From my perspective as I entered my teen years, nothing had changed. Blacks were expected to keep in their place, and that expectation covered a very broad spectrum. They lived in what many called N______town, separate housing developments that were disgraceful. They avoided at all costs the possibility of offending white people, for it was dangerous to do so. They made little eye contact with white strangers, and they definitely made no eye contact with white women.
Any Excuse Will Do
One of the paranoid claims made to justify treating blacks terribly was the idea that the black men were always planning ways to have sex with white women. As historical fact, many white men, especially slave owners, essentially raped black women with no real possibility of being charged legally. That is one of the big reasons that large percentages of blacks in this country have some white blood in them and many whites in this country have some black blood in them.
I’m living proof of that one, and you might well be too. You could find out with a readily available (and fairly inexpensive) DNA test. I believe that my 12% African mixture came from a great-grandmother “passing” as a Cherokee Indian, which gives me hope that I came by my racial mixture through a consensual situation. But most didn’t, shamefully.
By the way, it might be a good time to restate that my being 12% of African descent doesn’t mean that I understand the experiences of black Americans. I was raised as white. My knowledge of the viewpoints of black people in America is coming from my serious efforts to increase that knowledge, as I am asking you to do if you are white.
Just Stay in “Your” Place!
As I stated in an earlier article, the movie The Help was an accurate demonstration of what life was like for “coloreds” when I was growing up. They sat at the back of the bus, and always said “Yes Ma’am” and “Yes Sir” to white women and men. They were expected to come to your back door, not the front, and ate their food outside if they were working for you. Separate and quite unequal was the order of the day.
They were expected to be servants in almost every way. My father was a bricklayer, and all of the “skilled labor” workers were white, whereas the blacks were mostly the “common labor” who assisted them. More on that situation later as it related to me. They had no ladder of advancement to climb, at least in the South. It really wasn’t much different in most parts of the North, although there were some notable exceptions for at least certain time periods.
Much more could be added to this list, including many specific laws in various states that were totally demeaning to the black population and flagrant violations of our very Constitution. Their living conditions would be hard to imagine by younger people in America today, particularly white young people. But all of that was the order of the day, and fear for one’s life and safety kept blacks from crossing the line as it had been drawn by the white population. Of course, there were many wonderful exceptions of white people who were repulsed by the status quo, but they were a minority.
How Did Blacks Accept Such Injustice?
Most accepted it as simply inescapable, as their lot in life. The remarkable thing to me in looking back at the black men and women I knew was that they appeared to accept it with grace. They had to know about those of their race speaking out and writing about these injustices, but most of them didn’t respond with hatred toward white people. They had little choice about accepting their way of life, for otherwise they could not have made a living, such as it was.
I like to think that most found answers to their challenges in the Bible. During slavery days, the one escape they could often count on was attending church for a few hours on Sunday. This relief was combined with their soulful singing and looking to God for the strength to endure what they faced. I’m not sure I’ve ever met a black atheist. Religion was their only hope of a better life in the Great Beyond, and these men and women clung to it. Undoubtedly, some slave owners used the pulpit to further their own ends, but in the end, African Americans seemed inherently more religiously entuned than whites, at least to me through the years.
Still a Long Way to Go
By the time I was a young teen, the legal aspects of Jim Crow were winding down, but winding down very slowly. In the mid-1950s, the American Civil Rights Movement was beginning. Yet the practical aspects of those laws ingrained into the thinking of both blacks and whites were (and are) very difficult to eradicate.
That is why I love our church so much ─ our diversity. But the challenges in the midst of a nation still torn and divided by racial issues is a challenge for those of us in Christ as well. That is why I am so strongly pushing the idea of interracial discussions. By the way, our black brothers and sisters need to talk first and whites need to simply listen and ask questions for clarification.
Then it should become a two-way discussion as we share our perspectives, with an open mind to one another’s viewpoints. Parents have to provide a safe place for their children if they expect them to be honest with the true feelings. White folks have to provide that same safe place for our black brothers and sisters if we expect them to be honest with their true feelings.
Hence, the suggestion just mentioned how about how to approach the initiation of discussions that close the understanding gap. We are not as much on the same page in racial matters as outward appearances would lead us to believe, and the reasons are mostly ignorance and lack of communication. But by God’s grace, we can close the gap inch by inch until we are on the same page or hopefully close to it.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
I do see light at the end of the tunnel. It has been a long, long tunnel, but with each generation, progress is being made. My hopes for many aspects of the future lie in our young people. Whatever evils the internet offers, it has also given our young people a global view. They are not confined to nor restricted by the views of the older generation, which is both good and bad. Regarding racial issues, it’s good.
I talk to black and white young people about race, and am encouraged. There is light at the end of the tunnel for them, and for us as well, if we will grasp it with God’s help. Most people of color have progressed away from relentless fear of outward harm (the fear of police being an exception for black males especially), but the attitudes as demonstrated through the concept of black tax is yet to change, and may never change in the world. It has to change in the church where it has not yet, leaving in its place trust and the lack of any type fear.
Again, Why Am I Writing?
As I write, it continues dawning on me that one reason I am writing lies in making an attempt to cleanse my own soul from what I observed and have learned about the racial struggles in our national past. I want to drink deeply of this passage about the church as Christ’s Body, and practice it fully: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it (1 Corinthians 12:26). I want to understand and be understood; I want to help bear the burdens of my brothers and sisters, and I need them to help me bear mine.
We are one in Christ, and that oneness is not found in color and culture; it is found in heart connection through Christ connection. The world is a mess and it always will be until Christ comes and ends the nightmares. But the church for which he died is a beautiful thing by design, and dedicating ourselves to making it that in practice is a beautiful pursuit. Jim Crow laws were a curse (for blacks and whites) forced upon the inhabitants of the United States; Jesus Christ laws are a precious blessing to those in his kingdom, delivered only by his precious blood.
How Much Sad Background Information Do We Need?
I’m not quite sure, but I know I’m not finished with it yet. I admit that my need to purge my own soul is a part of it, but the need to help my white brothers and sisters feel the heaviness and horror of the past is real. I’m not trying to create sympathy or guilt in whites nor self-pity in blacks, but I am trying to help create genuine empathy in all of us, the ability to feel for another by feeling what others feel ─ as much as possible. If we are to “Carry each other’s burdens,” (Galatians 6:2), we must know what they are, and we cannot know without honest discussions.
Please do this: if you are a black disciple, initiate such a discussion (about your racially related feelings) this week with a white disciple; if you are a white disciple, initiate such a discussion (about this subject) with a black disciple. If they know me, tell them I asked you to do it if you think that might help. I would strongly suggest that you avoid allowing your conversation to slip into the area of current politics.
We need a starting place and we need it now. I talk to my black friends about these matters regularly, and I talk to total black strangers about them almost as regularly. Most of the time, I just ask questions. I want to know what others think and feel. I, along with nearly all of the blacks with whom I speak, see this as a HUGE issue. We must talk. Please join me. If we can enter into that discussion process, we will have started walking along a noble path. Until my next post…