This picture shows me in front of the house my grandfather built, crying after falling in the Michigan snow.
My mother’s late father, a machinist, bought acreage in Kawkawlin, Michigan in the 1940s.
Grampa built this house (himself) for his family from cinder- and concrete blocks.
My father grew up in a house hand-built from local stone (these rock houses were common in the Missouri Ozarks at the time).
My grandparents lived in that house until moving in the late 1970s into a single-wide trailer provided by the owner of the nearby lumber mill, where my grandfather worked as a night watchman. This childhood picture shows us visiting our grandparents at the rock house.
My parents did much of the finishing work themselves on their country dream home. We cleared the land as a family and Dad built the barn.
I came of age admiring my family’s self-reliance, but two books I’ve read recently challenge my family’s myth of self-made success (His Name is George Floyd by Robert Samuels & Toluse Olorunnipa and Caste by Isabel Wilkerson) .
Like George Floyd’s mother, my father grew up in a house without indoor plumbing. But unlike her, he was able to join the US Navy and learn a trade (electronics). He leveraged that trade into a steady job at McDonnell-Douglas. George Floyd’s single mother worked for minimum wage, which was $1.50 in the 1960s and under $3.00 an hour until 1980.
Picture of me posing with my cat on the trailer steps, Halloween.
My parents started out in a single-wide trailer, like George Floyd’s family, but they were not relegated to a Blacks-only neighborhood.
They were able to buy land (in a rural, all-white community)--unlike the countless Black couples of equal economic status whose buying choices were limited by
I graduated from a mostly-white public high school in a rural area, with well-funded sports teams and advanced placement classes.
George Floyd spent high school playing football and basketball, working toward a sports scholarship and barely passing his academic classes, at an under-funded all-black high school in the inner city.
When George Floyd went to college, he was completely reliant on his sports scholarship, but this talented athlete never played a single game. Taking remedial classes to address his academic deficiencies made him ineligible.
Everyone born into poverty begins life disadvantaged in the US, but if your skin is brown, that liability is compounded by racism. Driving While Black remains a risk for all Black Americans. A Black man is always subject to racial profiling--no matter his education or wealth (such as Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and NFL defensive tackle Matthias Askew).
For George Floyd, and too many other Black Americans, this systemic prejudice proved fatal.