It has been almost a year since we departed Memphis to move back home. My final blog entry discussed lessons learned from our trip, but I have decided to revisit the topic and see if the extra time to absorb and reflect on my experiences has provided me with an enhanced perspective. While I still agree with my insights from the last entry, I have found that some different themes stuck with me, one specific and a few more generic. I am also collecting all these entries to create a book (as a personal keepsake, not to market and sell), and it only seems fitting that the book should have a final chapter. This conclusion will focus on the areas that have made the most lasting impressions on my life.
A specific area that has changed from our travels is my perspective on racial issues in our country. Living and traveling in the South forced me to confront my own personal, unrealized biases. For the first time in my life I found myself in areas surrounded predominately by African-Americans. No big deal, I’m not racist, this shouldn’t affect me right? Well, my feelings told me otherwise in situations like the time I myself driving alone through a poor, predominately Black neighborhood in Memphis. I was both surprised and disappointed by the mix of emotions I felt: Unease, fear, plans for escape or if it came down to it, defense. How has my American upbringing shaped my psyche of how I should feel in these environments? And if there was any validity to any of these emotions, what does that say about the areas, resources, and opportunities that we afford to this group of people?
As well as confronting these personal feelings, we were able to visit museums and historical sites all over the South. The most impactful of these included the site of Dr. King’s assassination, Kelly Ingram Park, the Edmund Pettus Bridge, an old slave warehouse in Montgomery, and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice which commemorates the thousands of victims of lynching crimes. We also participated in the local chapter of a community group called Be the Bridge that aims to “empower people and culture towards racial healing, equity, and reconciliation.” Within this group we read and discussed the book The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby which details the American Church’s unfortunate complicity with racism throughout history.
Before these experiences, I had a faint picture of the racism that existed in our society but I had never chosen to examine it more closely. The combination of these and other endeavors served to fill in some of the brushstrokes of what this picture really looks like. The result being a more detailed and haunting image of not only past injustices but also widespread current inequalities and prejudices. Pre-Memphis, though I considered myself well-intentioned, I was, in practice, ignorant and indifferent in most of these areas. From a distance it’s easy to blame racism on a handful of overly racist individuals and organizations. But if we refuse to look at and recognize our own personal prejudices and our nation’s overwhelming systemic injustices we continue to be a part of the problem rather than the solution. Post-Memphis, I will both strive to have more sensitive and informed attitudes in these areas as well as implement these convictions by advocating for systemic reforms in government policies and by giving financially to organizations fighting for social justice.
Now onto the more generic, abstract areas that have made a lasting impact on me: The first of which is gratitude. Now that we have been home for some time I can more clearly appreciate the opportunities we were able to enjoy throughout the course of our drive trips and year living in the South. At the time, it was difficulty to fully appreciate everything as we had so many unique experiences in rapid succession. Just looking at our return trip: We went from Washington DC, to New York City, to Niagara Falls, to Chicago, to the Badlands, and Black Hills in South Dakota, to Glacier National Park in a matter of days. Any one of those spots are often individual vacation destinations. Yet, we got to see them all.
Opportunities like these don’t just happen but instead require a combination of good health, finances, timing, and circumstances. Our cross-country move occurred when we were not only in good health and financially secure but also had no kids and quite a bit of free time. This enabled us to take our time traveling cross-country, book long weekend trips to explore nearby areas, and enjoy local museums, tourist attractions, concerts and live sports. I realize that these are privileges that not everyone has. Hindsight has allowed me to appreciate them even more.
Current events have also helped me be thankful for the timing in which our trip occurred. Had a global pandemic and social distancing struck while we were traveling or trying to make residence in Memphis our experiences would have looked drastically different. We would not have been able to enjoy nearly as many of the tourist destinations and events that we did. But even more concerning, it would have been very difficult for us to have connected with anyone locally. In my last blog entry I wrote about the importance of this social connection and I think the world is really recognizing that right now. Of course no one could have predicted the restrictions we are currently under, but this only serves to demonstrate how we can’t take our freedoms and opportunities for granted.
