Neighbors Gone Wild
By DENENE MILLNER
He's full of life, my nephew energetic, incredibly funny, frighteningly brilliant, and, at age nine, still comfortable enough in his kid-hood to dole out hugs and kisses freely, sans embarrassment. For sure, joy leaps from his raspy voice from sun up to can't see. So when he called me early yesterday morning, instantly, I could tell that something was terribly wrong. I'm really sad, Auntie, he said simply, before his father gently asked him to hand over the phone.
I wasn't ready for what my brother-in-law told me.
Someone, you see, had run a pick-up truck all over their yard the night before, desecrating their Obama signs and destroying the halogen lights on their lawn. What's even more mortifying is that those same animals (they don't deserve to be called humans) left two open pizza boxes full of human feces and soiled toilet tissue on my in-laws' front doorstep.
This, I gather, was supposed to be some kind of sign that my family's well-to-do, extremely conservative, ridiculously Republican neighborhood wasn't feeling the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, or my in-laws' glee for President-elect Obama's historic win. Indeed, for the length of the campaign, these hoodlums expressed as much by destroying my in-laws' Obama signs no less than 11 times (replacing them on several occasions with McCain signs,) ripping Obama stickers off my sister-in-law’s car, and sending children onto the bus to verbally assault my nephew and his brother with all kinds of foul, ridiculous arguments for why Obama shouldn't win. The same and more was dished out to the few other Obama supporters overwhelmingly African-American in their subdivision. Simply put, my in-laws were targeted by a bunch of jackasses for speaking up, having an opinion, and exercising their right to vote for who the hell they wanted to.
I'm trying really hard to let my light shine bright today, but it's hard in the thick of this darkness. While the world celebrates America's ability to move past color and elect a black man president, here, in my small Georgia town, tension is so thick you can cut it with a knife. Some Republicans are acting as if Democrats stopped the earth's rotational spin and are seconds from dropkicking white folks off the planet. Others are making a run on gun stores, telling local media that they're stocking up on AK-47s because Obama is going to eliminate their constitutional right to bear arms and, get this, because the president-elect's tax policy will force small businesses to fire their employees, making people desperate enough to rape, rob, and pillage their neighbors.
Still more are leaving their crap, literally, on our doorsteps.
Granted, this incident isn't nearly as harmful as what our prior generations dealt with in the face of southern racists. There have been no crosses burned on our lawns, no strange fruit hanging from our trees, no one shouting racial epithets to our faces. Still, that someone would do this to his neighbor in 2008 is beyond understanding.
I really wrestled with whether I should tell my daughters what happened at their cousins' house. How, after all, do you explain such things to children too young to fully understand the atrocities of our country's racist past? Sure, they know that Martin had a dream, that Rosa refused to sit in the back of the bus that we are a strong, proud people who have overcome mightily and benefit greatly from the grueling, dangerous work of our forebears. But feces on the doorstep? For supporting the guy who won? How do you break that down?
This much I know: My babies needed to know. So that they could understand just how ugly people can be. So that they could see that despite Obama's win and America's collective celebration about moving past race and into a diverse future, we've still got work to do. So that they could comfort their cousins. So that they could remember.
I sat my beautiful daughters down and explained it best I could:
¢ Everyone has a right to their opinion and perspective, and it's on us as intelligent human beings to respect them, even if we disagree
¢ The world is full of small, narrow-minded people too dumb to express themselves in intelligent ways
¢ There are still people some who live among us who don't like us for very strange, silly reasons, including because we
have brown skin
¢ It's important for us to take the high road and represent this family in honorable ways, even when people aren't looking
¢ We ain't the type of Negroes who sit back and let people just do any ol' thing they want to us. Be clear: We. Fight. Back.
I do wish that in such an incredible time in our lives, when we should be excited for things to come, that my nephew didn't have to witness such things, and that I didn't have to talk to my daughters about them. Our children deserve better than this.
But we'll keep our heads toward the sky.
And try our best not to let the jackasses steal our joy.
