Special to the Mirror By Susan M. Bauer
I came to Cape Charles over a decade ago, and bought a historic Craftsman bungalow on Jefferson Avenue, that was originally a Sears kit house. It was the conclusion of my search for a small vacation cottage near the Chesapeake Bay. I was unaware of the rich history of the town and Jefferson Avenue, in particular. I live in the historically African-American section of Cape Charles. Jefferson and Washington Avenues, comprising the northernmost portion of the town, were segregated from the rest of the historic district. The black families who lived here were represented by the best and the brightest. The house on the corner of my block was owned by the first black physician on the Shore. Across the street, in a house currently under renovation, resided a prominent black minister, and his family. The minister’s daughter grew up to become the first black woman mayor of the Town of Cape Charles. Directly across the street from me is the second oldest, continuously African-American owned and operated funeral home in the country. While being privileged to serve on the Board of the Rosenwald School Committee, I heard stories from people who still reside in this town about how, as children, they walked over the “railroad hump,” away from the white school, to attend what was then known as the “Cape Charles Colored School.” That daily trek was just one of the many shameful and inexcusable indignities the black members of our town suffered during the Jim Crow era.
The Jim Crow era is over – at least according to the history books. Whereas, laws have evolved to protect people from the most insidious types of race-based discrimination, laws can never change the bias people hold in their hearts against others, simply because of the color of their skin. Last year, in Charlottesville, Virginia, racial hatred was on full display in all of its tiki-torch carrying glory. Decent people were appalled. But that’s Charlottesville, and our bucolic little Seaside/Bayside town is nothing like that, or so I mostly believed.
I do not spend much time reading The Mirror, and less time commenting on it. I have noticed in the past that threads of comments often stray from the actual article. That’s bound to happen with the short attention spans most of us have these days. That was certainly the case, following a recent article about town employees efforts to obtain a membership to a fitness club. There were strong opinions expressed about various things, not related to a fitness club membership, but two comments stood out to me. They were shocking, not just because of their blatantly racist content, but because not one single reader opposed them. In fact, one of the comments received a positive response.
A person, posting under the pseudonym, Slide Easy, felt compelled to remark “Will never understand why white folks emulate blacks, but it sure looks and sounds ignorant. I thought [blacks] were supposed to assimilate into OUR (emphasis in original) society after they were allowed to integrate…they sure have failed.” Well, Mr. Easy, there is a lot to unpack here. I’ll start with the low hanging fruit. What does this have to do with membership to a fitness club?? Or do all paths lead to you attacking black people? More to the point, though, black citizens were not “allowed” to integrate into society. They protested, they initiated legal actions, they fought and some even died to force integration. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 was signed almost 4 months after Dr. Martin Luther King was murdered for his activism demanding equal rights for African-Americans. Most black Americans can trace their introduction to “OUR” society from their ancestors being abducted and forcibly brought to this country as slaves. Contrary what Kanye “Kardashian” West claims, slavery was not a choice for these Americans. Our society is now their society. They own it, as much as you do, and they are entitled to shape it the way they want to. In that regard, they have not failed.
Friends, it does not stop there. A reader, posting as “Tim Harris,” thinks we women and apparently all black people are a whiny bunch when it comes to demanding equality. Mr. Harris writes “[w]hy do you think you [women] are so special that you can not be demeaned, disrespected and abused? Men face the same things every day. You all really need to get a grip on yourselves. You are starting to sound like Black Folks…and that is not a good look.” Once again, how did the entire black race get called out in this discussion?
Spend some time reading comments from various articles, and it will not take long to uncover other subtle and blatantly racist remarks. No one would accuse readers of The Mirror of pulling punches. Townspeople spend apparently large chunks of time on this site, tearing each other down, and accusing each other of all sorts of malfeasance. The name calling and accusations abound, and some are quite hilarious. However, these racist comments, they are a whole different kettle of fish. They are hate speech – plain and simple. They reveal a darkness in the hearts of the people who post them, a failure of moral character. They are pure evil and they are vile. We cannot allow them to be unopposed.
I have never written to The Mirror, and believe me, I do not relish the attack that will certainly come from the views I am expressing here. Let me steal some of your thunder. I am a liberal, a snowflake, a person who has the audacity to eat avocado on my bagel, when all good women eat butter on toast. I am sure I will be accused of being exactly what is certainly going to lead to the end our civilization as we know it. Doesn’t matter. Still worth it. As Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel warned “[w]e must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, not the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”