Race in America, and The Dry Grass of August

Today’s blog post highlights the first paragraph of The Dry Grass of August, Anna Jean Mayhew’s debut novel. That paragraph is a great hook, for it draws you in and conveys that there’s bound to be a good story in the coming pages. Here it is:

“In August of 1954, we took our first trip without Daddy, and Stell got to use the driver’s license she’d had such a fit about. It was just a little card saying she was Estelle Annette Watts, that she was white, with hazel eyes and brown hair. But her having a license made that trip different from any others, because if she hadn’t had it, we never would have been stuck in Sally’s Motel Park in Claxton, Georgia, where we went to buy fruitcakes and had a wreck instead. And Mary would still be with us.” ~ Anna Jean Mayhew in The Dry Grass of August

DryGrass
The Dry Grass of August, by Anna Jean Mayhew

The Dry Grass of August is a novel that takes you to the American South in the days of  lawfully-mandated racial segregation. It is written from the point-of-view of a 13-year-old white girl from Charlotte, North Carolina. It sheds light on how it was in the 1950s for a black maid, Mary Luther, traveling from North Carolina to Florida with her white employer, Mrs. Watts, and the four Watts children. Mary couldn’t eat in restaurants, couldn’t sleep in motels, and couldn’t use public bathrooms because they were the legal domain of white people.

Mary Luther is in constant but often subtle danger. She was, no doubt, apprehensive and in danger even when the members of the white family she was riding with were unaware. That unawareness is today referred to as “white privilege.” When one lives his entire life as a member of the predominant and ruling race, he enjoys privileges and advantages of which he isn’t even conscious.

The Watts children witness things along the way to Florida that open their eyes to how differently whites and blacks are treated in the United States. They cannot return home to Charlotte unchanged.

In light of the August 12, 2017 violence

I chose the opening paragraph of The Dry Grass of August as my blog topic for today many weeks ago. When I selected it and put it on my blog schedule, I had no idea I would be writing it in the aftermath of the tragedy in Virginia of last weekend. I did not anticipate writing a 1,000-word blog post around that paragraph.

Although published in 2011, The Dry Grass of August speaks to us today as, in light of the murder of Heather Heyer and other violence in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017, Americans are having a conversation like never before about race relations. That conversation is long overdue and painful. It will not and cannot be a short conversation.

For all the progress that has been made between the races in my 64 years, it is abhorrent and repulsive to me that in 2017 there are Ku Klux Klan members, white supremacists, and Neo-Nazis not only living among us but being emboldened by the words, actions, and inactions of President Donald J. Trump. It is Mr. Trump’s lack of moral leadership that has added fuel to the fire and given bigots a green light to publicly spew their hate.

I had hoped to keep politics out of my blog, but I cannot remain silent. This is bigger than politics. This is morals and humanity and freedom. Freedom to live without fear. My blog is not a huge platform, but it does give me an avenue through which to speak. My blog has 1,300 followers from all over the world. I don’t want my blog followers in other countries to think Americans are vicious and at each other’s throats. That is not who we are.

Whereas the people who doggedly hung onto the myth that white people were a superior race used to cowardly hide their faces and identities under white hoods and robes, they now demonstrate and march with torches in regular street clothes. When they marched in Charlottesville last weekend, some of them were outfitted with helmets and shields, making it difficult for the anti-Nazi protesters to tell the difference between police officers and the white supremacists.

There is no room in the United States of America for Neo-Nazis and other hate mongers. The good citizens of this country cannot allow the current occupant of the White House to lead us down this destructive road by his lame condemnation of evil and his attempt to equate the people carrying Nazi flags with the people who were there to protest their hateful agenda.

Three of the founding pillars of the United States are freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom to assemble. I’m glad I live in a country where people can voice their opinions; however, no American has the constitutional right to threaten, terrorize, or murder other people simply because of the color of their skin or the way they choose to worship God.

The United States is in a watershed moment. We will come out a better people on the other side of the current self-examination and soul searching because we are a good and decent people. We are not who Mr. Trump would try to make you think we are. We are so much better than that.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have a good book to read while you write your next good book.

Janet

 

Thoughts on the US Constitution

As a political science major in college, I was required to take at least one Constitutional Law course. Intimidated by the prospect of taking a law class, I put off taking Constitutional Law until my last quarter before graduation. Much to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed the class (except for the copious amount of reading it required) and 41 years later I still remember some of the Supreme Court cases we studied. That class, more than any other, opened my eyes to the nuances of how the US Constitution governs everything from voting rights to the classification of tomatoes as a fruit or as a vegetable in light of the Tariff Act of 1883.The current US election season and, more specifically, the present civil unrest here in Charlotte have brought the Constitution and certain our constitutional rights to mind.

constitution_pg1of4_ac
First page of the US Constitution

2016 US Presidential Election

The US Presidential campaigns this year have made me uneasy about the interpretation of the US Constitution. One political party has taken fear mongering to a new level. We in “battleground states” are bombarded by endless TV ads telling us if the other major party’s candidate is elected, she will abolish the Second Amendment. In a nutshell, that amendment assures our right to “keep and bear arms.”