While it was wonderful to visit all these unique places, the year in Memphis also helped me to renew my sense of curiosity and exploration regardless of where I was. Traveling and living somewhere new gave me an excuse to view my surroundings through an amateur’s lens: to ask questions, to revel in new things, to not assume I knew what things were or the way things should be. Growing up in the Northwest, somewhere along the way I decided I was an expert on this turf. But now that I have returned home and tried to maintain the perspective I had on my travels, I keep discovering beautiful and novel things that I never realized about my homeland. Once we flip that switch, whether conscious or not, to where we think we know it all, we’re liable to miss things. I have found that there is a peace in slowing down and noticing. And a joy in considering oneself a student rather than a master.
Lastly, and I’ve touched on this theme before, I have to end with the lesson that life is a series of seasons. Our cross-country trips and year in Memphis were wonderful experiences but now we have moved on to another season. Since returning to the Seattle area we, bought and moved into a home and have become pregnant. We are expecting our first child in September. Will we ever be able to replicate this time in our lives that I was able to chronicle in this blog? Maybe eventually we’ll return to a similar season, but probably not for awhile, and even then it would look different. Each new season builds on the previous ones. But with the memories and lessons I’ve learned thus far, I am excited to enter into this new season of life. And then the one after that. And the one after that.
2 thoughts on “Epilogue: lasting impressions from our cross country travels and living in the South for a year”
My thoughts from this: Did you ever, Danieele, feel judged or treated different for being Latino looking or bring a “mixed married couple”?
In Yakima about 18 years ago we had a black,white couple with their children who lived down the street. I made an effort to meet their parents with never a thought of race but to see and disern “judge” the love and care they had for their kids, to wonder where they had been and who they were hanging with. Their young teenage boys played basketball on our court with Dan, often me just visiting and encouraging. I even did a bit of tutoring.
The parent’s shared the prejudism they felt in our small town, Naches, Yakima WV area with the majority of white rednecks mixed with a high Hyspanic population. The parents were a bit judgemental and therefore so much was hard to read in what people did to them or how they acted and brought it on versus some problems they felt they faced by prejudism.
Unfortunately, a quiet of bit of stereotyping was the way they were representing.. Never took responsability; middle son caught stealing several times from neighbors’ garages etc., And I KNOW left many unmentionable “LEFT-overs” at the park and down by the CREEK. MAKING IT somewhere I was not comfortable to take my kids to anymore.
The mother, of color, shared there was a bigger prejudism between blacks and Hispanics, especially in our valley and Hispanics was the lowest. She knew by us it would not effect our feelings of love to all. Interesting her perspective as other way around if u asked a Hispanic. 😔
The sad thing is it doesn’t matter where u live, of course some areas, like Bible Belt and the deep South have stronger feelings but it exists all over.
At the Space Needle with u visiting in a stroller, Jason at home and ur folks walking the Seattle Center, after just leaving seeing me a big (I KNOW to now call him a righteous big redneck) came to my podeum and directed some very racist questions to me.
He had no idea the folks he was rudly, prejudicial about were my soon to be in laws.
I was a Polyanna, saying I saw no problem, they looked happy and appeared to be a beautiful family.
I remember telling Dan at the end of my shift and as we met up with u all I kept the envoy,her to myself. This arrogant jerk I wish I had more “balls” to have embarrassed him and maybe taught him a few things so he’ d have to eat his words and realized talking out his stupid pie hole could get him in trouble!!! I was working but I still could of been more nasty and forceful!
I honestly can say I am not truly prejudiced. However there are times that if I was in a POOR area, I don’t care if it’s black white hispanic mixed Asian, if I felt I’m in an area where there is low income and therefore MORE PRONE to steal and to fight to maintain their life as a standard of living, I would be concerned! It is not the color it is the social situation that I would find myself in I really question people.
