Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Gone with the wind

Just watched a biography of Margaret Mitchell. I have a perverse fondness for her despite the fact that I can no longer read GWTW without wincing and the only benefit from the housing crash I can see is that it stunted the proliferation of middle-Georgia mid-range housing developments with names like "Tara Estates."  I'd known that she donated money to Morehouse medical students; I hadn't known she did it in secret for fear that someone would take violent exception to her donating money to African American students. Those were the times, as they say.

My father used to talk about his uncle who was a doctor and his aunts who were "country nurses," (ie midwives and whatever else was needed) and was emphatic that they would treat "anybody, white or black." This sailed over my head as a child. Why wouldn't they? But his uncle and aunts practiced in the 1910s, '20s and '30s when that just wasn't done. And by "not done" I mean "some people would turn black people away from emergency rooms and let them die rather than treat them." It occurs to me now that not only were they unusual, my great-uncle and aunts may have actually put themselves in danger. Though knowing my family I doubt they worried about it too much.

People are funny, contradictory creatures. Margaret Mitchell had some racist attitudes and so did my parents; I'm sure their elder relatives were no different. And yet, they defied other people's racism at some risk to themselves. If there is a lesson there, I think it's this: The world isn't made by saints. They are too thin on the ground. The world is pushed forward by flawed human beings choosing to do the better thing.

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