US Constitution,  First Amendment

The same political party dealing in the fear mongering over the Second Amendment holds the First Amendment in contempt. The First Amendment is near and dear to my heart. It guarantees freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom to peaceably assemble, and freedom to  redress of grievances. The 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in 1919, runs a very close second!)

US Constitution, Second Amendment

The Second Amendment gives the US Government the right to establish a military and confirms the right of a citizen to “bear arms.” I understand and appreciate the thinking behind the Second Amendment, but I believe one side of the 2016 Presidential campaign has championed it to the exclusion of the other amendments. The baseless fear mongering that, if elected, the other major party’s candidate will “take away all your guns” has reached a fever pitch. Personally, I’m more concerned that the candidate championing the Second Amendment does not see the value of the First Amendment. I believe it is the First Amendment that makes America, America. It is our rights guaranteed by the First Amendment for which citizens of many other countries envy Americans.

Protests this week in Charlotte

The riots that took place in Charlotte on Tuesday and Wednesday nights and the peaceful protests last night prompt me to reflect on the First Amendment. Rioting and destruction of property cannot be tolerated, but the right of citizens to peacefully assemble and protest must be protected. Peaceful protests can shine a spotlight on an issue and bring it to the forefront of public discussion. The prime example that comes to mind is the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s led by the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

The protests this week in Charlotte were the result of the death of a man at the hands of the police. The protests in Charlotte have resulted in a national discussion of race relations, the inordinate number of African-American men who have been shot by police in our country, and the distrust of police held by people of color. If any good can come out of what has transpired in Charlotte this week, perhaps it will be a more open and honest conversation in America about the racial prejudices and biases most people in our country hold to varying degrees. It is through frank public discourse that we will better understand and respect one another. I pray that something good will come out of this violent, angry, and sad week. In the meantime, I anxiously await what the darkness of tonight will bring to the streets of Charlotte.

In conclusion

The US Constitution is a living, breathing document. It has been amended 27 times as our society continually reinvents itself. It is the bedrock of our government and is constantly up for debate by citizens and, ultimately, by the US Supreme Court.

The primary purpose of my blog is to shed light on my life as a writer, and I have avoided political content until today. Inasmuch as the 2016 federal and state elections just might be the most important elections of my life, I felt compelled today to post my thoughts about certain aspects of the US Constitution.

Until my next blog post in a few days, I hope you have a good book to read and productive writing time.

Janet

Divisiveness in the USA

I had planned to blog today about 10 things I learned while researching my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, but it seemed petty for me to write about my book on this day after several instances of senseless murder in our country this week.

On the heels of white police officers killing black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, last night during a peaceful protest in Dallas, Texas, one or more snipers took that opportunity to murder five police officers and injure seven other officers.

The man in Louisiana was killed by the police while he was pinned down on the ground. The man in Minnesota was killed as he reached for his wallet after being ordered by the police officer to produce his identification. In each case, the victim was black and the police officers were white. These are two in a growing number of such incidents that have led many people to believe there is a pattern of racial profiling taking place within our law enforcement agencies.

In America, we pride ourselves as being “a melting pot,” but various issues are dividing us. Race. Ethnicity. Politics. Religion. Gender. Interpretation of the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution. Class. The Haves and the Have-Nots. Equal pay and equal opportunities for men and women in the work place. The list could go on.

It all boils down to fear.

Too many of our citizens fear anyone who doesn’t look like they do. Too many of our citizens fear people who choose not to worship like they do. Too many of our citizens fear people who are more liberal or more conservative in their political views than they are. Too many of our citizens fear people whose sexual orientation does not fit the norm. Too many of our citizens believe that those of us who believe the 2nd Amendment does not guarantee one’s right to own assault weapons want to take away their constitutional right “to bear arms.” When did we become a fearful people?

Too many of our citizens hate people who identify with a different political party. Part of the beauty of our system of political parties is that we have been able to differ in our views on issues but we agreed to agreeably disagree. That’s the way it was until just a few years ago. We now have political campaigns from the local to the national level in which it is acceptable to attack our opponents and their families in ways that degrade us all.

Somewhere along the way we lost our tolerance. Somewhere along the way it became acceptable to hate the people with whom we have a difference of opinion. Somewhere along the way human life lost its value. Somewhere along the way it became acceptable to shoot and kill anyone with whom one differs.

It is time – no, it is past time – for reconciliation in our country. It is time for us to celebrate our differences and respect one another. It is time for us to recognize that we have more in common than we don’t have in common. It is time for healing. It is time for honest dialogue. It is time for us to get to know one another so we can stop being afraid of each other.

Enough is enough! That’s not who we are! We are better than that!