Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Plank of Racism

I've been blessed to travel many parts of the world, but I've lived my entire life in the state of South Carolina.  It's a beautiful state with both rolling mountains and a beautiful coastline. We have magnolia trees, backyard gardens and, usually, the opportunity to celebrate all four seasons. 

Fireflies, pecan pies, sweet tea and homemade biscuits covered in sausage gravy are common here. The beauty of comfort food and hot Southern days cannot be overstated and those from the South know this truth. I'd remind those that question this to remember no one retires and moves up North.

I live a little over four hours from the Atlantic Ocean and hardly an hour from the mountains of Asheville, NC.  I can be in Atlanta in three hours and Charlotte in a barely more than an hour.

And then there's Charleston.  It's almost exactly three hours from my home and I've been there more than a hand full of times. There's fabulous food, incredible architecture, winding rivers and easy access to the ocean. The lyrical drawl unique to the South is fully realized in Charleston.

And there's history. Charleston's history includes horrific stories of racism and hate. That history now includes nine people being shot during their Bible study at a historically black church by a white man who claimed that black people were "stealing our women and taking over our country and it has to stop." White women take note because he was talking about you and me. 

I'm ashamed to say I couldn't have imagined this truth.  It's truth because it happened.  I'm ashamed to say that I quite probably would have argued with someone who said that that kind of racism still lived in my home state. Even with the history SC has, I'd have still argued. 

A white supremacist. That's what he was. Someone who believes that the white race is superior to all others and that white people deserve to rule over other races. Read that again. 

This young man BELIEVED that as truth and he's not the only one out there. That feels surreal to me but it's not a fantasy and it can't just be ignored.

And over the last few days, I've gotten real with myself, because if we're not going to be real with ourselves, how can any of this ever change?  Don't we want it to change?

I've watched people on my Facebook defend a flag that means nothing to me and, let's be real, nothing to them, either.

I've watched people bring up terrorism and Islam or any number of things to avoid talking about the white supremacist and what it all really means and how we all play a part. 

I've seen others post about those families open forgiveness to a man who murdered their family in cold blood for no other reason than because they were black.  For no other reason than because they were not white. 

I've watched people post beautiful tributes showing more than 10,000 people of all colors marching together in unity across the Arthur Ravenel Bridge in Charleston . I've seen people post the faces of those nine precious souls who were shot in cold blood and I've read their stories. I've listened to Pastor Pinckney on Youtube and grieved that he's no longer here and thought long and hard on Father's Day about children who's Daddy wasn't there to celebrate. 

But, there's still more truth to tell.  There's still a log in our own eye. 

I've watched people defend and offend and do anything but just tell the damn truth.  Make no mistake, telling the truth is hard. It's so hard that God Himself had to tell us, "Thou shalt NOT lie." 

I grew up in the South and I've heard the "N" word my entire life.  I've heard it in my home growing up and through out my school years.  I heard a pastor use it once and I've never forgotten it. 

 I've heard the undertones of people not brave enough, or honest enough, to own their racism outright. I've heard the undertones of racism by people who truly had no idea that the things they were saying were racist.

I've seen people whisper behind the backs of interracial couples and I've seen them openly look down on interracial children. (I actually didn't let that go, but did I say enough? I don't think so.)

I've watched a drug addicted, non-working member of my own family go on and on about the low-down black people (he didn't say black, either) on welfare.  (while HE was collecting a welfare check and drawing food stamps because he'd used drugs often enough to fry his brain and his health).  I had to leave the room, but I didn't say a word. And I'm ashamed of that. 

I've heard racist jokes and seen racism first hand.  I've heard people say, "I'm not racist, but..." about nine thousand four hundred and sixty times and they truly didn't realize that "not being racist, but..." IS racist.  Period.

And still, I was utterly shocked that a white man walked into a pre-dominantly black church and murdered people for being black.  

It has to stop. We have to tell the truth.  We have to stop pretending we're not racists if we even listen to racist jokes, because we are. We are part of the problem as long we allow that to be said in front of us.

We have to stand up or walk away every single time someone pretends that someone's color makes them less than a human being. 

We have to stop listening when someone says they wouldn't want their child to marry someone of a different color.  We have to say to them, "Then you're a racist. Do you think your child is better than theirs?"

