The Race Project: Karen McKee and Megan Bachman
In this installment of The Race Project, a conversation between a Black woman and a white woman, both of whom reside in the Village of Yellow Springs.
Transcript (edited lightly for length and clarity):
Megan Bachman: My name is Megan Bachman. I'm a white woman. I grew up in a suburb of Cleveland that was about 92 percent white. A few years ago that I found out that my family owned slaves. And to me, that was the most important thing to know about my whiteness.
Karen McKee: My name is Karen McKee. I am a descendant of Elijah and Dunmoore Gwen. They were among the group of enslaved African Americans that lived in Stafford, Virginia. They migrated to Yellow Springs in 1862 with their plantation owner, Moncure Conway. Megan, How have you changed your attitudes around race?
Megan Bachman: To me, finding out that my family owned slaves was just another point where it says, I cannot deny that this is not a part of my history, that this is not a part of my legacy because my family benefitted from the labor of enslaved Black people.
Karen, can you tell the listener when you didn't feel like a Black, white or brown human being?
Karen McKee: I was born in 1949. I graduated high school in 1968. The percentage of African Americans living in Yellow Springs when I was growing up was close to 30 percent. We had an African American mayor, we had an African American police chief. We had African Americans on the school board. People knew you, they knew my family. My father was the police chief for 36 years in this community, so they knew the McKee children. I was not that aware of racial differences. We all sort of played together, we were just a community of people.
I went away for several years and when I came back in 2012, the community was a very, very, very different community. You had a new group of people that were living in town. I was an adult, and they didn't recognize me. I learned later in life that racism was alive and well. When I would go downtown and go into different shops and what have you, you would notice that people would look. They didn't know who I was. They thought I was someone that was new to the community and that is a time that I was acutely aware, I'm a Black woman, so they are suspicious of me. So then, I became a threat. I had to sort of prove myself innocent before I had even done anything.
Megan Bachman: Despite white people saying "Oh I'm color blind' or "I don't see race", they do. I think everybody does. And I think when you say those things, you're actually forcing them deeper into your shadow and you're probably acting on them even more. So, I don't really trust people that say that they don't see race. I trust people that say I'm dealing with my own internalized racism, which is there because I was born in America.
So, I'm a journalist, and I found once I did some honest self-assessment that I was talking with mostly white people. When I went to do interviews, I would call white people. When I started to think about what stories are important to my community, I think about things that white people have told me just because those are the people that I am around. So, as a journalist, I was really failing to live up to the mission of really telling the stories of our community.
I have a five and an eight year old, and they mostly have white friends. Race has become something that they've talked about more and that they understand more. My daughter, her last two teachers in Yellow Springs schools have been Black women. She has seen that leadership. She has learned from them about the world. And I am so grateful for that experience that I never had.
Karen McKee: I am hopeful about the future. The village council are making a concerted effort to be aware of the issues and to make policies that are proactive in terms of supporting and valuing diversity.
Megan Bachman: There's a lot of people in this community that are challenging us. And, it's getting uncomfortable but that's okay. And I just really hope that we keep this momentum up, and that brings me hope.
Karen McKee: I genuinely appreciate your being honest and open and your willingness to understand, to make the changes that we need to make as a society to do your part to contribute to that process.
Megan Bachman: Karen, I am so grateful for you doing this with me. All that you bring, the historical understandings and your generosity of spirit in these really hard conversations, so thank you.
The Race Project is produced at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.