I am doing a series of writings and videos describing the racist environment in which I grew up. By sharing my experiences, I hope other people will see themselves in the narrative and become aware of the ugly undercurrent of racism in their own lives.
Religion and Racism
It sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? One would think religion and racism wouldn’t be able to operate together. I see, in my mind’s eye, the two constantly bumping into one another and contradicting one another.
Do I believe every religious person is racist? No. As I stated in Episode 1, please do not assume that when I say, “white people who, religious people who, black people who,” I am not inferring ALL.
Both sets of Grandparents were deeply religious. Nana and Papa Henry, my mom’s parents, were faithful supporters of their local church and my Nana is the person you wanted on your side when faced with anything. Nana was what people called “a prayer warrior”.
Nana wasn’t Pentecostal in the sense of dancing in the aisle, but she was Holy in her faith and if you needed prayer, she had Jesus on the hot line.
My dad’s parents were pastors and traveling evangelists. That’s actually how my parents met. One set of grandparents attended the tent revival of the other set of grandparents.
We didn’t attend church regularly as a family. But that doesn’t mean we weren’t religious.
I’ve been “saved” at least one hundred times; my scripture memorization is strong, and I preached my first sermon when I was somewhere between the ages of nine and eleven.
We had Bible drills, youth rallies and fellowship Sundays in the fellowship hall. What we didn’t have at church were black people.
“They have their own church”, I was told.
Because I went to white church with white people, I envisioned white Jesus. This thinking makes sense in the way a child reasons life, based on personal experience, but this thought was backed up with images. The famous Jesus print that hangs in many churches depicts Jesus aglow with the radiance of the Holy Spirit as his, not too dark hair, lays loose and in order, draping his shoulders. He stands with his arms outstretched, palms up so that the nail scars show, his gentle blue eyes are both welcoming and comforting to the beholder. And he’s white. Not white so much like me, but not dark like a man from Galilee.
Google it. Look at how Jesus became white.
I knew the stories of Joseph being sold into slavery and of the children of Israel living for generations in slavery until God brought them out of Egypt. Even though I’d heard and read the stories, they were told in a way that made slavery more of a metaphor for bondage and sin, instead of humans as pieces of property.
In fact, in my book Resolve, I did just that. I briefly describe the children of Israel and then discuss coming out of bondage. I think the story fits the story, but I have to admit I should pick another story.
Also, it was my understanding God allowed the children of Israel to be taken into “captivity” and it was also God who delivered them.
I have never read or watched Gone With the Wind. The story never appealed to me. So, the only theatrical depiction of slavery I was exposed to, was the movie, The Ten Commandments. Watching the movie had to be sometime during the late 70’s or early 80’s.
In the movie, the slaves were beautiful and tanned, and although they were slaves, they lived in homes with their families.
You can possibly see how confusing this made studying slavery in school. Slavery had kind of been white Jesus’d. Meaning, I had a more romanticized white way of thinking about slavery. Even though we discussed in history class, the buying and selling of humans, by humans, to humans, I saw it through white lenses.
It wasn’t until the early 80’s when I watched the special mini series Roots, that I began to have a better mental picture of slavery.
the Bible tells me so?
So white people I have to ask, do you remember how old you were or what your reaction was when you learned Jesus was a brown man and not a white man? Do you remember when you looked at a globe and realized the Garden of Eden was located in Africa? Did you have questions? Did you ask anyone? Or, maybe, you’ve never even thought about it, yet?
I was in the 5th grade when I discovered this huge puzzle piece. It blew my mind. I remember feeling dooped. Finding out this information didn’t make sense. If the Garden of Eden was located on the continent of Africa and if Jesus was a dark man from the Middle East, why do we despise black people? I needed to know.
Sitting in my grandfather’s study, watching him carefully place stamps into his stamp collection binders, I asked my questions.
After placing his tweezers and magnifying glass aside he settled into his chair and said, “Samantha, some people believe slavery is scriptural. It is believed black people came from Ham and their destiny is servanthood.”
And then he proceeded to give me a lesson.
In Genesis 8 God has decided to destroy every living thing on Earth. The only living things spared are Noah, his wife, his three sons, their wives and at least two of every living thing. I say at least two, because surely animals died on the voyage and possibly a few would be for food?
Then in Genesis 9 God blesses Noah and his sons and tells them to be fruitful and multiply.
Between verses 18 and 20, we learn Noah’s sons are Shem, Ham and Japheth. Ham’s son is Canaan and Noah planted a vineyard and became a farmer.