Because every single time we don't choose to stop racism, what we're doing is saying it's perfectly OK.  That's uncomfortable, but it's true. 

When we choose silence, we're creating an environment where men like Dylann Roof grow up and believe, truly believe, that somehow his being born white makes him superior. We like to think that the little racists things in our own lives don't birth the kind of racism that Roof displayed when he gunned down nine people in their church. We're wrong. 

It makes men like Roof think that murdering nine human beings is OK.  I know that because he killed them.  He murdered those nine people and believed what he was doing was the right thing to do. He sat with those people for over an hour and listened to them pray and worship and read their Bibles and still stood up and murdered them. 

He told the police he almost didn't go through with it because they were so nice. How can that not make your heart bleed?  They were nice to him. They welcomed Dylann Roof into their church and treated him with kindness. But still...they were black.

He BELIEVED that being white made him superior.  He learned that. He was taught that as truth by someone, somewhere.  

We, who grew up with quiet racism, like to tell ourselves that having parents who used the "N" word or grandparents who did, aren't really part of the problem.  We're more comfortable pointing out the low-hanging pants or the slang talking youth and saying "They're" the problem. 

And yet, Jesus said, "Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye."  We have a beam in our eye.  We have a generational beam in our eye that we absolutely refuse to own.

We're not comfortable admitting that young men in hoodies make us uncomfortable because....why?  I live here and not once has a young black man ever so much as laid his hands on me in anger and yet I've heard over and over to be careful. To be wary.  It's racism.  Flat out. 

I can't do anything about black on black crime in Chicago and neither can anyone else in my sphere of influence.  I can't do anything about all those statistics that people who can't seem to own their quiet racism post every single time systemic racism comes up in the news. 

What I CAN do is say that for me...for my house...we're going to tell the truth and we're going to try and change. I want to know absolutely that the things I can do are being done because people are dying and hurting and anger and hate is winning.  

Nine people were murdered in my home state FOR BEING BLACK and I'm horrified.  I'm sad.  I'm sickened.  I'm awake. 

Jesus also said, "Love thy neighbor as thyself."

I want to live that. I want to own THAT.  

How can I love my neighbor in the same way that I love myself?  

The first thing I can do is to tell the truth.  It'll begin to set us ALL free. 

The morning after this terrorist act, I sat in a doctor's office across from a black woman listening to the news on her phone.  It was just loud enough to hear and when she looked up at me...I couldn't look away. 

I started to cry.  I sat in that damn doctor's office and cried. I hate to cry.

And do you know what?  She hugged me. She didn't hate to cry. 

We sat in the waiting room with our arms around each other and we cried while others looked on. We cried for lives that were senselessly lost but I knew....I KNEW....even with her arms around me, that I couldn't understand what it felt like to be afraid that I could be shot for no other reason than the color of my skin.  I'd never truly thought of life in those terms.  I understood that fear was real for her.  SHE could have been shot for no other reason than the color of her skin by Dylann Roof even though he'd have walked by me without a glance because I was white.

That's real.  That has to change and it starts with MY skin color.  It starts with every white person with racism buried deep within our lives, quietly sitting there, to admit it and own it. 

It starts when white people stop whipping up Chicago statistics because we don't want to talk about that time we said "I'm not racist, but..." or the time we laughed at Uncle Bobby's racist story or the time we didn't stop our friends from using the "N" word.

Sin and repentance is hard business. I believe that sin is a condition and repentance is humbling and racism is sin.  

Racism killed nine people in Charleston because they weren't white.  Can we tell the truth?  Can we pull the log from our own eyes and love?  

I pray so.  


  1. Well stated. I'm a Southern white male of a certain age. I grew up with Jim Crow. I understand what you feel.

  2. As a follow up, I tried posting this on the Organic Ministry blog site, but kept getting a data base error, so I will post it here (and I'll keep on trying to post it there as well):

    At age 62, I am somewhat older than you, but I share much with both you and Stephen. I, too, wrote something along these lines, although it is much more acerbic than what either of you two wrote. If you'd like, the link is:


    It is also available at:


  3. I think it was more about the injustices done to whites, than white supremacy.

    1. Please explain your comment. I don't understand.