Some Thoughts on Racism

Growing up, I don’t think I believed that racism still existed. Because I didn’t view black people as any different than myself, I assumed no one else did either.

Now, it seems that there are two main attitudes towards racism:

1. Denying that it exists
2. Acknowledging that it exists, but only blaming one side or the other.

Well, I got a job as a server.

In the service industry, there is a certain stereotype. To be blunt, it is that black people don’t tip. And with many stereotypes, it is a stereotype for a reason. Because of this, you can imagine how that affected my attitude. Over time, I came to expect a crappy tip before certain individuals even sat down.

I certainly don’t mean to imply that this is true of all black people. But there is a cultural difference, in general – at least in the south. A difference in opinion of how things should be.

I bring this up not to justify my thoughts and actions, but to make a point: Sometimes, there is reason to be frustrated with the other side. Before you assume that I am saying that there is a good reason for racism, let me direct you to my next point.

There is a misconception that all racism is pure hate, that there is no reason behind it. But I think it’s usually more subtle than that. Sometimes, both sides have a reason to be frustrated with the other. Just like in a relationship, problems are rarely just one person’s fault. If we are to get past racism, it will take both sides putting aside their pride, even when we could be justified in being angry.

In the wake of controversies such as possible racially driven police violence and the blatantly racist Charleston shooting, I have realized that there have been times where I have been discriminatory and hurtful without even realizing it, or without caring.

People can argue about racism all day. (They bring it on themselves. They think we owe something to them. It’s not my fault their ancestors were slaves).

The fact is, there are trashy people of all colors. I have waited on many people including Blacks, Whites, Asians, Hispanics, and everything in between who were rude and ignorant.

I have also known and waited on Blacks, Whites, Asians, Hispanics, and everything in between who were kind, smart, generous, and thoughtful.

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:43-45).

This convicts me because I know that too often, I am only kind when I expect something in return. I secretly trash the characters of people I don’t even know – people who are made wonderfully in the image of God. People who have stories and backgrounds, and are made up of more than how well or poorly they tip.

I have heard people claim that racism doesn’t exist anymore. I disagree not just because I see it in other people, but because I see it in myself. I have been guilty of stereotyping people based on the color of their skin. My thoughts and actions are no one’s fault but my own.

There must be a way to take responsibility without justifying another’s faults. There is nothing wrong with admitting cultural differences. I will be frustrated when I get tipped three dollars on a two hundred dollar tab. At that point cultural differences become personal. It would be false to deny that these things happen, because they do.

I think change will not come from denying or excusing away problems, but from acknowledging problems, and still considering our own faults worse. We must realize that most hatred stems from misunderstanding. Then, we choose to look past that misunderstanding. We get frustrated at people who are different from us and don’t fulfill our expectations or meet our own personal standards.

Of the two perceptions of racism – denying or blaming only one side – I think that neither is fully helpful or true. We have to sacrifice our comfort and pride sometimes for the sake of others. Just like in a relationship, the cycle cannot end until we each truly own our own faults first, and actively choose to forgive and overlook the other’s.

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One thought on “Some Thoughts on Racism

  1. Dear Virginia:

    Thank you for sharing this with me. I’ve read and re-read it several times before sitting down to respond. First, let me say that I am really impressed that you think this way – that is, that you are self-aware enough to examine and analyze your own feelings and measure them against what our Christian faith teaches us about how we are to live. Reading your piece has led me to think more explicitly about my own feelings and attitudes.

    Having said that, I’m not sure I really know what “racism/racist” is. I grew up with good, kind Christian parents plus, for several years, my maternal grandmother (the other three of my grandparents died well before I was born.) My grandmother was born early in the Civil War (in 1861, I believe), when slavery was a fact of life in the South. My parents and Grandmother were very active in the Methodist Church and were professing Christians and lived “good Christian lives.” I was less than 10 when Grandmother died, and I never thought to ask her what she thought about the institution of slavery.

    My parents were what passed for “liberals” in LaGrange, Georgia, in the 1930s and 40s. By today’s standards, they would be considered to be “racists.” What I mean by that is that I was taught never to use the word “nigger,” to always treat every individual as we would want to be treated ourselves. My mother taught me from an early age that it was really irrational to make judgments about a person’s worth on the basis of their skin color. My father was an undertaker; his clients were all white. There were black (“Negro” in the parlance of the day) undertakers in LaGrange, and my father and they were good friends. If one of the Negro undertakers needed a casket that was not in his inventory, but my father had it in his, my father would lend him the casket so he could serve his client family, and the Negro undertaker would order a replacement and repay the borrowed casket to my father when it came in. We had a maid who worked for our family for many years; when she was falsely accused by the local grocer of having switched price tags on a package of meat in the meat department, my father went to court with her, vouched for her honesty and convinced the judge to dismiss the charges.

    However, the schools in LaGrange (and elsewhere in the south) were all segregated and the (so called) “separate but equal” black schools were grossly inferior to the white schools in terms of facilities, equipment, supplies, and teacher qualifications. My parents and (I’m ashamed to say) I took segregation for granted. I was a senior at Georgia Tech in 1954, when the Supreme Court – in its Brown vs Board of Education decision – outlawed segregated public schools across the country (although, as a practical matter, most but not all of the impact was felt in the South). I was sitting in my fraternity house when the Supreme Court decision was announced, and I was the only guy present who said “That was a good and just decision!” However, I had taken segregation for granted all my life up to that point, never having spoken out against it, although logical thinking and the values I was taught, should have led me to speak out against school segregation much earlier. I remember that my father thought it was a very unwise decision, and he was incensed when President Eisenhower called out the National Guard to enforce the integration of the Little Rock schools in the face of the state’s defiance of the Supreme Court decision. My father thought Eisenhower was a “bully.”

    My sister Winifred and I now both take it for granted that schools should be integrated, public accommodations should be open to all, and that there should be no discrimination on the basis of race. Although I don’t think I’ve ever discussed it with her, I’m confident she would agree with me that black and white people should be permitted to marry each other if that’s their choice. However, I am not “color-blind.” I am conscious of racial differences. (I think my wife Jacqueline comes closest to being truly color-blind of anyone I know.) In the world of affirmative action and equal opportunity, I confess that I used to wonder when a black person was hired or got a promotion, whether they got it on merit or because he/she was black. I continue to fight against making such assumptions and think I’ve made real progress but I’m not “color-blind” yet.

    I guess one point I would make is that overall, I think our society in general is moving toward racial justice but we have a long way to go. Progress depends on people having the self-awareness that you demonstrate in your post, and that self-awareness can be more fruitful if a person has been exposed to concepts of justice or fairness or rationality in their personal development. If avoiding being labeled a “racist” requires that I be color-blind, I’m not there yet and am unlikely to get there in this life….. but I’ll continue to try.

    I am enormously proud of you and feel blessed to have you as my granddaughter. An underlying theme in these comments is that it’s really important that you, as the wonderful mother you will no doubt be some day, inculcate in your children the meaning of, and thirst for, tolerance, fairness, and justice.

    With much love,

    Granddaddy

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