Matters of Race: An Excerpt

by Helen Collier 

A loud knock on the door startled Anna.  Who was it?  She wondered.  Maybe, she thought, they had already come and would hang the black ranch hand along with her.  The knocking grew louder.  “Oh my God it is the Klan!” she exclaimed frightened as to what would happen next, remembering her mother telling her they came forty sometimes hundreds at a time making sure the victim had no chance to escape.  Anna reached for her purse.  Out of it she pulled Madria’s switchblade.  The one she had refused to allow Raymond to see when they were driving out to the ranch.  She thought to herself, they might have already hung the rider and hundreds of sheet wearing Klansmen waited at the door for her to open it.  Then she remembered.  Ray had shown her a gun in the china cabinet’s bottom drawer.  If she had to die, someone would be going with her, like that mad dog son of theirs, she hoped.  The knocking continued.  I hope it’s only the black ranch hand, Anna thought taking the gun out making sure it was loaded.  Hurrying to open the door she stood there stunned as she looked into the face of her visitor.

“It’s you!  Where are your other sheet-wearing friends hiding?” Anna asked blocking the doorway, the gun in her hand leveled at Julia Mike’s head.   Julia stood there, her eyes swollen and red.

“No one is with me.  May I come in?  You can decide after our talk, I hope, whether or not to kill me.  I’ve come…”

“To further the cause of the Klansmen as did your son?” Anna asked still blocking her from entering the cabin the gun now leveled at her chest.

“Hell, no!” Julia cried.  Seeing tears falling from her eyes Anna stepped back allowing her to enter.  “You can go, no further harm will come to her,” Julia said turning back to the black rancher who stood by his truck his arms folded still waiting for Anna.

“You know that if I had had this gun in my hand when I confronted that son of yours, he would be dead now?” Anna said as Julia closed the door behind her, realizing the white woman had come in response to the cross burning.

“I know,” Julia answered, still not taking the lead.

“If you think my generation is going back to being fucked over by you white ass racists let it be known many of us may die but we will fight your asses to the death.  Now, why have you come?” Anna asked the gun now leveled at her head as Julia took a seat at the dining room table.

“To talk with you if you are willing to listen,” Julia replied staring from the gun to Anna.

“Ha,” Anna laughed, “before the boss’s woman didn’t rate a mere hello.  She wasn’t good enough for the white mistress of Forlorn Ranch to cross her threshold except to see the black maid.  Now, all of a sudden, here you stand.  That’s one thing about you closet racists… as long as the shit is under the rug and you can’t smell the stink, you’re as happy as hell to walk over it.  But just as soon as it smells enough to upset your stomachs here you come running with your damn peace pipes,” Anna said staring down at her as she lowered the gun onto the table.

“Damn you, I’m not here to make excuses for myself or my son.  What he has done is unforgiveable.  His actions have brought shame on our family.”

“Shame you say.  The shame is that you allowed him to keep white only and colored signs hanging in that café down the road from the infirmary.” She watched Julia’s eyes widened.  “Shame is when only white hands could enjoy the cool fan while the black hands suffered the outdoor heat during lunch time or be forced to sit on a dirt floor when that one chair table was filled.”

“What damn sign are you speaking of, what dirt floor?” Julia asked staring hard at Anna.

“Don’t pretend you’re oblivious to your son’s 1950s white only and colored signs he had hanging up at that café.  I walked in there a week after Raymond and Arnold left wondering why the black hands were seated out in the hot sun when there was a café just down the road.  I saw why once I got inside.  Big as day there your son sat with the rest of the white hands under that damn white only sign overhead and a colored only sign in front of one damn table and chair on a damn filthy dirt floor.” Anna watched an expression of shock fill Julia’s face.

“You have got to be kidding me?” she gasped.

“I guess the next thing you are going to tell me is while you were resting up in your white pillared mansion on your high back privileged throne, you, Arnold nor Ray knew anything about that or how he has been cheating the black hands out of their rightful wages, paying the white hands doing the same work a dollar an hour more?  The dirty little bastard thought no one could count but him.”  Anna could see a new puzzling expression growing on Julia’s face.

“Arnold always did the wages… until five years ago when he taught Ken how to do payroll because he wanted him to take over he was so busy with training horses.”

“And my, did he take over, until I confronted his ass with the possibility of this ranch facing a lawsuit if his crime was uncovered.  You bet the little racist rat ducked and ran then.  He is a horrible person, that son of yours.”  Anna offered Julia no help or comfort in understanding what she was telling her.

“You won’t believe me but I knew none of this.  And for sure neither Arnold nor Raymond knew.”

“Of course not, why should the white privileged mistress or the big white bosses be bothered with what’s happening to their colored niggers?  Isn’t that what you Southern racist call us?”  Anna saw the look of pain in Julia’s face and knew she would never have stood for her speaking to her in such a manner if she could do otherwise.

This is an excerpt from Ms. Anna and the Tears From the Healing Tree. Reprinted with permission