Sarah E. Pennington

 

Raised Right
 
I was raised in the South, with a capital S.
A land of sweet tea, fried chicken, and racism
So blatant that it was blinding.
I was told that, had WE won the war, I would have had a mammy
To take care of me so I could focus on the important stuff –
Like finding a good husband.
 
It never seemed strange to me that I lived in one part of town
And my darker-skinned classmates lived in another;
A part of town that I was forbidden to enter
Because it was too dangerous for a
Skinny little white girl like me.
Like the sight of my paleness might be too tempting to resist.
 
I was taught “Heritage, not hate”
And flew a flag whose red represented the blood of the enslaved
And whose white stripes represented the pain inflicted by the oppressors.
I didn’t realize that history can be (mis)interpreted
And believed all that I was told at home
And in school about the War of Northern Aggression.
 
I was raised right, but I left.
 
My parents tried their best to raise me in their image,
But they made one mistake:
They let me leave the confines of the world they knew
And let me meet others who
Looked
And sounded
And thought
Differently from them.
 
It changed me.
I began to see in color;
A kaleidoscope of perspectives and ideas and beliefs
That was tinged in shame when I realized
How these new friends would be treated if they visited
My home sweet home.
 
I began a silent rebellion.
I didn’t laugh at their jokes, didn’t fly their flag.
Secretly dated boys my parents would have rejected
Due to the melanin content of their skin
Because they were cute and funny and they liked me.
Me, the awkward white girl who wasn’t allowed to go out on dates.
 
When the chance came,
I left home and continued my education
About myself
And others who
Looked
And sounded
And thought
Differently from me.
 
I was raised right, but I left.
Someone once said, “You can’t go home again.”
And it’s true.
I cannot listen to their racism
And their ignorance.
I cannot sit silently while they spout their beliefs
Founded on hatred and fed by fear
Of the other.
 
I was raised right.
Because I left:
To share my love of humanity with others.
To believe that all humans are deserving of dignity.
To model compassion for my brothers and sisters
Regardless of their shade or creed.
To continually grow in my ability to identify my own biases
And own my mistakes.
 
I was raised right, but I’m left.

 


Sarah E. Pennington was raised in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia and currently lives in Montana (with decade-long stops in Kentucky and Florida along the way), where she works to educate teacher candidates. She is working to continually do better as a person.

 


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