Our Trip to Savannah: The Rampant Racism

Mar 21, 2016 | 10 comments

I was too angry on St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah, after the pinching incident, to think to take too many more pictures that night. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway as there wasn’t much that was really picture-worthy, unless you consider the multiple examples of blatant racism I witnessed picture-worthy (I wouldn’t). I didn’t have my camera at-the-ready either because I didn’t really expect for these things to happen. In fact, I would have missed the first one had my husband not called my attention to it.

As I noted in my last post, Savannah, Georgia on St. Patrick’s Day, is a place that is worth going to only if you’re really, really, really, into drinking all day long. I mean it. Some of the people there at 10pm had started at 7am. It’s a drinker’s paradise which is a shame because on a normal weekend it’s quite beautiful. 

Savannah Georgia

After dinner, as we were walking around downtown, we found ourselves walking behind a group of young men (early 20’s) who were drunk to the point of barely standing up. One of them had his shirt off and he was whooping it up, whirling his shirt in the air and shouting at people as they walked by. At one point we walked past an older, bearded, black man and these young kids thought it would be funny (or appropriate) to start yelling racial slurs at him. He ignored them but my husband had a hard time letting it go. I thought a fight was about to break out right there as my husband had quite a few words for those kids. It was terrible, but we aren’t stupid. We know racism is real and we know that drinking can bring out the worst in people. The older, bearded, black man walked away we turned left to walk through Johnson Square.

As we were standing at the crosswalk, waiting to cross the street to Johnson Square, we stood next to a young black woman and her twin daughters. The girls were in a twin stroller and we were all just waiting for the light to turn green so we could walk across the street and in to the garden. As we stood there, patiently waiting, a black pickup truck drove by. The window of the truck was rolled down, a man (25ish?) leaned out the window and spit on the woman and her daughters while shouting racial slurs. 

I WAS SHOCKED. I was disgusted. It was horrific to stand there knowing what had just happened. The truck zoomed on down the street with the guy laughing out the window. That young woman was stunned. The look on her face said everything her voice couldn’t say. She was shocked. She was humiliated. She was angry. She was sad, both for herself and her girls. I didn’t know what to say. What do you say in a moment like that? I turned. I made eye contact with her. I apologized on behalf of people everywhere. She just smiled meekly back at me and crossed the street with her girls disappearing in to Johnson Square. By this point, I was so ashamed of people and so disgusted with Savannah, GA that all I wanted to do was go back to the hotel and pray the next day, at Tybee Island, would be better.

Tybee Island, Georgia

I thought surely Tybee Island would be better, right? It was, kind of. The beach was beautiful and we were excited to spend some time in the sand again. It was packed full of spring breakers but most people seemed to be relaxing and enjoying the ocean. Not long after we settled in on the sand a group of college-aged kids (about 5-6 of them) set up camp just a few feet to our left. About 10 minutes later a group of young black women came and set up camp about 10-15 feet in front of us. It was a bit cloudy but everyone seemed chill. Until…I started hearing the snickering.

The group of kids to our left started cracking jokes about the black women on the beach. I heard them say things like, “Why do black people even bother coming to the beach? It’s not like they need a tan.” and “I was hoping to enjoy the smell of the salt water but instead all I can smell is those nasty black bitches.” I wanted to cry. Seriously…what the hell?!? What is wrong with people?  

The women seemed to be ignoring them. Either they couldn’t hear them or they decided it wasn’t worth the conflict. Then, one of the young boys said, “Awh, let them be. They’re just enjoying their vacation and they need to get them in while they can because once Trump is elected they’ll be too busy working for us to go to the beach.” The kids all cackled, like that was the funniest damn thing they’d ever heard. One of the other boys then said, “Working for us? Dude, I’m not paying a slave bitch a dime!” 

That was it. I was DONE. The kids were drunk (as all of Savannah was that weekend) and the women in front of me moved their set-up another 20 or so feet to the right of us and closer to the ocean. My husband and I packed up our stuff and moved as well. I know we should have said something, gotten involved, caused a scene, etc but in that moment all I could think of was to remove myself from the horrible mentality I’d unfortunately seen every time I turned my head and get back to Atlanta as quickly as possible.

It was just…terrible. No one deserves to be treated that way. Inwardly, I alternated between crying and raging. I didn’t know what to do, what to say, or how to react. I’ve never really been a person to be at a loss for words but, in each of those three moments, I was. What do you say? What do you do? I was stunned in to silence and, as I sit here writing this, I’m ashamed of my silence. 

I wish I would have said something, anything. I wish I would have addressed the racism and the ignorance. I wish my shock wouldn’t have left me in a state of passive bystander. I know racism is alive in the United States, especially the southern United States, but I’ve never had the misfortune of having it occur so directly in front of my face before. Even now, I don’t know what to say other than, “I’m sorry.”

I’m sorry I didn’t say anything.

I’m sorry I didn’t do anything.

I’m sorry that this happens.

I’m sorry that I didn’t know how to react, how to respond, or how to make it better.

I’m just…sorry.

Visually, Savannah is a beautiful historic city but my image of the location has definitely been tarnished. I don’t know that I’ll ever go back. I don’t know that I’ll ever even want to go back. There are too many other places to visit.