I am so very sad, and so incredibly outraged that your family had to endure this type of hatred. Moreover, I can see your nephew’s face, devoid of that bright smile, as he attempts to process what someone his age has no business facing head on. Damn, Denene! These fools better get used to the fact that WE (Black people, Democrats, Women, Immigrants, Outspoken ones, Those who will not bow down to jackasses) are here to stay. And not only are we here, we are all up and through the same neighborhoods as them, so they better get used to it or MOVE!
Unbelievable. Stupidity quickly jumps to action-it hasn’t been a full week of work for President Elect Obama and the jackasses have already added extra fiber to their diets.
Your family will be in our thoughts.
Oh my goodness Denene…my heart is literally hurting to hear that horrible things like this have happened to your family. It is beyond my comprehension that other human beings could act in this way.
One of the most exciting things about living in our great country is that we have the right to vote and that we can vote anyway that we would like to. Another exciting thing would be that our country has a history of being able to transition from one presidency to the next (whether they are of the same party affiliation or not) in a smooth, peaceful manner. My prayer would be that this upcoming transition will go just as smoothly as all the others before it. The experience you just described makes me fearful that that might not happen though.
And that would be a tragedy.
A sad, sad story indeed. But something jumped out at me: “We Fight Back.” Perhaps because I’m reading Taylor Branch’s history of the civil rights movement, with its searing descriptions of black nonviolence in the face of white church-bombers and fire-hosers and club-wielders, I’m wondering exactly what type of resistance you are planning…
This is insane. I am beyond words.
CNN’s Rick Sanchez is doing a story on this today at 3pm. Call up the network or send an email. This story needs to be told and those neighbors and that neighborhood needs to be outed!
I am so sorry. This is a great moment in time. Don’t let these people steal your joy.
My five year a few days before Barack was elected said he was sad. I asked what was up. He said that people were trying to kill Barack Obama. The heartache I felt to hear that come from his mouth is indescribable. I told him that God protects those that love him and that he does not have to worry about such things. Just as God protects him in his sleep God will protect Barack and his family. It is 2008 but it made me think of what my ancestors felt having to explain such things to their babies. Keep the prayers going for our President. We are all One Blood flowing from One Vein. Barack exemplifies that as he is African and White (as we all are African) but that is another discussion. He is not the Black President. He is the President who will work for us all. There is no racial agenda on his behalf except to denounce racism. Just continue to mold your kids to see God in all humans despite how they treat you. That way you will not fall into the trap of hating others. God is Love!
Keep the blogs coming Denene!
I find it quite curious that in all the things that I said to my children, the one that you chose to focus on was the “we fight back” part. Let me reiterate that I explained to my children that we “take the high road,” “express ourselves in intelligent ways,” and “represent this family in honorable ways.” But we firmly believe that if someone is threatening our safety, vandalizing our property, or causing harm to someone, we’re not going to stand around watching–and letting–it happen. That means exactly what you think it means.
My daughter attends a private christian school about 10 miles from Denene and her cousin’s family. 2 weeks ago they held a mock Presidential election to teach the children (K-12) about Civic Responsibility and what and why it’s so important to vote. McCain won by a 4:1 ratio and I can tell you that in the face of some serious 3rd grade peer pressure, my kid was happily represented in the minority. Her friends were telling her that Obama was bad for the world, that he would destroy families and that he was a baby killer. No doubt these impressionable minds are spewing these hateful slurs without any awareness of their meaning or just what the hell their talking about. My daughter recognizes that. It was one of my proudest moments that she was able to do just what Denene said and celebrate and vigilantly respect eachothers differences. I remember peer pressure in grade school. I also remember not having the stones to think independently and do what’s right ableit wildly unpopular. My daughter chose a different way. A better way. She has a sense of self and maturity that makes me proud to be her Dad.
Proud member of the NYVC…(Neighborhood Yardsign Victimization Club)
That is disgusting and I’m so SO sorry your family had to go through that.
Bringing this country back together and truly having change happen will be revenge enough. That’s what I hope anyway…
Denene great job at explaining the situation to your girls. I am not sure what I would have said to my 10 year old. This is such a horrific act of hate. My hope is that it is an aberrant response to the monumentous change in America. I still believe that there will be a smooth transition of power.
