Monday, March 28, 2016

Racism 2016: It's Still Vile

In my circle of Christian friends this was a pretty hot topic last week.  I wrote this at that time at the urging of a few folks, to share my story/thoughts.  I purposely however did not post it at the time because I wanted to think on it, pray about it and discuss it with those closest to me. I've decided to share it now, in hopes that it might help someone see a viewpoint they had not previously seen or understood. 

So then, racism.  The mere mention of that word conjures up all sorts of images, thoughts, feelings. None of them good. Understandably so, since sinful pride, lies, hate and contempt are the core of any form of racism.

In my particular circle of friends and acquaintances, the subject has come up recently in some really awful ways.  Accusations of racism flying back and forth, then more accusations of additional ugly nastiness follow that.  No time for grace, no time to listen & discuss thoughts, ideas, etc.  Just accusation after accusation.  It's a rather disheartening dialog to ever watch or be part of. For me personally it just makes me angry and makes me want to say things but... I have about 40 years worth of things to say and I never know how to start, or what to include, or what to leave out, or IF I should say anything at all because really, who's listening anymore?  Who actually cares?  It's hard to tell.

Not to mention that old line "you're white, what do you know about racism?" Few statements ever uttered make me as frustrated as that one tends to.  While it is true I did not grow up in a home or a community where most of my white family and friends were subjected to racism, oppression and societal scorn, generation after generation, it simply cannot be said that because you do not have that particular experience, you do not understand racism.  I may not be able to understand it on that level, but one does not need to experience 15 muggings to know what 5 of them feel like.  One does not need to experience being in a car accident 10 times to know what 3 of them felt like. One does not need to be black, to know what hateful racism feels like, and that's an experience many white people actually do understand and don't talk about. For me personally, racism actually changed my life for good at 17 yrs old but it started long before that.  I want to add as well, that for a Christian, one does not need to ever experience racism in any way, to already know and understand that this is a purely wicked mindset. While experiencing it personally may certainly make you more sensitive to it or passionate about it, it is still wicked and evil and always will be.

A few people that know me well already know these stories but I've never put them all in one place in such an open way as this.  So, here we go - a little bit of my story.

I'm not as white as white gets (Scottish, French & English mostly) but I'm pretty close and I had black friends as a kid. And Hawaiian, Korean, Hispanic, Guamanian, Samoan, Filipino and white friends too. My military base hometown was kind of awesome like that for having so many ethnic folks all in one place.  One black friend in particular was subjected to racist trash in my presence more than a few times and it always hurt me for her but she always handled it with class.  Pretty impressive for a grade school age girl but as an adult I realize that had everything to do with the way her parents were raising her. They didn't raise her with hate, and that was pretty obvious to everyone who knew her. For about the first 10 years of my life (1964-1974) everything was pretty much Saturday morning cartoons, summer camping trips, Sunday School,  Kasey Kasem's American top 40, Dobie Gray and Seals and Crofts. And, Sid and Marty Krofft, for that matter. For those of you just now googling those names, yes, I'm old.  In any case, life was pretty good.  Then it got real.

- At about 10 or 11 years old I was approached on Saturday morning on the school playground by a little black boy about the same age as me. We went to the same school but I didn't really know him, and had never talked to him before. He was mad about something and going on about "white honky" this and that.  I don't know what he was mad about but I said something to him (don't recall what I said, but it was along the lines of "shut up") and then he was mad at me. Suddenly I discovered I was a dirty white honky cuss word, cuss word, ugly cracker cuss word and more cuss words I'd never even heard before. Then, I was the one who was mad. I couldn't have articulated it at the time but there was something just wicked-ugly about the names he was calling me. He informed me he was going to beat me up, and had his fists up, and was jumping around like a boxer in a ring. I don't know who threw the first punch but he never touched me. I hit him once and down he went. He started crying and swearing at me again, but got up and ran away, still swearing at me.  I felt completely nauseated, but justified, but confused, sad, scared, mad, all rolled into one. I had no idea what had just happened and it all happened in probably less than 5 minutes.  My Saturday was ruined, my hand hurt really bad and I didn't want to play at the playground so I walked home feeling like a horrible person.  No one saw what happened and at school on Monday (and for a long time after - well into junior high, several years later) when we'd see each other he just gave me a dirty look and went the other way.  I never told anyone (then) and I assumed he didn't either because no one ever asked me about it.  I was glad for that.  I do remember asking my mom what a honky and a cracker were but I didn't ask her about the other cuss words because there was no way I was going to repeat them. I learned later what they were, and they were the typical cuss words one would use to describe a prostitute.

