I have been toying with the idea of this post all day and struggling with how to appropriately speak on the issue. This is a very candid subject for me but it is something I believe in addressing. Racism.
I was born and raised in a small southern town, a town with 2 stop lights to it’s name. A town with hayfields lining the highway as you drove in. A town where a train drove through and stopped everything momentarily because it’s horn blows pierced through every wall within the city limits. A town where the local diner, Country Junction, was full every morning at 6 am with groups of older men drinking coffee and discussing the weather. Growing up in this environment racism was a very real issue, an issue that I am not even sure I knew existed until I got out of this small town.
Growing up I played sports, this is where I was first exposed to racism. It was the classic small town scene, my dad was always on the coaching staff, the same group of boys playing football, basketball, and baseball together, the same dads coaching all three sports. I always loved sports as a kid and to this day remain friends with many of the guys I first met on these teams. The friendships that were made on these teams were the friendships that shaped my childhood, but the friendships that were halted also shaped my childhood. We always had black kids on our teams, the same kids year in and year out. I still cherish my friendships with these guys but I also remember something different about them.
I remember having friends stay the night at my house as a child, something I looked forward to weekly during the school year, something that kept me out of trouble as it could be revoked as punishment, and something that exposed racism to me.
As I look back at my childhood I only remember the white kids staying at my house, and I only remember staying at the house of my white friends. But it’s strange to look back on, strange because I remember it being an unspoken understanding. During practice we were all one team, one unit, but after practice the white kids would go back to their homes and the black kids would go their way. I remember certain days where my dad would give rides to the black kids while I would have 2 or 3 white kids in the car to come stay the night at my house, and we would just drop of the black kids and never extend the same invitation to them.
I remember my dad telling me stories of when he was younger, stories of segregation. Stories where the school attendance was based on the color of your skin. My dad would tell me stories of when schools first began to integrate, the harsh separation that existed on sports teams and the daily fights that incurred based solely on race. I remember hearing these stories and thinking of how awful that must have been because I loved my black friends, I loved the black guys I got to go to school and play sports with, they were truly my friends.
Everybody would agree that racism was very prevalent and very much a problem when my dad was in school. The problem is that everyone would not agree on this from when I was in school.
Racism was a silent killer in my childhood. Racism was something that was so deeply engrained in my small town ways that I was honestly racist without even realizing it. I would say “the N word” growing up nonchalantly, throwing it around as if it held no weight, using it as just any other adjective in the english language.
Racism was something that effected my close friendships, my decisions, the places I went, the words I spoke and many other parts of my life. The worst thing racism affected? My judgement.
I judged people before I met them, I judged places before I visited them, and I chose my close friendships before getting to know people. The biggest problem was that I never knew it, I was completely unaware of how jaded my worldview was. I think this happens a lot in our world today. I think this is a HUGE problem.
A problem we are aware of can be fixed, a problem that we are unaware of goes unfixed and slowly causes deeper and deeper damage. I relate this to a problem with a car. If you know that there is something wrong with your car you will normally avoid driving it until you can fix the problem or have someone fix it for you. Now, take that same car problem and make yourself unaware that it exists. When you are unaware the problem exists it will slowly become worse and worse, eventually the car will entirely breakdown. The same happened to me.
I was fresh into my job as the high school pastor at my church and at summer camp with a small group of students when my breakdown occurred. I was listening to the pastor speak as I glanced to my left and saw one of my students bolting out of the room, one of my black students. I immediately thought I should run out after him, but I was scared. I was scared because I didn’t know if I could relate with him, if our backgrounds would line up at all. After about a minute I left the auditorium to go find this student, I found him sitting at a table alone and in tears. As I approached him I was honestly terrified and didn’t know what I would say. I sat down beside him and we began to talk, and to my surprise began to relate. I talked to him and heard his story (the details I won’t go into here) I realized how much we had in common.
I remember walking away from that conversation in tears, in tears for him yes, but in tears for a way bigger reason, in tears because this was the first time in my life I had an actually deep conversation with someone who’s skin color was different from mine. Sure, before this point I was always nice to everyone, had small talk with everyone, even had many friends who were not white, but never at this depth, never to this point. I walked away realizing how much I missed out on because of my own racism and judgmental ways.
I still thank God for opening my eyes to how serious my personal battle with racism was. I still thank God for showing me what I for so long had written off as normal, written off as “everyone does it.” I thank God for changing my heart.
Yes, racism was terrible in my dad’s childhood, it the time of segregation in our country, but I’m not sure it is better today (at least not where I live). During our countries segregation racism was at the forefront, it was obvious, and it was also chosen for you. Dependent on your race you had certain places you could go, friends you could have, and privileges you were given.
My problem with racism today is that it is at some point chosen by the individual. I understand that children follow the ways of their parents, I lived this. I understand being a product of your environment, I lived this as well. Here’s the truth, at some point this is only an excuse. At some point this is no longer acceptable.
In today’s society we are no longer forced by law into racism, we are no longer told where we can and cannot go based on race. In today’s society we can choose whether or not we treat all people with equality or we judge them based on race.
I write this because for so long in my life, even when I convinced myself I didn’t, even when I didn’t want to face the truth of who I really was, I chose to be racist. I admit it, once out of my parents house I had the chance to be friends with whoever I chose, and I chose based on race. Sure, at surface level I was nice to everyone, seemingly treating everyone fairly, but honestly my close circle was in no way diverse.
Racism is still real and prevalent today, a silent killer that is still very much alive. Something we try to downplay so often.
Here is the difference: YOU CAN CHOOSE! You can choose to be part of the problem and ignore racism and how it affects your own life, or you can choose to be part of the solution. You can choose to ask God to allow you to see the world as He does.
I will be the first to admit I’m not perfect AT ALL, but I’m trying my best to follow Jesus. And to me following Jesus means treating everyone, regardless of race, with equality.
“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for YOU ARE ALL ONE IN CHRIST JESUS.” Galatians 3:26-28
Love you guys,
-A recovering racist.