So, yes I guess if I was in an area that they were predominantly if not all black but I knew it was area of concern I would be worried about my plan of attack getting out and my way of handling people and being cautious about making eye contact, but it isn’t necessarily because of the color of the skin, obviously it’s because of the years of teaching of making judgments and being trying to be wise and safe.
One of the most concerning times I had is when I first started at the University of Washington and walking up and down the sidewalks and meeting some really hardcore punk rock, almost starting of goth looking people. I wouldn’t say it was necessarily prejudice, I try to give a little smile but if they look to you, like most or more often then not like, “…what the f you looking?”, but if you didn’t look at them it was like,… “Hey, come on look at me!!” I just always felt on my toes, especially if alone. Like who was going to react and do what?
It can be a rich white guy or gal looking puNK, it can BE a poorly dressed person of color looking like they need new clothes or white person; it just would be the environment in which I came towards that person not because of the way they looked by their skin but the way their whole attitude and demeanor was and if I felt that I was protected in that arena.
Now the question is, how much do we reach out to people that could be in those lower class areas and feel like we’re reaching out to help them and give them things verses that they may take advantage of you?
The other day I saw a guy saying on sign, NEEDED work.. Well, doesnt matter the color he was mid aged looked healthy and with Dan sick, I thought some yard work or pruning? Then I remembered stories where in some cases they get in with the family to steal, eventually.
It is hard to be a loving but wise Christian during these times. (I chose to pass as I’m still nurturing our own child trying to navigate this world.)
Danielle, u gave me food for thought and it makes me wonder where my daughter lives in Houston and her community; safety, and what her children may learn so young (good or bad) that I never experienced in Yakima as a youngster.
The lower valley was a whole world away back then with Native Americans and more Hispanic s then Yakima has now. I literally ran with about 7 people from the dorm, first year; as ME the “minority”. Culture shock first weeks at U of W.
Living there my first best buds was 2 Caucasian, 1 from Guam, one Chinese American, 1 Panamanian with beautiful Choco skin (became a Seagal), 1 Hawaiian. I felt lost, culture shock on my traditions, culture. They had their foods, Rice with Soy versus me butter and rice, and really eatting Chinese food with chop sticks. What was I, burgers and hot dogs?
I loved the diversity. I wish we could all legally melting pot together but this sinful, prideful and arrogant world will not find true peace until Christ’s return, unfortunately! But we can show love and concern for all, hopefully, safely!
Hi Jill, thanks for your response and own thoughtful reflections on your experiences with some of these issues. While in Memphis, I was not aware of any specific racial biases or prejudices that felt directed towards me and/or Jeff and I as a couple.
Well, actually, now that I think about it, one of my coworkers said a few racist things towards ‘my people’ (lumping all Hispanics together) and pretty much every other non-White group of people at some point… but she spewed some really crazy stuff about everything so I kind of just ignored her. She treated me, and others I observed, with dignity, so it was hard to reconcile her words with her actions. She was from the deep South, lower MS, and spoke with a type of rhetoric I wasn’t used to. I didn’t take it personally but I probably should have pushed back against some of her remarks at times…
Another interesting thing I experienced was filling out an intake form at a Dr’s office. I wrote “mixed” for the race/ethnicity section and when I looked at my health documents later they interpreted this and substituted “half-Black.” Like this is the only kind of “mixed” in the South. I mean, technically I think I am 1/8th Black but that’s not what I had meant…
Overall, I was more aware of my mixed heritage while living in the South as there seemed to be less overall diversity than in Seattle – most of the population being either White or Black – and I don’t fall squarely in either of those categories. But for the most part I didn’t feel like I was treated significantly differently. Then again, we kept mostly to the larger cities and more affluent areas of town where people may have more accepting views and/or be more polite about hiding their negative feelings.
Yes, it is sad that we continue to have these hurtful biases and feelings based on race and skin color and I agree with you that we will never find true peace outside of God’s kingdom, but I am hopeful that the current movement will ignite some tangible changes in our society towards racial reconciliation and justice.