I am tracing my Mormon pioneer roots because my story began with those who came before.
Once while living in Missouri, Daniel purchased a large black cow for sixteen dollars. The cow was described as “fine-looking” but “through making bag.” This phrase likely meant its fertility and milk-producing days were over. Being away from home, Daniel intended to camp and travel with the cow over several days to return to his homestead.
A few days into the journey, a man inquired about buying the cow. Daniel told him he would sell it for eighteen dollars. The man declined, saying cows usually cost between twelve and sixteen dollars. Later, Daniel met another man who asked about buying the cow. This time Daniel set the price at twenty dollars. The second prospective buyer also declined.
After camping for a couple more days, Daniel met a third interested buyer. This time Daniel set the price at twenty-two dollars. Again, no sale occurred. At this point, I wonder if Daniel had made this a game for his enjoyment.
A couple of days later, he came upon a fourth man, who Daniel described as “colored a little.” Daniel told him he would not take less than twenty-four dollars. This man told Daniel it was a substantial sum for a cow. Daniel replied he had already set the price at eighteen, twenty, and twenty-two, and he meant to increase the price by two dollars each time.
This man rode off but returned shortly, saying he’d pay Daniel’s asking price. Daniel thought about increasing the cost to twenty-five dollars but sold the cow for twenty-four dollars.
The new owner asked Daniel to take the cow into his nearby yard. In doing so, Daniel noticed the cows the man already had were predominately white. Daniel told the man, “it was rather curious that the cattle in Missouri were getting white and the people were getting black.”
This story is one of the few times race explicitly shows up in Daniel’s writing. I look for clues to understand his thoughts about black people. It’s clear he noticed skin color.
The disappointing and sickening part of the story is when Daniel speaks of white cows and black human beings in the same sentence. Somehow seeing white cattle and this man Daniel perceived as being ” a little colored” prompts him to think and openly speak about the rise in the number of black people he has noticed.
I doubt Daniel saw the crudeness in his statement. I imagine he left feeling proud of his business sense and fifty percent profit. Did family and friends laugh when he retold the story with the degrading punchline?
I have come to believe that racism gets into all of us. On that day, some of Daniel’s came out.
Racist microaggressions have been described as razor-thin cuts causing deep wounds for people consistently put in the box of “other.” Pointed out as not belonging or noticed as being outside what is considered the norm. Unfortunately, I have doled out my share of these. I recall a black man sharing his weariness at how often he was asked, “Where are you from?” While on the surface, this may seem like a harmless question. As a white woman, it is one I rarely, if ever, am asked because my whiteness precedes me, spreading a welcome table for my belonging in almost every space I enter.
The first time I heard a black person say, “know your whites,” I didn’t understand what they meant. I am learning it means when one’s safety and opportunities lie in the power white people have, you learn to pick up clues on the kind of white person they are.
And what of the black man who purchased the cow? Was he willing to pay the high price because some white men wouldn’t do business with him, leaving it necessary to take what he could get?
What did he think about Daniel’s remarks comparing his skin to the hide of livestock? Did he suppress the urge to tell my grandfather to fuck off? Was he practiced at shaking it off as the price required to live among whiteness? What feelings settled deep into his bones in anger, sadness, or self-hate? Did he share this story with his family or keep it secret? How would he have written the story of the day he crossed paths with my grandfather?