Being Black in the Valley

Being Black in the Valley - October 2008 by Scottie Scott...

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October 2008 by Scottie Scott [email protected] Staunton resident Scott is a carpenter and a free-lance writer. What’s it like to be Black in the Valley? For some the question is preposterous. ‘Oh, not that again.’ One man demurs my invitation to talk, saying, ‘My race doesn’t occur to me on a day-to-day basis and it doesn’t come up in what I do for a living now.’ But for others the question is not so irrelevant. I was born on Purviance Street and grew up on Calvert Street in Staunton. For reasons I’ve never understood, at each address, our next-door neighbors were Helen and Stuart Lewis and their daughter Pam. Until recently, I hadn’t seen Mrs. Lewis since high school. Remarried after Mr. Lewis died, she is now Mrs. Jackson. From as far back as I remember, Helen Lewis Jackson was always just a bit different. It’s a big reason I’ve always liked her. Eighty-four years of unrelenting living have had no deleterious effects on the cut of her jib. Mrs. Jackson’s family was not rich. It was she and her mother. They lived in Albemarle County, in the big houses of the family her mother worked for. She was still young when they moved to Staunton, where her mother worked for another family. Self-assured from childhood, she was not predisposed to allowing the smallness of certain minds get in her way. There was nothing extraordinary in her deciding to go to college and to become a teacher. As we chat in Mrs. Jackson’s “thinking room,” there is a word she is groping for and she calls upstairs. Her granddaughter, Rebecca Brown, enters the room. Rebecca, 21, has plans. While she loves living in Staunton, her calling is in a children’s ministry. She hopes to attend Bible college and perhaps later to go abroad. She thinks she might like to be in a place with more diversity. Rebecca’s heritage is white, black and Mexican. I ask if her varied heritage makes a difference in those she hangs out with. “If you’re of color, maybe because it’s a smaller town, maybe because it’s the South, you relate more to the black side. Friends? When it comes to school friends, it’s predominantly mixed and black and some whites. Church is about 75 percent white, and if I’m at camp it’s more 50 percent white, 50 percent black. “It’s still pretty much like segregation in the [school] cafeteria. You have the black table and maybe this token white guy trying to be black and then you have the mixed table, like my group. I call it ‘the whatever group.’ Some whites, some Mexicans some mixed. And you see that everywhere, in the mall or wherever.” Rebecca continues talking about her days at Robert E. Lee High School, where she graduated magna cum laude. “It was annoying in high school. If you’re smart you’re supposed to be white. If you’re black you’re supposed to be hanging out in the parking lot listening to rap music and not caring what you’re doing. The stereotype is really annoying. If you don’t talk the way black people are supposed to talk they’ll get on you for that. They say you sound so white. I am not speaking white. I’m just speaking proper English.”
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Mrs. Jackson perks up: “You see, there’s a little polish that you somehow get over to your child. There’s a way that
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Being Black in the Valley - October 2008 by Scottie Scott...

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