- at 14, one day after baseball practice one of the girls (a black girl, with a well-known reputation for beating people up she didn't like) unloaded on me for reasons no one ever could figure out. We hadn't had words or anything like that and I actively avoided her because she scared me. She scared everyone, coaches and teachers included. I'd seen her fight and she was merciless.  For whatever reason, she got all up in my face and started screaming at me about slaves. How "my" people once owned and chained and whipped "her" people and one day the tables would turn and white people would be chained and whipped by black people. I was mortified.  I didn't know what to do or what to say. I knew I couldn't outrun her because she was fast, so I just yelled back at her how stupid that was since my family never owned slaves.  I had no idea if they had or not, but as far as I knew they hadn't (I checked later with grandma and grandpa and sure enough, they never recalled anyone in their families ever owning slaves). She didn't care what I had to say, she just kept screaming and cussing and using racial slurs about 3 inches from my face, then started bobbing her head and pointing her finger in my face.  I was pretty sure she was about to kill me. I couldn't outrun her so I just stood there like a dummy, while some her black friends on the team egged her on and the rest of the team was pretty much "whoa, this is nuts, stop it!".  Thankfully before she had a chance to kill me, one of the coaches stepped in between us and told her to shut up and go home.  It was all I could do to not wet my pants.  I walked home with a team mate and once we got around the corner from the field I just started crying like a baby.  I don't think I had ever been so scared in my life. That would all change a few years later.  (In a super ironic twist, this girl and that boy from the playground ended up dating in high school).

- at 17 I had a white friend dating a black guy.  Actually I had a few white friends (both guys and girls) dating non-white guys and girls but one of the black guys in particular was apparently off-limits to "nasty white girls".  At least that's what I was told by a particular black girl that really liked this guy (and he had roughly zero interest in her). Over and over and over, I was told this, as if it were somehow in my power to end this relationship. Of course I relayed the message to my white friend and her and the guy both just laughed about it. So I figured that was that.  I soon learned that was indeed not that.  Not by a long shot. Rumor started floating around the high school that any white girl dating a black guy was going to be jumped.  Them, and any of their white friends.  I didn't really believe it so I ignored it.  That is, until the day this particular black girl (and several friends of hers that didn't attend my school) actually jumped me at my locker. I never even saw it coming. I opened my locker door and she slammed it shut and got in my face.  Out came the fangs, cuss words, white racial slurs, threats & spit, while her friends surrounded us. Yep, I was dead for sure.  My crime? Being a white girl that was friends with a white girl who was dating a black guy.  But for some reason they didn't actually beat me up. They just made me think they were going to.  However they did beat up the other girl and I was warned they'd be back, every single day if she didn't break up with him.  She didn't, and they made good on their threats and came back EVERY day. Slamming locker doors shut, cussing, threatening "we gonna get you girl" throwing things, laughing & spitting on me. It was humiliating and horrifying and it made me extremely angry but more scared, than anything. It got to the point I'd start thinking about it before I even got on the bus and then shaking before I even got off the bus, knowing full well they were going to be there again that day. I don't recall how long this went on, it seemed like forever at the time but I think it was really only a couple of weeks, but I got sick of it and I knew I couldn't make them stop. So, I marched into the principal's office one day and told him everything. (I hadn't told any adult about this yet but plenty of my peers knew about it because they saw it happening in the halls). This was long before small town high schools had any kind of hall monitoring, security or even police on campus but it was the beginning of why that is now a thing. After much discussion with him, the guidance counselor my mom and the community college counselor, it was decided leaving high school and taking my GED courses was my best option.  My school could not guarantee my safety, if I stayed.  I wasn't the only girl they were targeting and they had already beat up a few. So I withdrew from school with a letter from my principal (and mom) approving my request to finish high school at the local college by taking GED classes. I walked into registration at the college with these letters and my transcripts and set myself up to finish high school this way.  I took the classes and then took the tests and passed with the highest marks in my class.  I was quite proud of that but I missed the last half of my senior year, graduation, and all those "senior year" moments I'd been looking forward to for so many years. It took me many years to let go of the bitterness I had about all that.  That I had to change my life, my plans, my hopes, because my school couldn't guarantee my safety, because of racism.

