Mari Stasky is a vet tech and student. She identifies as a 43 year old White female. Mari shared several lies she was told growing up including that Black people are dirty, they are criminals, and they didn’t know how to swim, which is why she said she never saw them at the beach. She realized later it was because she lived in an all-White community that she did not see Black people at the pool. She was primarily taught these lies by her mother and her family. Mari did not start to learn that she was taught lies until around her freshman year in high school when she befriended a Black girl whose family moved into town. Unfortunately, the family did not stay long because her town was a sundown town. A brief word on sundown towns.
If you are not familiar, a sundown town or a “sunset town” or a “gray town” is a town where it is not safe for Black people to be present when the sun goes down. Author James W. Loewen writes that towns are often called sundown towns “owing to the signs that many of them formerly sported at their corporate limits—signs that usually said ‘Nigger, don’t let the Sun Go Down on You in ____.’” He writes that in Illinois, for example, “Anna-Jonesboro had such signs on Highway 127 as recently as the 1970s.” In 2001, he walked into a store in Anna, Illinois and asked the clerk if the sign on the door “ANNA” meant “Ain’t No Niggers Allowed.” She said yes…in 2001 (Loewen 2005). A viral TikTok video in 2021 by hiker Marco William in Devil’s Bathtub, Virginia, highlights the fact that sundown towns still exist today (Onibada 2021).
One thing I intentionally did not do was ask Mari where she grew up because her experience was/is “Anywhere America” depending on the time. She says that members of her town deny that it was a sundown town, but the fact remains that across America, local governments actively engaged with local White families to keep their towns White. Similar to Black Wall Street, where government policy did not work, violence did the work, and vice versa. This was not just in the South. This was America and still is on many levels. Mari’s story is a true cautionary tale if we choose to listen.
For Mari, the continued denial of opportunities to interact with non-White people kept the lies going. She said her mother was born in 1920 and was steeped in racist ideas. She said that exposure to other groups “shattered” the ideas her mother taught her. The fear she had of establishing friendships with non-White people has been replaced by a passion for “undoing the dumb racism” in her life and “being actively aware of it.”