when his sister read it in the newspaper and telephoned. Sherrie and her husband moved out of this racist area and made a life for themselves.  They had a child four years ago.  My parents accepted Carl and included him in family activities but  I do not think Carl ever felt comfortable around our family.  He never held a job to support his family, he drinks alcohol excessively and has gotten in trouble with the law for drug involvement.  Sherrie is now separated from him and has moved back to our hometown to get family support.  She was very appalled the other day when she met one of her high school classmates and he called her daughter a “jig-a-boo”.  The reality is that this area is still very racist and white supremacy does exist even though we all know it shouldn’t.

My family had never seemed prejudiced to me.  They were very accepting of all people and races, but I think that the stigma about inter-racial marriage is ingrained in them.  A child that is bi-racial represents an obvious violation of this value.  I just have difficulty believing that the shame would out weigh life itself.  I was not a part of the abortion decision in this situation but I sometimes grieve for my sister and my parents and the unborn baby that died.

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