I trust and feel deeply that the majority of America wants our new president to succeed. Frankly, the whole world wants Obama to succeed. My country, Kenya announced a national holiday on November 5, 2008.
However, I do from time to time tune into really conservative talk radio, all I can take is about 5 minutes of the idiocy. Thankfully the majority of Americans are intelligent and that is why they voted overwhelmingly for Obama.
The pockets of resistance will die down eventually. In the meantime thought, what a horrible but necessary lesson for our young ones to learn.
Thank you for your thoughtful and empowering article.
Denene, I think that was a very good response to the comment left by “Anonymous”.
I am just speechless and sad. Granted I was already sad before reading this, but it just breaks my heart on one hand and pieces it back together with a level of fear on the other. Yes, I still have a level of fear of the south. I am a California native, been in a very liberal area my whole life and I just don’t know how I would handle that kind of treatment. I have considered moving down south, but its moments like what your family has experienced that make me extremely uncomfortable. My daughter would NEVER see anything like that where we live and it breaks my heart that in areas of this country WE are still forced to live like second class citizens and be treated like s***!
However,Denene, as you pointed out, we are no longer living in a time of “lay down and take it” politics. The civil rights movement was not solely non-violent because that is not the sole definition of resistance. There does come a time when one has to FIGHT BACK, and as the folks in Jena experienced, we are more than willing to fight for what is right.
Oh I forgot to metion…I love the picture of Alf gone bad! Wait – was Alf a donkey?
By the way, Punda Milia (donkey(s) in Kiswahili) are known for having a low animal-IQ. In fact most Maasai herdsmen leave them at home when they graze their cows because the donkeys were so indisciplined and the Maasai cannot not train them fast enough to herd the cattle.
So in Kenya donkeys are beasts of burden, they transport barrels and barrels of water from homestead to homestead. They serve their purpose.
HUGS! I wish I could reach out and give nephew and your entire family a hug. You have made a good decision with talking to your daughters. My children also saw some ugliness back in the primaries and I had to decide to talk my kids in words they could understand. You are raising good kids who will lead us into a brighter future. My prayers are with you and your family
I’m so sorry that happened to your family. Unreal what people will do to each other. That is sad and appalling.
This is awful! it brought tears to my eyes. Any type of hate is intolerable. For your poor nephew to have to even be privvy to it is disgusting!May God forgive them and help us all.
My prayers go out to you and your family. No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper.
Denene I’m so very sorry that this was the experience of your family. I think telling your daughters was the right thing to do, and you did it well. Unfortunately, it’s my belief that certain teachings are so deeply ingrained in some people, and they cannot and may never be able to comprehend or see the beauty of diversity.
Denene, that is really pissing me off to the point of great pissed-off-ivity. Who gives these people the right? The sense of entitlement is amazing. We are American and we have the right to vote and campaign for who we want. I’ve witnessed this kind of hatred at Coretta Scott King’s funeral no less. My baby was with me and she had to see the good ole’ Georgia hate and forever be changed. Kiss you nephew and children for me and tell them that they are American and have the right to exercise the rights of other Americans.
I found you by way of Anymommy, and I’m so glad that I made my way here.
While I wish that our children never had to be subject to such ignorance as your your family experienced, in a small way I am grateful that little things happen. It gives us the chance to teach these lessons in a real-world context and also gives them frame of reference for how far we’ve come as a people and how far we still have yet to go. It teaches them to be strong, proud, and to stand up.
“For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.”
That is one of my favorite Bible passages. It reminds me that no cowardly jackass can steal our joy. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. There is no more sitting at the back of the bus, no matter how badly some folks may want to roll back the clock. This is crazy.
A good friend of mine reminded me that in the midst of all our joy, we must remain vigilant, stay watchful, because there are folks out there who are not celebrating this historic moment.
You gave your girls the perfect explanation. We deserve better.
This is so sad, and terrifying. I can’t believe that your family had to go through this. Living in Georgia, I have experienced my share of racism, but nothing like this. I agree with your wholeheartedly â€”Â it was important to tell your girls and explain to them that the people who would do something like this are cowardly and small-minded.
