Conversation: Deidre Bembry

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EDITOR’S NOTE – Below is the third of our six-part Series entitled Conversation: Questions & Perspectives in 2020. Winters Media & Publishing Inc. asked six black community leaders to share their points of view in the worldwide #BlackLivesMatter debate and how it relates to Coweta County. Today, our Q&A is with Deidre Bembry.

Deidre Bembry is a mother, wife, entrepreneur, change agent, and philanthropist. Deidre has 20 years of experience in the Insurance and Financial services industry. She has owned and operated Deidre K Bembry Insurance Agency Inc for 11 years and recently opened her second location. She also co-founded and acts as Chairperson for Keris Kares Inc, a nonprofit that exists to support families impacted by Pediatric Cancer. Deidre believes that every experience in life is a teachable moment.

1. When you walk into a grocery store and see “Aunt Jemima” pancake mix or “Uncle Ben’s” rice, what are your thoughts?

I actually purchase these products on a regular basis. I have seen the makers of the products try to adjust the images over the years from being images of “the help” to be a better, more up to date representation of black people, but in my opinion it still misses the mark. However, I acknowledge that the brand is making steps in the right direction to being culturally sensitive.

2. How do you respond to the typical white person saying “well, if they (a black person) had just done what they police told them to, none of this (arrest, beating, etc.) would have happened to them.

I think overall people respond based on their perception of reality. There are a lot of people that still believe racism doesn’t exist. There are also a lot of people that think that if you acknowledge there are issues within the criminal justice system, then you are against law enforcement. Oftentimes it is not an either/or position. It is hard to have meaningful conversation when people’s beliefs are so set in stone. The truth is the criminal justice system and law enforcement should work for ALL people. Dying before one has an opportunity for due process is not an acceptable outcome.

3. Along those same lines, have you ever had an experience with law enforcement that raised concerns for you? 

I have, my family has, and my friends have. Sometimes a simple traffic stop can create a lot of anxiety. I have seen something simple that should have resulted in a ticket only, turn into a multi step legal process with attorney fees, probation, and ultimately having an impact on quality of employment. It can really snowball. Overall, many African Americans feel uneasy about law enforcement because of the nature of that relationship in the black community over the years. That being said, I believe in law enforcement. I have family that are in law enforcement, clients, and friends and they are great at what they do and are very dedicated to serving. I believe it is important not to paint law enforcement with a broad brush. Likewise, it is equally important to address the issues that exist and are currently dividing our country.

4. What should be done with the Confederate Battle Flag? Should it be retired to museums? Should it be banned from public events? Essentially, where does it belong and not belong?

I was born and raised in Middle Georgia and very familiar with seeing the Confederate flag. I vividly remember when it was Georgia’s state flag. I feel that it is divisive. For some it is a proud symbol of their Southern heritage and for others it is a reminder of slavery in the south and its painful segregated history. Part of Southern history and Georgia history is the ownership of people. That is tough to process. I have no issue with people personally owning the Confederate flag or it being displayed in museums because it is a part of history. I just don’t think it should be displayed in courthouses, town squares, etc. It is definitely not a neutral symbol. I believe that official flags flown in Georgia should unify its diverse population that proudly call Georgia home.   

5. Do you see that flag as a symbol of hate speech or a relic of past history for Southern pride?

Both. I have seen it used in both settings for both purposes. 

6. What should be done with Confederate statutes of Civil War generals and heroes in public places?

To answer that question one must ask what was the central conflict that started the Civil War?  A common explanation is that the Civil War was fought over the moral issue of slavery. In fact, it was the economics of slavery and political control of that system that was central to the conflict. For many, Confederate statues are a symbol of that conflict. As a Southern, black person who has been living in Georgia my entire life, I believe that I will always view the Confederacy as deeply tied to slavery. As a black person living in the South and raising children in the South, reminders of slavery are always connected to pain.

7. What about the Confederate statues in downtown Newnan?

I understand the historical content, but I think it creates limitations on downtown Newnan and the businesses and people it could potentially attract.

