Thursday, May 29, 2008

proving them wrong one person at a time

This past weekend, Jesse and I went down to Orange County. No, not my beloved OC that is in the greatest state of the Union (ahem...that would be the gay-marrying state of California). The other OC. No, not the one in Florida. The OTHER OC--the one in central Virginia.

Jesse spent a lot of time there as a kid. Both of his grandmothers lived there, one in Locust Grove and the other in Orange. His aunt currently lives in Germanna (I think) and she was having a family bar-b-q in honor of the long weekend. Because his aunt relocated from Locust Grove to Germanna recently, Jesse didn't know her address. Subsequent phone calls to his 'rents went unanswered so we spent quite a bit of time driving around the neighborhoods, hoping to come across his aunt's house. Now, I'm sure you city folks are thinking, yeah, that will be a fruitless endeavor. But actually, the town is really, really small and there weren't that many neighborhoods there. We ended up stumbling upon Jesse's aunt's house eventually.

Everything about Orange was very small townish. I was struck by the rural-ness and the isolation. The nearest Target was over 30 minutes away in Fredericksburg! Oh, the horror! We drove for long stretches without coming across a business or store of any kind. There were a lot of woods and homes. Some barely marked roads led to an expanse of winding dirt roads in the woods where people actually lived. It was all very quiet and kinda natural. I'm not sure I liked it.

As Jesse was giving me a driving tour of the OC, VA, he told me countless stories about his childhood and what it was like growing up and visiting his grandmothers and how the highlight of his visits was when his grandma would announce that it was "time to go to town" (town = Fredericksburg, I suppose). He told me about how schools were segregated there when his parents were younger. Earlier that day, his dad was telling us about how the whole county only had one pool for blacks and the pool was very small and incredibly crowded on hot, summer days. Internally, I wondered how much the town had progressed since the civil rights era. Had they come far? In Jesse's aunt's neighborhood (which was really new compared to what I saw in Locust least the streets were paved there), I watched as Jesse's young cousin played with her next door neighbor, a cute white girl with short brown hair. It's hard for me to imagine a time when such interaction was forbidden.

I come from a very diverse county in a very diverse state. I grew up with friends of many cultures. I have Jewish friends and Muslim friends and Hindu friends. Being exposed to so many people with different backgrounds definitely influenced me growing up. I learned early that you can't assume you know a person by what they look like. I discovered that keeping an open mind is the only way to get along in a world of many colors.

But what of those people who come from small towns, towns that are really small, towns without paved roads? What about the people who grew up knowing people who looked like them and talked like them and prayed at the same church as they did because it was the only church in town? Are they open to new things? Would they be afraid of the unfamiliar? How would they feel if a stranger came into their town, someone with a different skin color who prays to a different deity? Would they welcome the stranger? Or shun him/her?

As Jesse showed me more of the OC, we discussed segregation some more. I wondered, "How did it all end? How did people begin to realize that blacks are people too?" Jesse responded, "I don't know." I said, "I wish I knew how to change people's minds. How do you get people to realize that what they've believed all along is wrong and hurtful and unfair?"

With sadness, Jesse said, "I think people need time."

I replied, "Yeah, well I'm not very patient."

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