My White-Supremacist Childhood

I was born in North Dakota, but at the age of seven my family moved to Roswell, Georgia, a small (at that time) town north of Atlanta. I lived there until I went off to college. It was a nice place to live, full of nice people, but when I look back at it, there were some disturbing elements of my upbringing.

The town was established in the 1830's. There are several antebellum houses, and as a kid we went on many field trips to those houses, because they were on the same street as my elementary school. The tour guides told us stories of the industriousness of the town's founders, and the bravery of the citizens when Sherman's army marched through during the war. They didn't talk about the slave quarters in the backyards of those houses. They didn't mention that the founder, Roswell King, was notorious for beating and raping his slaves. People still use these houses for wedding receptions, parties, and other special events.

In fifth grade, while studying the events leading up to the Civil War, the teacher staged a debate about the merits of slavery, as if we were Southern statesmen. I was assigned to the pro-slavery team. So, at the age of 10, I stood up in front of the class and talked about how great slavery was, both for the white citizens and for the slaves themselves, and that abolishing it would be a mistake. I don't remember how the black kids in class reacted to this. Throughout my schooling, the Civil War was taught as the great Lost Cause where brave honorable white people resisted tyranny.

We took field trips to Stone Mountain. We all put on Confederate army hats and had a great time while the tour guides told us stories of the brave Confederate soldiers tricking the evil Union invaders. They didn't mention that Stone Mountain was the site of the founding of the KKK in 1915.

I remember my parents going to a costume ball where all the men dressed as Confederate officers and the women dressed as Southern belles. All in good fun.

When the first black family moved into our lily-white neighborhood, there was some concern. I was pleased that the attitude was generally positive ("We met them. They seem nice. It should be OK."), but it bothered me to hear all the adults discussing it in hushed tones at their parties.

It would be easy to dismiss such events as a "Southern thing", but whenever we went on family trips to other parts of the country to visit family and friends, after a few drinks there was always an uncle, aunt, cousin, or in-law who would give me a lecture about the problems with blacks/Hispanics/Asians/Native Americans, and offer some solutions (non-violent, but often involving ex-patriation or sterilization).

I don't recount these events to shame anyone. All the people involved in raising me were kind, generous people who made me feel happy and secure. I love them and thank them. I know some will consider my telling of these stories to be shockingly impolite. I hope you will forgive me, but I'm not going to apologize.

It doesn't matter whether you think you're racist: there is racism. Systemic racism exists. White people are the ones who perpetuate it. Non-white people are the ones who suffer its effects.

We are so steeped in it that we don't even notice it, just as we don't notice air or gravity. It seems to just be the way things are. We say we hate racism, but we keep it going.

White people are the only ones who can put an end to it.

We can't deny it, and we shouldn't passively accept it or just hope that it goes away. It's hard to fight against something that benefits you and your family, but it's the right thing to do.

Stop teaching our kids this stuff. Nobody deserves a white-supremacist childhood. This is especially true for the non-white children.

© 2003-2022 Kristopher Johnson