Like everyone else in the past week, I’ve been thinking about Charleston, so, of course, I’ve been thinking about racism. I’ve been trying to imagine sitting in my church at Bible study with someone I didn’t know, someone who came to visit for the first time. Would I be curious, would I be suspicious about the motivation behind the young man’s visit? Were the victims nervous or wary? Did they sense anger or hatred from him? Did they welcome him warmly, share their material, try to make him feel at home.
Dylann Roof said he was treated so well at the service he attended he almost changed his mind. Almost.. I can’t get my head around the knowledge that he sat there, reading God’s word, listening to a discussion based on holy scripture, and all the while he was holding a loaded pistol, waiting for the moment, coldly calculating, when he would take the lives of nine study partners. How does a person get from being held, cuddled, protected in his mother’s arms as an infant, to murdering nine people in just 21 short years? It should take centuries to develop that sort of hatred or evil or insanity…I don’t know how to label it. My brain is processing it, wondering can someone really hate others for something they were powerless to control? So full of hate he would commit murder, not once, but, nine times!
I was raised in the South, in a racist household. Dad didn’t care for black people; I never knew why, I just knew it was so. He also believed little girls should be seen and not heard. Are you getting a mental picture of my home? He talked to others frequently about desegregation, the anticipated fall-out, and his considered frustration behind the decision to make changes to a system he saw no problem with, but here’s the rub – he would never have used violence, he never would have harmed another being because of color. You see, Dad believed that God didn’t want the races to mix, but his solution was segregation. Many southern people of his generation felt that way, but I don’t know anyone who used violence to emphasize their beliefs. Thou shalt not kill. That is a directive from God, my friends. Nothing trumps God.
As ridiculous as it sounds now, it’s true that I didn’t have occasion to speak to a black person until I was a junior in high school, when integration came to our small town, as it did everywhere. It seemed to me we were scared to death of each other and our conversation was limited to ‘thank you’, ‘excuse me’, ‘you’re welcome’. I always thought black parents felt like my dad did, so I didn’t anticipate any friendships blossoming. Remember, the black kids were forced to come to our school from across town, forced to ride our buses on our schedules, use our books, follow our rules. And of course all our teachers were white. No one was jumping up and down with excitement.
Now, I was a smart kid, but you didn’t have to be smart to perceive the indignation, anger, and confusion that vibrated through our miniature campus. We were fortunate that we had a principal who was the polar opposite of my father. When he spoke, when he addressed people, you could tell he didn’t care what color you were, but you sure as heck better not be loitering in the halls, causing trouble. He’d snatch you up and give you three whacks with his paddle before you realized you’d been caught. Then, he’d call your parents so you could explain the event in his presence. He wanted to address any questions with the guilty party in attendance.
So, now you know I come from a small town in a farming region, a predominantly white population. I grew up in a very prejudiced home. Having said all that, I can tell you with sincerity that I was not and am not racist, confused at times, yes, but not racist. Certainly my home was an excellent breeding ground for racism. So what’s the determining factor?
I left home, married and moved around the country, as well as Europe and South America. My husband and I enjoyed the friendship of people from a variety of cultures. And what did I learn? People are just people, some good, some bad, for the most part they’re just trying to play the hand they’ve been dealt.
I’ve told you all this with one goal in mind and it’s certainly not so you’ll have a better understanding of who I am. I’m incidental. Sometimes it feels like we’re all sitting on this powder keg, and it’ll be ignited if one person says the wrong thing. I would so like for that to change in our generation. Imagine for a moment a world where your children, your grandchildren don’t mention, don’t worry, don’t even consider the topic of race. Wouldn’t that be the most amazing thing!
I’m going to tell you one more experience from my life, it was a take-my-breath-away moment and I apologize in advance if you find it too much of a ‘proud mama’ incident.
In 1982, when our daughter was 6, she asked if she could have a friend sleep over. I questioned her about her friendship with the little girl, was assured she was polite, well-mannered, and by the way, she has brown eyes. I smiled my doting mother smile and gave permission for her friend to sleep over.
The next day, Darling Daughter and her friend walked home after school, came in, put their things on the table and requested snack. Normal so far. When I turned around, I looked down into the sweetest face! Missing a front tooth, big eyes full of mischief, and lovely cafe au lait skin. I smiled, passed out milk and cookies, and left them to giggle and whisper in private. They laughed and romped about the house, played with dolls, and entertained each other as only little girls can.
The next afternoon Darling Daughter was sitting at the table, practicing some rudimentary skill (she was 6, okay). I leaned over to kiss the top of her adorable head, and asked if she and Meredith had enjoyed their sleepover. We chatted that subject to its logical conclusion, and as I got up to leave I asked, ‘Sweetie, why didn’t you tell me she’s black’. Darling Daughter turned hazel eyes to me, cocked her head to the side, and said with childlike innocence, ‘I didn’t notice.’ Will you believe me if I tell you in that instant, I thought of my dad, his childhood, his beliefs. How had this happened? God had blessed me with this wonderful gift of a colorblind child and for just that moment I allowed myself to revel in the experience.
So, my story is almost over. I have nothing left to add except my answers to questions that seem paramount in our world today. And before someone pointedly determines that I have no right to ask these questions, to be a part of this discussion, that I haven’t walked this ground as a black person, so I can’t provide true input, stop. I’ve been told that before. I’m not presumptuous enough to think I understand the black experience in America. But I live here, what happens here is of importance to me and to my family and I have free speech as does any other citizen of this country. I want change. Real change. Can I expect that to happen if I just sit here and wait for some politician to make it happen? You’ve perhaps heard the expression, ‘you’re either part of the problem or you’re part of the solution’? Which are you?
So, can we have a serious, peaceful, open discussion about racism in the United States? It is my fervent prayer that we can. I’ve given you my thoughts. Please share yours. God’s peace be with you.
1. Do you agree this is one of the largest challenges in our nation? Absolutely
2. What do you think are the causes of racism? Ignorance, upbringing, fear
3. Can you think of solutions? Open discussions in schools, churches and homes with behavioral specialists facilitating
4. Do you think black people are racist also, or is it just white people? I think all people are capable of prejudice, no matter their color.
5, Do you think the media reports racially motivated crimes fairly? Not necessarily. I think the truth is frequently sacrificed for ratings or political agendas. Can we fix that?
6. Do you think they’re prosecuted fairly? I’m sure some are not. I think there are places and agencies with racism at the highest level.
7. What do you think of President Obama’s reaction to the Charleston tragedy? I don’t think the answer is tighter gun control.
8. Do you think taking guns away is the answer? No. Gun control won’t change hatred or ignorance. It will simply change the method in which they’re manifested.
9. What should be done about the confederate flag? Wrap it up and put it in a museum. It’s history.
Now, it’s your turn. Please. Our kids deserve a better world and there’s nobody to fix it but us.