Sunday, November 04, 2012

Racism's unintended consequences

Two stories from my youth:
  1. I'm about 17 and sitting at a Boy Scout camp with two other boys from my high school from Lynchburg, Virginia. We start chatting about other guys in the high school. One of them mentions a boy who goes to my church. I actually say I hate that boy because he comes to church dressed in Alligator shirts all the time. One of the guys says, "But that's what you're supposed to wear, unlike the N____'s in their white suits." It dawned on me that there were people who hated blacks enough to use derogatory language, and I shared uncool characteristics with the blacks. You see, the only suit I owned was a white one. Granted, me saying I hated a kid from my own church probably wasn't the best witness for the faith, but that's another story.

  2. Our high school graduating class was having a reunion, to be hosted at the local country club. It was stated that one popular black woman would not be attending because of the venue. Her parents, in her youth, had not been allowed as a matter of policy to join the club, so she was offended at the choice of venue. It dawned on me that my church-going, college-educated father, who kept a nice home with furniture chosen by his wife consulting with an interior decorator, this man too wasn't ever allowed in that country club. Probably of stock too recent to the US, himself too recent to the town, and having made the choice of choosing a neighborhood too close to the clusters of African Americans in the town. He had remnants of a Swedish accent and grew up as an itinerant farmer, one step above sharecropping. But there was some excluding going on in the town, and my family wasn't allowed in places blacks weren't allowed in.
There are probably two ways to respond to such a situation:
  • A) Claw and scratch your way into whatever exclusive circles exist in your era, so that your kids don't suffer the same shame.
  • B) Adopt politics and theologies that express exasperation with those who hate the unlovely minority du jour.
I guess I ended up in the latter camp.

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