- When I was a small child my dad was a farmer, and at some point he hired a local man to help him. “Lou” was an African-American who lived about three miles away and did not drive a car. So Dad would pick him up and take him home after their work. I remember Lou having lunch with us and he made me laugh. I was fond of Lou. He was from one of perhaps three historical black families in our rural area. At the time I didn’t understand, but within 10 miles of our farm was a famous Underground Railroad depot home.
- I must have been a freshman in high school when I came to know Bert. He was a very tall black junior or senior basketball player and he sat near me in study hall. Sometimes he would talk to me and he had a great, friendly smile. And I didn’t even go to games! One of the black football players shared a class with me and he acted cocky and self-important. Bert felt safe but the other guy felt dangerous.
- The first year as newlyweds, my husband and I lived in a highrise building in a suburb of Washington, D.C. One night the apartment above us burst into loud music and dancing by what sounded like a herd of cattle on an uncarpeted floor. After checking on the situation with a neighbor and calling the police, the “open party” upstairs continued into the early hours unchecked. Scores of non-resident black people poured into the building. After that we moved.
- During the second year we lived in the Washington, D.C., area, my husband and I rented the top floor of a small bungalow. On that street most of the homes were occupied by black people. I felt a bit out of place but we were never robbed, mugged, or molested while we lived there. Walking to work one day several older gents sitting on the front of a house, verbalized how “good” I was looking that day! I was never certain about what they were drinking but the comment felt like a compliment.
- Before I had children I taught a college class in magazine article writing. Of the group of students in my class, two of the guys were of African descent. Once I mistakenly called the one young man by the other black student’s first name. As I recall he was quick to correct me and made a sarcastic remark about all of “them” looking alike. I am certain I apologized, felt embarrassed and worked harder to separate their names in the future. There was no intention of dishonor in my mistake.
- When my children were small, our son attended school with an African-American girl and I got to know her mother. That single mom was also a church member and we became friends and stayed in communication for many years. For awhile I was eager to give them Christmas presents, since I knew they were often struggling financially. Years later a similar situation occured with a single black mother who attended my domestic violence support group. I often tried to find her resources and assistance. Both of these women refused to stay or return to abusive and negligent men. We were all just mothers.
- More recently I have a chaplain friend. We have partnered in several spiritual outreach groups and have enjoyed each other’s company for years. She just happens to be African-American. I know I can call her anytime for prayer or a lunch together. I love her spirit, courage and outlook.
- Many of my adult clients during years of counseling have been of African origin. I had some of my strangest, most challenging, yet most satisfying exchanges with them.
- Both of my adult children have marriage partners who are first generation children of immigrants to our country. Our grandchildren have relatives from a variety of continents.
I thought of these moments in my history as our adult study class at church discussed the topic of “Prejudice.” To me, prejudice implies having preconceived ideas about people or groups that you don’t know, or have not experienced. Sadly, sometimes we can become more judgmental after being exposed to some people or groups—we expect more of the same, hindering an honest evaluation of individuals. This not only happens to people of different color and races, but different religions, ages, statures, political groups, theology camps, schools, incomes, dog breeds, renters vs. home owners, etc. I am certain that everyone makes assumptions about other or different groups of people, and often it might become prejudice.
I also recognize that it is a very human need to be around people who are similar to oneself, in customs, language, and values. We have personality preferences, worship style preferences, musical and food tastes. This is why there are “expats” in many countries. However, we can block the blessings, education and work of the Holy Spirit by refusing to give someone a chance unless proven harmful. We need the occasional tension of regarding something different. And different doesn’t automatically equate to bad. This calls for increasing wisdom and a good dose of curiosity.
A welcoming heart often comes wrapped in many colors, shapes and sizes. Jesus himself was the unexpected gift.
Questions for journaling or for group discussion:
- I challenge you to write out some of the stories from your history with persons of different “groups” than your own.
- Please read these Bible verses and write or discuss your thoughts: Romans. 2:11; Acts 10:34-35; Galatians 3:28; James 2:1-9.
Karen Spruill writes from Orlando, Florida.
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