As I wandered around Montgomery, Alabama with my map of the city in hand, I realized that I was very excited to learn more about black history. This was the beginning of a nearly spontaneous vacation that had no particular destination in mind. We were just going to drive until it was warm. We stopped in Montgomery because I wanted to visit Hank Williams Sr.’s grave site. We decided to stay for a couple days, and check out some of the historical sites in the city. This was near the end of February, the end of Black History month. I really did get a quality education in this area during my walking tour. I’ve written about this elsewhere: Here and here.
I was in awe during my tour of Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, and during my visit to the Rosa Parks Museum I actually experienced chills several times, especially during the multimedia reenactment of the Rosa Parks event. I found myself rooting for Rosa as if I didn’t know how the story played out. I was more excited than I’ve ever been about the civil rights movement. And then, out of the blue, I wondered, “If I had actually been at the event, which side of the civil rights movement would I have aligned myself with? Would I have been a racist in 1955?”
My answer is: I don’t know. But there is always the possibility. This is almost the same question as the age old “nature vs. nurture” argument. On the side of nature, I could easily argue that if I am not now, then I wouldn’t have been then. The flipside is that I was fortunate enough to have gone to public schools (from 1979-1991) that taught me about racism, and preached against it. So maybe I am not racist because of my education, and not necessarily my nature. (I say this with a little reservation, because every single human is somewhat racist.) Perhaps if I had gone to an all-white school that preached segregation to me, I may have been on the wrong side of history. Except that there were plenty of all white segregationist schools, and I’m sure that some of the whites who worked hand in hand with the blacks during this era also went to these schools, and they turned out alright.
The question doesn’t bother me that much, but it does make me think. I’ll never know the answer to a hypothetical situation, but the truth probably lies somewhere in between. I do like who I am, I like my nature. But I am also lucky to have had the upbringing and education to not classify people based on race. There are always too many variables to know the truth in a hypothetical – you can never have the answer, it just causes more questions.
And “more questions” is always a good thing.