On election, my husband and I took my daughter to the local Obama campaign headquarters to volunteer however we could. When we came back to the house, my husband put up an Obama yard sign we had gotten while we were there. He had planned to go out that night, but told me he didn’t want to go because he didn’t want to leave my daughter and I alone at the house with the Obama sign in the yard. He didn’t want anything to happen while we were alone. ALL of our neighbors are white and many are McCain supporters. I thought he was being paranoid, but your family’s experience is a reminder to me that stuff like this can, and DOES, happen, even in this day and age.
But if its one thing this nation’s history has taught us well, it’s that we must fight back. We’ve all got your back!
I just found your beautiful blog while checking out Jennisa’s portfolio.
Just reading this makes me so sad, and angry for you and your family.
Yes, people can be very IGNORANT, there is just no EXCUSE for this behavior. I’m ashamed as a white person reading about this. Truly I’m so sorry.
Try to move past this and know God sees, and understands. He’s been there too.
It’s so nice to meet you!!
That’s so horrible! It makes me sad and angry that your family had to go through this and that children had to see firsthand just how ugly people can be.
Just when I am feeling overwhelmingly proud to be an American, I read something like this and I’m sickened and heartbroken by the ignorance and hate that exists. I’m so glad you wrote about it because when you are not faced with horrible examples like this, it’s easy to forget how frightening people can be. Your strength and honesty with your children inspires me.
Even though you told me it last night…I am seething right now after reading it…I am from a very small town in Florida, and I am “used?”(not actually,I’ve been exposed to it)to this kinda of nonsense…I have seen Klansmen in my town as a child…white people trying to spit on me(a 6 year old) or run me over with a car…
This is soooo ridiculous!!! 2008? This kind os cowardice is still looming in Snellville, GA! We better wake-up!! Prepare ourselves for this kind of random madness to happen all over the country. Our ancestors did not tolerate it when they were here and now that they have more power…WILL NOT ALLOW IT NOW!! Brother Barack was ushered in by the mighty ancestral spirits of each and everyone of us…he cannot be touched! As Execumama said they better get used to it….JUST MOVE OUT THE WAY!!!!
Look for your High Five from me HERE!
This is awful. I’m so sorry your nephew and family had to confront such an ugly response to what millions of people recognized as a wonderful step forward on multiple fronts. Anonymous said s/he was reading Taylor Branch, which I have read, too. I’m a historian, and I loved your reply. People should know that the era of intimidation is *over*.
I took my baby son to vote at 5:30am (polls in KY open at 6) because I was so determined that he would always be able to say he voted for Obama. It felt terrific.
Two days later, on the phone with an old classmate who now lives in GA, I heard “Well, I’ll just wait and see, I guess. I’m just worried about his Marxist tendencies.” Seriously? I thought she was smart. And she knows how I feel, so I suspect she self-censored. What do you think she said in the privacy of her family? Ugly things, I fear.
I just found your blog, so I’m behind the times, but I hope you and your family are feeling better this week. Every day that passes demonstrates more powerfully what a good man our new president is, and how lucky we all are.
This is very sad. You would think that in our society today that we would have learned from the issues of the past. I know a lot of people still harbor hate from back then and managed to pass it along to their kids but there has to be a line drawn somewhere. For people to do this to another person is pitiful.
I applaud you for sitting down with your kids and explaining things to them. I really hope that those idiots can be prosecuted in some sort of way for what they did.
I’m getting to this one late. I hate that your family had to experience that. Sad thing is, this is really just the beginning of this BS. I made it a point to stay in the house election night. See, I live around the corner from my city’s confederate cemetery and up the street from that bar that became notorious for selling Tshirts with picture of Curious George and the words “Obama ’08) on ’em. Madness. Anyway, I think you told your girls all the right things. We have to be honest with our children like many Black mothers have had to be before to protect our children and to teach them stratetgies for fighting back.
I too live in Georgia, and this is a tragedy that someone would do this. It’s April and my neighbor still has her McCain sticker. The difference now is I can smile.
We won! We finally have an intelligent man of integrity in the White House! We won we won we won! And New Years was actually New, and we can actually be hopeful. Great blog~