8. Pop groups Lady Antebellum and The Dixie Chicks are now calling themselves Lady A and The Chicks. Dixie Beer is changing its name, along with many other product names like Aunt Jemima. Where does it stop? What about black coffee or brownies or Cracker Barrel or White Castle? When does this end?

I don’t think we can even talk about an ending because awareness and conversations about race are just beginning. Racism never stopped, it is just being filmed.  Due to technology and social media platforms these horrific instances are now going viral or showing up in our news feeds making it hard to deny. We are just starting to have conversations that are long overdue and we need to keep talking. I heard someone say “talk until it hurts. Then talk until it heals.” There is so much work that has to be done and needs to be done.

9. A lot of people watching the protests on television cannot grasp why blacks would riot in their own neighborhoods, destroy black businesses or businesses that hire primarily black employees. What is your response?

I am a business owner. I will never condone or rationalize the destruction of someone’s business or livelihood. By and large the national protests have been peaceful. The protests here in Newnan were peaceful. However, there have been instances of violence but that has not been the norm. That being said there are individuals that show up to specifically disrupt the peace. I don’t believe that is productive when trying to accomplish change. On the other hand there is a whole separate group of people who are angry, tired, frustrated and in pain. Anger is sometimes pain that never gets taken care of.

10. Most parents have “the talks” – drugs and sex. It seems black parents/relatives also have to have another talk with their teenagers living in a white world. How does that go?

My parents always taught me how to navigate. They told me it would be unfair and to always push myself because I would have to always give more and do more to be treated fairly or given a chance. They were young adults living in the sixties and fighting for basic rights. This was 60 years ago….60. My mother was one of the first students to integrate her school in Perry, Ga. This is not a lifetime ago…this is not that long ago. So my parents knew things were not great but always wanted more for us. They knew being average was not going to allow us to succeed so they pushed us for excellence and nothing less. Fast forward to our conversations in our home. My girls are young but we still talk about what it means to be a person of color. We teach them to love their skin and their beauty and their hair. We prepare them so that when they encounter someone that doesn’t love them or value them simply because of their skin tone that it will not define their self-worth.

11. So what is correct in responding to race? Is it “black,” “Black,” “African-American,” or “people of color”?

All of the above

12. What is one main thing you wished white people understood about race in America?

I want people to understand that this is a human issue and a heart issue. It is not a black and white thing.  It is an issue for our churches, for our leaders, for our schools, for everyone.  I want people to be honest about their bias. I want people to be honest about their hearts. I want people to be real about how they feel and what they teach their kids to think and feel. Racism is a learned behavior. I want people to examine who they are in public and who they are in private. Just because one doesn’t understand racism or may have never encountered racism does not mean that racism is not systemic and a part of the fabric of our society. It just is.

13. What is the most significant thing white people can do to improve their part of race relations?

I want white people to understand that it is okay not to understand or to have the answers. I want them to be open to another perspective and another reality. I don’t blame white people for the issues plaguing the black community. I simply want them to understand that we want equity and we need equity.

14. Should we focus on being “colorblind” or acknowledge and celebrate our various “colors” as a part of our makeup?

I think it is a beautiful thing to see color. We are all different and our differences and our culture are what make us unique. Seeing color is just that – “seeing”. It means I see you for your beauty, but I also see what impacts you good and bad because I SEE you. Being colorblind is just that … BLIND. It is operating under the false pretense that you love everyone so much that you don’t see color or have any bias at all in your heart because you just don’t see it. I believe we all have some type of bias because of our upbringing and our experiences. Once you are not blind to it you can confront it and maybe even change it.

15. Every parent has problems with their kids’ choice of music. But how do we deal with certain mainline Rap music that glories gangs, cop killing, degrading of women and more than enough of the N- and other similar derogatory words?

I think that is simple. I don’t support negative subject matter in music. It can start off as entertainment, and then it is something that is in your head and then in our thoughts. I know that I cannot control mainstream music but I can control what I give my attention and my money.

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