This is not about “racism, the attitude” so much as “racism, the structural legacy”. (Can’t be helped – my earliest memories about race and attitude are mainly about very emphatic teachings from parents and teachers about how races are equals and racism is a Bad Thing. What follows is the early stuff that hit me below the belt).
When I was 7, we moved from New Mexico to Georgia, and lived just outside the city limits of Valdosta in Lowndes County, so I took the bus every morning to the county elementary school (Pine Grove, outside of Bemis GA, in case anyone is from around those parts).
It was a long long wandering bus ride, and I had to catch it early. At a certain point on the route, we went for a pretty long time without seeing any paved roads, and the houses got smaller and more ramshackle-looking, the cars in front of people’s houses older and more decrepitated, and the kids who got on & off there wore clothing that was worn-out looking. Also, I don’t know how to put it, but the kids seemed more often unhappy, and sometimes angry, and after awhile of seeing enough parents and other family in the yards or coming out to meet them, etc., so did the parents & etc. Also many of the kids did not seem to be in very good health, some kind of gum problems I think? Their teeth and gums didn’t look so good. Some of the houses were smaller than our garage, and wood not brick, and paint peeling or unpainted, and falling apart to the point you could see it, like pieces of the roof sagging in.
And all the kids who lived in and got on or off in this stretch of bus route were black. All of them. For a long time (whatever a “long time” was to me at 7, maybe 45 minutes’ worth of bus route?) you just wouldn’t see any white people.
I can remember having some interrelated fears: I would get on the wrong homebound bus by accident one day (they had dozens of buses with different county routes, looked identical except for the numbers and to an extent the region of the parking lot where they’d pull up) and I wouldn’t realize it until we were out in one of those areas and the bus would get to the end of the line and I’d have to get off there in a place like that where I didn’t know anyone and the bus driver wouldn’t care. Or it would be the right bus but I’d fall asleep and go past my own stop and the same thing would happen. And maybe no one would let me use their phone, or they wouldn’t have phones, or when I asked people would be mad and would hurt me somehow, and I’d never get out of there.
What I saw was scary and I didn’t want to be there even temporarily by accident. Like it could reach out and pull you into a world of poor and miserable. The kids who lived there, well even at 7, I could figure that they probably felt the same way about it except it was real life for them and they were trapped in this world that looked scary and sad to me, and everyone was saying it was Bad to say thay weren’t as good as white people or call them Names and stuff, but this was still how they were living. And I was glad to be white because it seemed safer, only black kids had to get off here, but it was still scary anyhow.