The Weight of Racism, by Marissa McClenton

After watching and discussing the work and life of James Baldwin, I have decided to use this journal to talk about my family. This will be in two parts because in order to understand how I came to be the woman I am today, you need to learn about both the black and the white parts of my family. I hope that, in telling this, you understand more about who I am as a person as well as who I came from and the legacies that I am tasked with both upholding and dismantling. 

The Lasister Family is a very typical southern white family. There is a long long longggg history of alcohol and substance abuse, sexual and domestic violence, poverty, and patriotism. There is not a single Lasister man with whom I feel safe around with the exception of my cousin Caije who has not disappointed me yet and his last name is Dilts. When it was found out that my mother was pregnant with a child fathered by a black man she was disowned from parts of her family. She was tainted now. Dirty and Black on the inside. To this day, none of us have met those family members because my father has a low tolerance for disrespect that my brothers and I inherited. It would not have gone well. I am not a white woman because I come from a family of white women who enabled the white men to hurt everything that they touched. Everytime I watch the videos of the integration of schools, I see my family because I know for a fact that they are those kinds of people. I don’t have the space in this journal to discuss how my mother is both different and the same from her family. 

The first time I learned about the childhood of my great grandfather, Mark McClenton, was at his funeral. He was born in Ocilla, Georgia and there was a lynching there the year he was born. The New York Times Article quotes “OCILLA, Ga., Feb. 1 (AP).–Overpowering Sherift W.C. Tyler and his deputies early today, a mob of 500 men took Jimmy Levine, a negro, from the officers and lynched him ten miles from town. The negro had been arrested about an hour before at Mystic, Ga., for attacking and slaying a 14-year-old white girl.”. He was raised in Florida and we are unsure how much time he spent in Georgia before his family left. PopPop was the smartest man that anyone around him had ever met. He did not graduate high school and I’m unsure if he made it past middle school either. He worked fields and factories for most of his life and retired as a truck driver. I heard secondhand stories about Kenton being a sundown town where being found past sunset as a black person was to ask for trouble to find you. My PopPops earlier adult life was full of alcohol and violence. He was a part of one of the deadliest gangs on the east coast called the East Coast Gladiators. The gang was forced to dismantle but the constant sound of bikes coming to visit my PopPops house all the time makes that seem like it didn’t fully happen. 

I am named after Leona McClenton, she was biologically my great grandmother but my father grew up calling her Mom so that has never felt right to say. She is my grandmother. I’ve never heard someone talk about Leona without crying. Not my dad, not my uncle, not my great-grandfather, nobody. She was the glue that held everything together and the shield that protected the children from the anger of my PopPop. He cheated on her with a white woman named Barb, who went on to have several of his kids and marry him after Leona passed away. These children were included in my grandmother’s obituary when she passed away. Every member of my black family that I meet has told me, in one way or another that my father raised me in her image and it is one of my greatest prides in this life. I never got to meet her but my identity of a black woman was built from the stories I heard from her life and the legacy that she left. 

I carry the weight of racism and white supremacy from the Lasister family. They are not all bad people, but all of them have benefitted from the actions and behaviors of the white men within the family.  My grandmother is the only Lasister that has done the actual work to repair the harm that my family has caused myself and my brothers, both directly and indirectly. I love her more than anything in the world. I also carry the weight of my ancestors who were slaves in the south but still managed to pass on the heritage and culture as my PopPop moved north to Delaware. I carry on a legacy of strength and intelligence but also a pain so deep that my PopPop never spoke of it and it was lost when he passed away in 2019. This is why I am a Black Woman. The legacy of Leona is carried on as I carry her name within mine. I just hope that I am doing her justice.