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An Inherited Mindset? (Or Why You Shouldn't Marry a Sharecropper's Child)

I had the good fortune to sit down with my 87 year-old uncle, whom I will refer to as "Uncle B," because of extremely bad fortune:  The death of his brother, my Uncle F.  The reason why this sit-down was such good fortune is because I learned a lot about myself from learning from him about his mother, my grandmother who I never met.

My grandmother died before I was born.  She appears in the 1930 census in the rural Deep South as a twenty-seven year old widow with young children.  Because my grandfather owned his own grist mill, a shoe cobbler shop, and the land his shop and his house were on before he died in 1928, my grandmother was a property owner in the Deep South during the Great Depression when she was widowed.

Which means she could vote as long as she paid her 50 cent poll tax. She paid, and she voted.

Mind you, this was no small feat for a widowed black mother in the rural Deep South during the Great Depression.  History tells us that black folks were getting killed for even daring to register to vote during that time, much less actually voting. 

Yet and still, she voted.

Uncle B. also told me of something that she did that might not have met with the approval of other rural black townspeople during that era.  Imagining a widowed twenty-something black mother during the Great Depression as being someone weak and in need of protection, I asked with fear, "How did people treat her?  Did they shun her?"

Uncle B. said, "No.  What could they do to her?  We were property owners.  We didn't depend on other folks."  Uncle B. elaborated on their property owners' mindset.  "Back then, we used to say, 'Don't marry a sharecropper's son' or 'Don't marry a sharecropper's daughter.'  It wasn't about them being a sharecropper's son or daughter.  It was about the mindset they inherited from their parents.  Sharecroppers didn't believe they would ever own anything.  If you don't think you'll ever have anything, you never will."

Uncle B. also told me that my grandmother was considered quite the catch after she was widowed because she could read and write and she owned property.  She had been sent away to Spelman for high school and college (Uncle B believes my grandfather, for whom she worked before she married him, paid for her education, but my dad always said her sisters paid for her education).  My grandmother would spend her weekends reading and writing letters for black folks who couldn't read and write.  Uncle B. also told me that when she broke up with one suitor, she told him, "I'm through with you.  Don't come back.  And get off my property." 

And when someone did her wrong or threatened to do her wrong, she called on her sisters, and they had her back.  And they would fight for and alongside her.  Even against men.

I'm so much like my grandmother that it's not even funny.

Does this mean I inherited a different mindset, from a grandmother I never even knew, no less?

Perhaps.

Exhibit 1:  I am a fanatic about voting.  I once stopped a lecture in one of my Property courses to harangue my students about the importance of voting.  I scolded my black students, telling them that too many black folks had died for the right to vote for them to disrespect that sacrifice by not voting. When I was single, I wouldn't even date a guy if he didn't vote.  To me, the failure of a guy to vote was the equivalent of having bad hygiene.  Ick.

Exhibit 2:  I am a strong believer in property ownership and not depending on anyone financially. That's why I spent a year with Black Man Not Blogging creating and teaching a curriculum on financial independence for my family.

Exhibit 3: I have always believed that every act starts with a belief.  I never doubted that I  would go to college.  I never doubted that I would attend Harvard.  I never doubted that I would be an attorney.  I never doubted I would achieve any goal about which I was very serious, because I simply believed.  I did not have a sharecropper's mentality -- the belief that you won't have anything. 

Exhibit 4: I've never believed that I was less than men just because I'm a woman.  Last summer, I designed and helped oversee the remodel of my mother-in-law's house.  Quite frankly, I used the remodeling as an excuse to use my own power tools.  When I was putting up the last of seven curtain rods, all of which I had installed by myself (Thank you, Ryobi drill people!), one of my in-laws said to me:  "You really do think you're equal to men, don't you?"  I replied, "I just don't see what having a penis has to do with being able to measure and do math."  When I shared my in-law's comment with Uncle B., he said, "Well, that's just stupidity on steroids."  He turned to my sisters and me and said very seriously, "Girls, know your worth." Clearly, my grandmother knew her worth.   (By the way, only an 87 year-old uncle would call his fifty- and sixty-something nieces "girls."  Too cute.)

Exhibit 5:  I learned not to have qualms about dismissing men from my life if they were not for me.  When I was single, once I learned how to break up with the first two boyfriends, breaking up with the rest of them was easy, and I started to do so more quickly whenever I realized they were not for me.  There was one guy who owed me money when I was getting ready to break up with him.  I broke up with him AND demanded a check for what he owed me.  He paid me on the spot.  And yes, the check cleared.  Like my grandmother, once I decided that a man was not for me, I dismissed him for good, with one notable exception:  Black Man Not Blogging. Like my grandmother telling her suitor, "Get off my property," I kicked boyfriends or aspiring boyfriends out of my car, out of  my apartment, and out of my office at a law firm when I was single.

Exhibit 6:  When I need backup, I call on my sisters. They always have my back, even if they think I'm wrong, which is something we resolve within the sisterhood, not outside of the sisterhood.

Exhibit 7:  I know my worth.  My grandmother knew her worth.  So do I.

I'm so grateful for having had this wonderful grandmother I never met, for inheriting her mindset, and for my Uncle B. sharing her with me.

Now I have to think about the mindset I'm passing down . . . . .

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