That’s when it all falls apart.
In verse 21 Noah drinks too much wine and somehow becomes “uncovered” in the tent. Verse 22 reveals that Ham sees Noah uncovered in the tent, but instead of covering him, he tells his brothers.
Shem and Japheth back into the tent, not looking, and cover Noah’s nakedness. When Noah wakes and has his coffee, the sons tell him what happened, and Noah is pissed.
He’s so mad at Ham that he wants to curse him. But, if you’ll remember back in verse 1 of chapter 9, God blessed Ham. Since Noah couldn’t undo what God had declared he did the next best thing. He cursed Ham’s son, Canaan.
In verse 25, Noah says, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants he shall be to his brethren.”
In verses 26 and 27 Noah adds on to Shem’s and Japheth’s blessings by asking God to enlarge their camps and that Ham’s descendants and their descendants would be servants.
That was it. End of lesson. From one, vague, drunken, possibly inappropriate sexual situation, a group of people gleaned justification for slavery through scripture.
Once finished with the slavery lesson my grandfather never said if he himself believed the story, but he never told me it was a silly story either.
You see, in church, we sang how precious we all were in his sight, but we didn’t believe it.
Racism is generational
While in the ninth or tenth grade I traveled with my dad to south Louisiana to visit family. One afternoon, me and a cousin went for a walk down by the local high school a few blocks away. As we rounded a corner of the school, we saw a guy shooting hoops on the outdoor basketball court. I don’t remember a lot of the details other than, we started talking and flirting. It was midday, outdoors, in a neighborhood. I was never afraid of what would happen to me out here. I was afraid of what would happen if my family found out I’d spent the afternoon flirting with a black guy.
And sure enough, once the family found out about my afternoon, an intervention was put in place. You see, racism is generational, and just like other beliefs or behaviors, many are just accepted and never questioned.
But I grew up surrounded by “people of God”. People who stood with authority on the will of God, the Creator of all things. People who preach love and acceptance. These people told me God didn’t want me to date or marry a black man. These people told me God wanted me to marry within my own race, not the human race, the white race.
During that same year, I spent time in Illinois with my Nana. One morning, swinging on the porch swing I asked Nana what she thought about interracial relationships, specifically black and white relationships. After thinking for a bit, she settled on this, “Sammie if you were to have a black baby think of the hard life that precious one would have. People would ridicule and judge you and the child for the rest of your lives.”
As a white woman in southern Illinois, she knew the prejudices of the world. She knew the hardship that would be awaiting me, because she knew what racism looked like.
After she finished her explanation, I responded with, “But Nana, what if we stood up and said, ‘I don’t care!’ and made society change the way they think?”
She smiled, patted my leg and with the same cadence uttered when saying, ‘When pigs fly” she said, “Wouldn’t that be a day!”
Oh, how I wish she could see that even though we have a long way to go, we’ve made strides. I wish she were alive to witness the love in our family. I wish she were alive to see my beautiful biracial grandchildren. I know she’s proud of us for standing up and saying, “We’re changing the narrative and standing up for what is right!”
Live what you say you believe
John 15:17 says, “This is my commandment that ye love one another as I have loved you.” In I Corinthians 13:13, the New Living Translation says, “Three things will last forever…faith, hope, love, the greatest of these is love.”
We sang it in church, and I heard it preached from the pulpit, but it wasn’t lived out.
What is often lived out is, “We love you if you look like us, talk like us, believe like us and act like us. If you don’t, we pity you because you haven’t seen the light yet. We’ll put you on our prayer list and wait for God to change your heart. Now when he does and you see things our way, come on back, ya hear?”
Jesus practiced empathy and could understand and see a person where they were at that moment. And in that moment of empathy the beauty of humanity was revealed, and unconditional love was ALWAYS the result.
Christianity teaches free will is important. Choose you this day whom you will serve. It’s a choice. Racism, prejudices and biases are choices as well. If we aren’t acting to wipe out racism, prejudices and biases then we’re choosing them.
If believers really believe they are made in the image of God, then empathy should be taught and practiced. And people in the church, I’ve heard testimony after testimony of how God has brought many of you out of sexual addictions, porn, alcohol, drugs, shopping, hoarding and on and on. Delivery from racism is the testimony I’d like to hear.
My hope is you’ve learned something new or you were spurred to delve into your own beliefs. We must know what we believe and why.
Until next time, remember, kindness takes action. Kindness is a verb.