If anyone tries to tell you, “Oh, it really wasn’t so bad in the South”, I can tell you from experience, yes it was. Did any of my friends ever do anything violent towards blacks? No, but that wasn’t the kind of thing that was done. They were all from pretty good families, looking towards a future at some university and job. We didn’t know any African-Americans and would probably have felt uncomfortable around them. Heck, we were a little uncomfortable around Catholics! There were no Hispanics on our side of the city, no Vietnamese were really in the States yet, India might as well have been Mars and it was just a white, white world.
It’s not that racism filed our minds at all times; but it was just “par for the course”, as they say in golf. All my friends had “colored ladies” who came to their house each day to help their moms with the cooking, washing and ironing. Everyone’s mom, mine included, stayed home while the dads worked and the “maids” got on buses and went across to the white part of town to work.
They weren’t slaves at all but it was a totally segregated society. There were white schools and then there were “negro” schools. The facilities for African-Americans were supposed to be “separate but equal”. But of course, truly they were not. This was just the way it was and virtually no one said anything against it.
When you got on a city bus to take you across town, there was a little sign that said “coloreds to the rear”. African-Americans were required to sit in the back of the bus. If you were at the bus station or some other public place, there were not 2 public toilets but 4: “white men” and “colored men”, “white women” and “colored women”.
They couldn’t eat in the restaurants that my family could. They couldn’t use the public restrooms I could or drink at the same water fountain. Need a sip of water? Make sure you go to the right water fountain, the one for whites, not “coloreds”. This was just life, a fully segregated life and this is what I grew up in, over 100 years after the Civil War was over.
I don’t know how my life as a missionary would have been if I’d been brought up as a racist. I’ve lived in many countries and a lot of them have not been “white folks”. But I was never taught to think and feel that way and I’m really glad for that. I’d already been taught to love my fellow human beings, even though I wasn’t raised a Christian.
And just in case any of you non-Americans out there are feeling a little smug right now, thinking how horrible these hate-filled Americans are, you might want to take a look around where you are. Yes, things have been bad here and in many ways still are. But I’ve seen some pretty bad cases of racism in my travels around Europe and also in other places. Some of you probably know what I mean.
I guess the only real solution in the long run is the love of God.
And salvation by Grace, I might add. It takes the love of God to really love people. And if you say you can do it without the love of God, ok, I’ll admit some people seem to be able to resist racism without the power of God. But then they often end up like I used to be when I was a kid. My family and I were self-righteousness because we weren’t racists when we had other problems and sins, lots of them. Just that for me, racism wasn’t one of the big problems I had.
I’ve just come to find out and experience that it takes a reborn heart through the love of God in Jesus to help us to love and be all that we need to be. If you’re a Christian but still think it’s OK to be a racist, (shall I be blunt here?) I strongly suggest you read God’s Word and let it change your heart. Here’s something from the laws of Moses, “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart.” (Leviticus 19:17)
And on the other hand, if you’re smugly satisfied with yourself like I used to be because you think you’re better than some Christians because you’re not racist, that’s just another dead-end, going-nowhere viewpoint. There are a lot of other evils in the world besides racism and you too need the power and love of God to overcome your weaknesses and vices. And we’ve all got them. That’s what I found out by hard, bitter experience. Lord help us all, Amen? God deliver us from hatred and racism. And smug, self-righteous unbelief as well.