By Dori Hackleman
If you don’t think that racism is not still an issue, then you have not been in south Georgia. My husband and I just took a road trip to Florida and it was interesting to say the least.
We stopped in Forsythe, GA to get some lunch at a well-reviewed brunch place and as soon as I stepped out of the car, I felt like things had shifted. We had stopped in a couple places for bathroom breaks and it felt off, but it wasn’t terrible. This was different.
We walked into the place and were not greeted with anyone standing at the podium, instead we were greeted with four waiters telling us that someone would be right with us and restaurant full of people staring at us. After about five minutes, we finally were seated in the corner of the restaurant and ordered our food. Even once we were seated, I noticed everyone in the restaurant still eyeing us, and when I got up to go to the bathroom I got stared down by everyone there. I couldn’t help but be suspicious that it was because my husband and I are a biracial couple — I’m Hispanic and he is white — and I have a bunch of tattoos. There was even a woman who was coming out of the bathroom that was talking to her friend and when she turned around to look at me, she looked completely shocked and kind of taken aback and stared me down as I walked past her. Our waiter was nice enough and chatted with us for a little while and overall, the food was decent, but it was just very strange and like a hanging thickness in the air that I didn’t belong.
When I got home, I did a little digging about Forsyth, GA and found that it has an extremely racist past. In 1912, white mobs terrorized and drove out the entire black population, about 1,100 people. The surrounding counties also ran out 50% or more of their black residents during this time. Read more about that in this interview with Terry Gross and this article. And the racist attitudes have clung on in the not-so-distant past, and based on my experience in Forsyth, I would say those attitudes are still clinging on today.
We got back on the road and kept making our way into Florida. The billboards were starting to get very strange, and then one billboard really stuck out that read “Diversity means chasing down the last white person” with “#white genocide.” I thought I had read it wrong and I looked over to my husband to confirm I was crazy and unfortunately, I read that billboard right. Someone actually believes so strongly that diversity is about killing off white people that they bought and paid for a billboard. Wow.
Shortly after that billboard, I saw another billboard that was advertising to stop by the plantation gift shop and then about a mile down, I saw said gift shop and it was indeed, built to look like a plantation. I was floored. I just could not believe that these things were on the side of the road and that they were also real. I have had my fair share of racism here in Joplin, everything from someone telling me and my child to watch out because Trump is going to throw us over the wall to being told that I don’t belong in the U.S.
I will never know how it feels to have to drive by one of those plantation gift shops, knowing that my ancestors worked for the people who enslaved them and to see that now many people romanticize that era. To romanticize plantations is to ignore the horrors of slavery.
I will never understand racism or why people insist on hating someone because of their skin color. Unlike what that ignorant billboard said, diversity is about everyone living together in peace and harmony and showing compassion to your fellow American.