Dear Trip Lee,
I hear your lyrics, and I hurt with you. In fact, I can relate—probably in a different way for different reasons. I also grew up with a fear.
I’m going to tell my story using “white” and “black,” not out of disrespect, but for simplicity. Let me be clear that I believe we are all the same on the inside, no matter what color we are on the outside.
We assume a lot based on what we are told as children. We grow up thinking that the black kid is automatically trouble, the poor kid wants a handout, and the rich kid gets off scot free. But children aren’t born with prejudices. They are taught from generation to generation. They are taught who they are and who “they” are. But I learned that true colors—the true heart—of a person will always come through.
Loving Mrs. Mary
When I was young, a precious black lady, Mrs. Mary* watched after my sisters and me while my mom worked full-time and my dad worked two jobs. She wasn’t a maid or the help; she simply was paid to work in our home. I loved Mary so much. We all loved her. She was a kind, precious woman. Mrs. Mary cooked and cleaned and cared for us like we were her very own.
Mrs. Mary confided in my mom about how her husband would come home drunk and beat her and the children. It broke my parents’ hearts. I remember one evening when my mom and her cousin were at home with us kids while dad was working his 24-hour firehouse shift. Someone tried to break in, and mom realized it was Mary’s drunken husband. He didn’t get in, but my mom was terrified for all of us. My parents didn’t want to push the issue and call the police because they loved Mary and wanted to save her the embarrassment. She was already terribly humiliated and apologized over and over.
A few years later, Mrs. Mary had to quit due to her husband’s declining health. We had several other babysitters, but none were quite like Mrs. Mary. She and a few other gentlemen who worked with my dad were the only black people I knew until I started elementary school.
Learning The Script
My mom grew up in the 1940s and 50s. That’s when blacks had their side of town and the whites had theirs. I grew up just a few blocks north of where most of the blacks lived. I was taught—as my parents were taught—to be afraid, to be nervous when driving through certain parts of town, to not go out alone at night.
As a fireman working side-by-side with the police department, my daddy saw things that he could not unsee. He heard stories of black men hurting black women and children. He saw drunks and substance abusers, brought in from areas in town close to our home. The black cops would say to my dad, “Don’t let your daughters drive such-and-such street alone.” They knew what happened on that street. They knew about the bootleggers and the drugs, drive-bys, and the red light district. And most, but not all, of the illegal activity took place in the “black” neighborhoods. Were white men beating their white wives? Yes. Were they getting arrested? Yes. But the ratio of black to white crime back then seemed unbalanced.
I remember being with my daddy and getting a call on the scanner to a fire in a bad part of town. He told me not to open the car door and stay put until he came back. I was okay until I saw a black policeman walk up to the door. Even though I saw his badge and knew he was a cop, the color of his skin had me terrified. The nice policeman only wanted to check on me and make sure I was okay. He had no idea how terrified his presence made me. Once the fire was contained, my dad walked out to me. The officer told him I wouldn’t roll down the window or unlock the door.
He said, “She did good. She wasn’t about to let even a policeman get to her.”
Keeping Our Distance
A few years later, my family moved across town to another all-white neighborhood. I was 7 years old and didn’t realize it was a subdivision for low-income housing. In 1974, tornadoes came through a nearby area, destroying lives and homes. The government offered free housing while the area was being rebuilt. It just so happened one family was given the home right next to ours, rent-free for six months. It was a very nice black family, a couple with one son, probably just as uneasy about moving into an all-white neighborhood as the white neighbors. Unfortunately, several homes went up for sale just because a black family had (temporarily) moved in. People were saying, “Now that all these homes are up for sale, more black families might move in,” and I didn’t really understand. But they were right.
I didn’t know all of them, but I was friends with some of the families. We played together, we consoled each other when there were deaths in our families, and we celebrated new life together, but only on the doorstep or at the fence row. We didn’t dare go into each other’s homes. That just wasn’t proper.
As the demographic began to change over time, so did the dynamic. The small children that once played together began to turn against each other. Their common interests widened, and some older teens in the black families were experimenting with alcohol and drugs. I was the only white girl in the neighborhood, and I had a brother ten years younger than me; I no longer felt safe.
I guess what I’m trying to say, Trip, is that I agree. Yes, fear used to be my first instinct when I saw a black man or a group of black men. And sadly, it was simply due to the color of their skin.
Fortunately, Jesus showed up in my life. And when Jesus became REAL to me, I no longer saw black, white, yellow or brown. I simply saw God’s creations, created for His purpose. Some have drifted way off track, but we are all made in His image, which is neither black nor white.
And He sure does love us.
Perfect Love Casts Out All Fear
Because I have fully accepted God’s love for me and have experienced His mercy and grace, I can truly love and show His mercy and grace to others. It’s a conscious choice—I could continue in fear because that’s how my parents raised me, or I could choose to allow God to live and love through me, to change me from the inside out.
What America has isn’t a racism problem; it’s a fear problem. Ultimately, it’s a SIN problem. And we all have this problem. I see it in everyone—Caucasians, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, in all ethnicities, and all backgrounds and even in churches. We haven’t allowed the blood of Christ to set us free from sin and to love as He loves. Until we truly surrender our hearts to God Almighty by accepting His one and only Son, we will always protect ourselves by degrading and demeaning others. Until we allow His Word to become alive in us and walk in the Spirit, we will never be able to live out the humility in Philippians 2:1-8, the unity in Galatians 3:26-29, or the kindness in Galatians 5:25-26.
Without the Gospel of Jesus, we will be stuck in fear, in black-and-white, and in prejudice forever.
Yes, Trip. I hear you. Loud and clear.
By the way, my family still keeps in touch with Mrs. Mary. Her husband passed away long ago, and she even has been at death’s door several times. But my parents have visited her, hugged her, and prayed over her. They see something real in Mrs. Mary—the Spirit of the living God. His love flows through her, and there is no fear.
And when God’s love flows through us, it can’t ever be stopped by color of any kind.
*In the best interest of her and her family, Mrs. Mary is not our beloved friend’s real name.