Some of my white ancestors came to what is now the United States of America in the mid-1650’s, fleeing religious persecution in Europe. Their presence in this land implicates them in what white people did to the native peoples who once lived here. It probably implicates them in what white people did to Africans who were brought here and enslaved, too.
At least one of my ancestors fought in the American Revolution. His name was Shadrach. Born in Virginia, he was a Minuteman during the war.
Fast forward. Family stories indicate that some of my ancestors fought for the South. I’m told that on my father’s side, Jefferson Davis was some kind of (distant?) cousin.
Some of my ancestors, though, fought for the North. My maternal grandmother tells a story about her great-grandfather, who was just a boy during the Civil War. His fathers and brothers all went off to serve the Union, leaving him “in charge” back at the farm in Missouri.
One day, a roving band of Confederate guerrillas came by demanding his gun. He wouldn’t give it to them. In frustration and anger, they tried to hang him. Twice! They must not have been hangin’ him right, cause he just didn’t die. Silly Confederate guerrilla fighters. The gun was hidden up in the tree the whole time.
While this story is told in my family with a laugh, I wonder about this failed hanging. I bet if my ancestor had been a black boy, instead of a white boy, the Confederates would have made sure he was dead.
I don’t know whether any of my white ancestors owned slaves. Most likely, some of them did. Those stories I haven’t heard.
We native Texans are fond of proclaiming our native Texan-ness. If you’re not from Texas, you’d be surprised how often speakers at events and conferences—on all kinds of topics—begin their remarks with a native-Texan-generational-qualifier. Here, allow me to demonstrate: “My name is Yaira Robinson, and I am a fifth generation native Texan.”
Really. I always feel sorry for the poor soul who feels obligated to say, “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could!”
But what does it mean to be a native, fifth-generation white Texan?
My maternal grandfather’s white family came to Texas from Tennessee sometime before 1862, because that’s when my great-great grandfather was born in Fort Worth.
In 1862, Fort Worth was about as west as a white family could go in Texas, without getting attacked/raped/kidnapped/killed by Comanche Indians, who for some reason didn’t take kindly to people invading their land.
After the Civil War ended, Texas and the re-united United States were able to focus once again on expanding westward and annihilating Indians. This they did. My white ancestors are complicit in this history. My great-great grandfather was a cowboy who helped push the Texas frontier further west, settling in what is now Quanah, Texas—named after the last chief of the Comanche, Quanah Parker.
According to family lore, Quanah’s mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, was a (distant?) cousin of ours. (If you’d like to explore the heartbreaking tragedy of westward expansion through the life of just one person, Cynthia Ann is your gal.)
Anyway. I’m told that when my great grandfather was a boy, he used to sneak over to Quanah Parker’s Indian camp when the great chief would come visit his namesake of a town.
Today, I live on a street named for Quanah Parker. Most of the streets in my neighborhood are named after famous Native Americans.
Because we white people were/are the victors. So we get to do things like appropriate the names of our former so-called enemies for innocent purposes like creating a themed subdivision.
I’m white, y’all.
I’m also from a highly educated middle class family.
My ancestors were smart and worked hard. They made good choices in hard times, saved money, and lived simply.
Policies of the federal government helped my grandparents, my parents, and me pay for college and finance our homes. This helped us be well-educated homeowners who could, over time, build generational wealth.
Now, my family isn’t rich—but throughout my life, there’s been cushion. When I needed help—some extra money to bail me out of a tight spot, or to help pay for a down payment on a car or a house—my white family had the resources to give me a leg up.
I’m a woman. I have been scared to go places and do things on account of my gender. The world is not a safe place for women.
But I’m white. I’ve never been scared to go anywhere or do anything on account of my skin color. I have nothing to fear from the simple fact of being white.
It is increasingly clear to me, though, that if I had brown or black skin, I would be scared. Maybe a lot. Maybe all the time, everywhere.
We white people have a problem. We keep oppressing people. We need to stop.
The unhealed racial wound in our country won’t heal until we white people take responsibility for it and work to heal it. In the U.S., racial disparities persist in housing, criminal justice, employment, worker pay, health, the environment, wealth accumulation, education….
It’s in our policies. It’s in our systems. We will have to work to dismantle structures built on racial oppression and build new, equitable ones. Taking down the Confederate flag and statues of Confederate war heroes? Great! And: not enough.
Racism is killing black Americans. Literally.
It’s killing us white Americans, too—at the level of our very souls.
“The perpetrator has been caught but the killer is still at large.”-Rev. Dr. William Barber, on the subject of the Charleston shooter.
Above photo used courtesy The Project Gutenberg EBook of The story of Kentucky by Rice S. Eubank