So why share all that?  What is the point of sharing a few, subjective moments in time? How is my experience helpful in any way in the racism conversation? Do I even need to have had any of these experiences to talk about racism or racist issues? All valid questions. Some answers:

Well, partly because it's not just a few moments.  There were many, many other incidents but I've only chosen to share these. These were the most profound for me and the ones that shaped my thinking as a young person about the whole subject of racism (long before I was a Christian and understood anything about it from a Biblical worldview).  And I've shared them because I'm really tired of hearing how as white folks, we don't "get" racism.  We don't understand it, we don't live it, we don't have to deal with it, etc., therefore we have nothing to say about it and should just keep quiet. (these are people who view the world first through a racial lens, and if you or I don't share that same view our opinion or our thoughts on the matter are disregarded). While it is true that white people do not live with racism every single day (nor do all black folks, from what many have shared with me over the years), it most certainly not true that many of us don't "get it".  I've known many many white folks (and Hispanics and Asians as well) that have experienced racist garbage as well but it's the white folks that are always shot down and silenced. Because they're white. And racism towards white people simply does not fit the narrative so folks do not want to hear it.

In all the years since then as I've had conversations about these experiences with both white and ethnic friends, all agree that yes, these were indeed examples of racism. (I honestly didn't think they were for a long time because I believed the lie that racists only come in 1 color: white).  I was hated simply for being white. I was subjected to fear, condemnation, threats of violence, intimidation, etc., purely because of the color of my skin. And the realization (as an adult) that was saddest of all to me was, the racist kids and teens I had to deal with were actually taught, in some way, to actually hate white people.  Just as some white kids grow up in racist homes and learn how to hate black people (or Asians, or Hispanics, Germans or Jews or Italians...etc.).  Little kids don't naturally have a hate on for other little kids.  They like to play, have fun, and just enjoy being with other little kids - and they don't care about blue eyes or kinky hair. Of course they're curious about these differences sometimes but it's a healthy, innocent curiosity.  Racist thinking is just not a thing with little kids, unless they've been indoctrinated into it. Which is truly a rather sick thing to do, to teach a child how to hate certain, select people.

All of that together, shaped what I think about racism, racial division, etc.. My personal experiences with it, seeing friends go through it, the vile idea that it actually has to be instilled in young people to think this way. Then when I became a Christian at 29 and learned what the Bible had to say about people; that we are all created in His image (Gen. 1:27), that every man (human) came from one man (Acts 17:26), my view was refined even more. Refined by the One who created all of us, in all the colors.  Centered at core of racism is the idea that one "race" is superior to another, and the lesser race doesn't deserve any respect, compassion, concern or rights or even basic human dignity.  Not only does this fly directly against what the Bible teaches about all people, it crosses religious boundaries and even offends the least religious in a civilized society.  Not many things in our world are so vile, that they can offend the religious and the non-religious alike, but racism is most definitely one of them.

No one person (aside from Jesus) can change the world, but each person on their own can do their part to ensure the next generation of kids grows up with racism and racial division being just as vile to them (as it should be). All of our kids were raised with the understanding that racism is pure evil and I pray all of their kids will grow up with the same understanding.

I can only hope that sharing this, has brought some light to this subject for someone. I can assure anyone reading, some of us white folks absolutely get the vile, abusive, humiliating, treatment of racism, and for at least this white girl, it's just one more reason why I hate it so much.

Please feel welcome to share your thoughts in the comments below.