Sonya, not her real name, was looking to buy a house. Since she was widowed several years ago, Sonya had completed a rigorous educational program leading to board certification in her chosen field. She has been involved in both domestic and global missions work and has earned her doctorate. She had been on the staff of a hospital and a hospice. She is a professor for a college in Georgia. Now it was time to buy a house.
She and a real estate agent were looking at a home in a quiet area of Coweta County, Georgia. As they exited the car, they noticed a youngish man out walking with his dog. As the agent was going through her keys, Sonya felt something right behind her. It was a dog. A pit bull, she thought at the time. Her friend was terrified. She urged her friend to not show fear.
The dog did not growl, use aggressive posture, or threaten to bite. When Sonya looked at the owner, who was standing in the street, he stared and made no attempt to call his dog. Eventually, the dog trotted back to his owner and the two walked slowly away. With the man continuing to stare at the two women. The two black women. The man was white.
A few days later when Sonya and I, along with others, were in a meeting, the person in charge asked her to tell this story. Reluctantly, she did. A few years earlier, as Sonya and I were at a meeting and having lunch, I asked her where she grew up. She grew up in South Georgia when the treatment of blacks was anything but equal. Hearing those stories hurt my heart.
I grew up in a segregated town in northeastern Tennessee. I remember well the separate water fountains, the separate entrances to the movies, the separate housing, the separate school systems, and the separate seating on the buses. “Separate but equal” was a lie and nearly every adult I knew freely used the “N word” as a noun or an adjective. It was in my sophomore year in high school that integration happened. Since I was on the football team, we integrated a month earlier. That was in the later 1960s.
In 1982, I candidated for the pastor position of a church in rural Alabama. The church was lovely, there was a furnished dwelling, the people were nice, and the meetings went well. The board said that if I was selected, they would put my sons in a private school in the nearby town. When I said that public school was fine for my kids, I was told that the private school was preferable. It happened that all the children and staff in the private school were white. I thought, “Oh, no. say it ain’t so.” I was selected with a 100% vote. We turned it down.
In 1983, we came to Georgia. After we moved here and I announced my plans to help grow the church, which included inviting and welcoming minorities. One man, a leader, privately told me, “I don’t think this church is ready for black people.” Once again, I thought, “Please say it ain’t so.” This time I said to the man, “Well, it is now.”
When I heard Sonya’s story, forty years after moving to Georgia, my heart sank. And I got angry. I even spoke with an experienced police officer who agreed that what happened wasn’t right but, since the dog behaved and since no overt threat was given, the only law that was broken was the leash law. He said, “It’s not against the law to be a rectum” (he used another less family-oriented word).
For several years I have been able to say that, in all my time in Georgia, I have only met one person that I would call an overt racist. Apparently, I now know where to find another. My friend lost interest in the house and in the neighborhood. Too many scabs were ripped off the long-ago wounds that were inflicted by southern bigots. Too many painful memories, suppressed, rose to the surface. Too much sadness interrupted her normal enthusiastic joy.
Sonya is a vibrant and devout Christian and I love her like a sister. All of us around the table that day felt anger, disbelief, and, yes, shame. I want to say, “Say it ain’t so,” but I can’t. Because it is so. At least in the hearts of some people.
I am well aware that massive change has occurred since the 1950s. The water fountains, “colored” entrances, segregated seating on buses, and that which I mentioned earlier are no more. Thank God for that. What some see as the “the good old days” were not seen that way by everyone because those days were not good for every American citizen.
Still, however, the heartbeat of hate still beats. There is still a Ku Klux Klan, still white supremacists, still racist bigots. And, as experienced recently on a rural road in Coweta County, and I fear in many other counties in the South and in other parts of the nation, bigotry and prejudice still exist. I thought there would be a day when my children would see the end of this shame. Now I hope that my grandchildren will see the end of it. If not them, then perhaps my great-grandchildren, the three that are here and the two on the way, will someday be able to honestly say, “It ain’t so, no more.”[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). Worship services are on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He may be contacted at email@example.com.]
Another view of Fr Epps’ story is that it is about two women with their own race-based hang-ups.
The dog did nothing wrong to the ladies. As the policeman said, the young man was a jerk to have his dog off-leash, but that’s it.
That’s all that happened. He said not a word, and did nothing to indicate any bigoted motive.
What we do know from the story is that the ladies assume that the young man was out to harm them, a judgment made based only on the color of his skin. Sounds like the women are the racists here.
If roles were reversed, where two white women assumed ill of a black man who had done nothing more than allowed his dog off leash, we’d hear the howling from the racism-always-everywhere crowd.
Unfortunately, Fr Epps’ story reads more as a personal virtue-signal, and an exercise in “let’s remember Jim Crow days” to get everyone worked up against each other. Then folks like STF get to pile on to show his political bona fides by assigning guilt to all whites and conservatives.
Things were bad in the Old South “back then”, but that was generations ago. It should be taught as history.
As important, also give credit to the 99% of Americans of all races who want to love their neighbor and judge others by the content of character.
Wishing a society to be colorblind is a form of racism and is a pretty tone-deaf statement for the month of February. If anything we should want future generations to see color with an understanding and celebration of each other’s diversity and culture and be OK that everyone is different.
I like what Morgan Freeman said to Mike Wallace on a 60 Minute interview he did.
“Wishing a society to be colorblind is a form of racism and is a pretty tone-deaf statement for the month of February.” You don’t think MLK Jr was pining for society to be colorblind, when he dreamt that a man would be judged by the content of his character instead of the color of his skin?
Sure he was – in 1963. Today, however, is completely different, and I believe his message would be quite another for this current culture.
Oh so now it’s all about race again? Content of character doesn’t matter, we should just show preferential treatment because someone is white/black/brown/yellow/red/LGBT?
Rev. Epps’ sentiments are laudatory. Unfortunately, a large portion of the American population is working overtime to ensure that it will continue to be “so.” Legislators clamor to prevent the history of oppression that Rev. Epps catalogues from being taught to public school and college students. A sizable portion of the populace supports authoritarian leaders who wish to return American to those “good ole days” when whites reigned supreme and unquestioned – you know, when American was great.
I join with Rev. Epps in wishing our grandchildren and great-grandchildren a colorblind society. This will be difficult given the current cultural conservatives who have their own motto: “Let it always be so!”