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Chris Graham: Cancel culture and my grandmother

chris graham espnWhen I think of the most recent generated controversy involving our past, this one involving Dr. Seuss, I think of my grandmother.

She was my favorite person from as long as I can remember, and though she’s been gone for more than a decade, she still is.

Everything that is good about me, is because of that lady.

One of my earliest memories is her taking me to an employee Christmas party at Western State Hospital, where she worked for 25 years, and me winning a cake walk while I was there.

The memory, from when I was three, is of me being the only child in a room full of adults.

Her co-workers were as ethnically diverse as you can imagine finding in the Valley back in the mid-1970s: African Americans, Asians, whites, almost all women.

I remember getting a hard time for winning the cake, and I remember what my grandmother told me when she noticed me on the verge of tears, not understanding.

That she wanted me to remember two things: that I wasn’t better than anybody else, and also, that nobody else was better than me.

The first part, I took to mean, was that we’re all equal – white, black, brown, male, female.

The second part: I grew up in pretty rough circumstances.

I didn’t know that at three, but I came to know it later on.

We might be poor, working class, whatever – but don’t let anybody convince you that you’re not as good as them.

I was fortunate, as my parents’ marriage began to dissolve, that my mother would more and more frequently foist my sister and me on my grandparents for extended stays.

My grandmother would often host her friends from work – that eclectic mix of women from all backgrounds.

You want to know why I’m a progressive? It’s because of that woman.

Who grew up in 1920s and 1930s Virginia.

Who often used language to refer to race that was rooted in that era.

The mindset that would relegate Dr. Seuss to the dustbin of history would similarly erase people like my grandmother.

I remember her telling me how she went door to door in 1968 for George Wallace.

She’d come around, as we all do.

Her great regret, expressed to me a few weeks before she died, in early 2009, was that she hadn’t been able to vote for Hillary Clinton for president a few weeks before.

It wasn’t about Barack Obama being African American – she supported Obama.

She’d just wanted to see a woman elected president in her lifetime.

Her story was real life Rosie the Riveter. She’d left the family farm in Vesuvius at the start of World War II to get a job in a munitions factory, which is where she met my grandfather, who was stationed at the adjoining military base.

She worked full time and raised a family of six, and then several of her grandchildren, over the next 67 years.

She also once supported George Wallace for president, and used language in reference to race that, whatever.

Cancel culture would demand that I cancel my grandmother.

I’m here to tell you: cancel your damn self.

I think I’m channeling her right when I say it that way.

Story by Chris Graham


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