Michelle Gothard / by Michael Falco

Who is Michelle Gothard?

Michelle Gothard is from Climax, Michigan, a small farming community just outside of Battle Creek. She grew up on a horse farm there. She is an on‑site recruiter in the automotive industry and serves part-time as a waitress. She has four children and five grandchildren. She is very tired of the racism in Battle Creek and recently moved to St. Petersburg, FL.

Excerpt from interview with Michelle Gothard by Whitney Dow, 2017

Q: Is this community ready to have a conversation about whiteness?

Gothard: [02:17:40] No, they're not. [crying] They're not ready to have a conversation about race here. I get some public notices of—there's a center here in town that does speakers. And there was a Muslim speaker that came a couple of months ago to discuss what it actually means, like what do these words that the government throws around mean. It was amazing. There were a lot of people there, like fifty, maybe sixty. I was like, why aren't more people here learning about this so you can know what you're talking about when you're having a conversation with someone? And quit using “Jihad” like that, you know, stop because it's not what it means. It just wasn't a very good turnout. And when I told people I was going, they were like, “Why?” I was like, “Because I need to know. These people are our neighbors. They live here.”

I guess I reflect on other countries, other races and religions, in reflection of where I am and who I am. So if I just live here, I'm a normal person that goes to work every day. I think probably in Africa and probably in China, there are women doing the same thing. They are raising their kids. They are going to work every day. They are worried that their kids are getting bullied. They want to have enough food on the table. I don't believe that every single person that lives in Afghanistan wants to kill us. I believe there are women just like me there, and other people don't believe that. It's so strange to me.

Q: Why when I asked you if the community was ready to have a conversation about whiteness did you get so emotional?

Gothard: [02:18:31] [through tears] It's terrible to live somewhere where everything has got to be such a line based on people's skin color, and now we know because we have this social media platform. All these people that you thought were I guess like you, aren't. They're racists. It's not right. It's not going to stop in my lifetime. All I can do is try to raise my kids that will end up probably staying in this community to be better. And they are. My daughters are—well, one has interracial children, and the other one will—well, she wishes she had interracial children, but her husband is so white. That's all I can do. I would love to attend things where people discuss that kind of thing, I just don't think they could without a war here.

Q: Why do you stay?

Gothard: [02:19:08] It's a funny question asking me why I stay because I'm ready to leave. My son just moved out. I got him a great job at a brewery. And I'm ready to go. It's been a conversation since—I guess Labor Day at the family barbecue, I brought it up that I thought it was time for me to go. I have lived all over the country. When I was young, I traveled and lived in Seattle and Miami and spent awhile and lived in Detroit. It was awesome. The more mixed community I could be in, the more exciting it is to me. There is so much to learn from other people, so much to listen to other languages.

Now that I've gotten a position where my four children are out on their own and all successful and doing well, I feel safe to leave now. My parents are here. And it's my turn, I think. And I don't want to live here where it's like this. My cousin is in Florida, and she said, “Oh, you'd love it, there's a bunch of Hispanic people around here.” I'm like, “You're right, I'd love to live in Florida with all the Hispanic people.” It would be awesome, probably really great food, too.

Interview Transcript