My Racist Past


Racism is very much a topic today, and I found myself in a very contentious conversation just the other day. I don’t need to discuss it in detail here, but it did leave me with a few thoughts on a few episodes from my past that I would like to share.

Background: My home town, a mining town in Montana, was a melting pot of people from all over the world. In the old days there were NO SMOKING signs in the mines written in 14 different languages. The town had its enclaves of folks from various ethnic  backgrounds: Fin Town, German Gulch, Meaderville (Italian), Dublin Gulch — and more.

For the most part it seemed these groups got along with one another. Miners often had to work day-by-day alongside others with the language of mining the only common language. Oh, each group had their own pet and derogatory names for others not like them, but I don’t recall it went much further than that. My grandmother would often sit at our kitchen table cussing out the “Cousin Jacks” and “Cousin Jennies”. The real no kidding fights were between the union miners and the “Company” and between the fans and students of the rival public high and the Catholic high school football and basketball teams. Over time, the ethnic barriers were sometimes worn away, often by marriage.

But there weren’t many blacks in our town. One fellow, a tall lanky guy, was quite a good swimmer and a team mate of mine – we were friends, and he was one of us.

My dad was a soft spoken sort, and well liked around town, and I don’t recall him expressing racist or anti-Semitic sentiments. Not so with some other adults in my life who often broke out in strong racist, ethnic or anti-Semitic tirades. I think I escaped this sort of racism for the most part, and in later years fully bought into King’s “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” philosophy of life.

But there was that one episode.

It was in my first year of college at the local school, and three or four of us were cruising around town, mid-day one Saturday,  drinking a few too many beers. We came across one of the few blacks in town, on old man as I recall, slowly crossing the street with a bit of a physical walking effort. The four of us decided this old man would be a good target for some fun. So we started harassing this guy for no other reason than that he was black. The names and insults came out and it was great fun. Then it was over and I went on about living the rest of my life without giving this vile episode further thought.

Years later – about 20 – Jesus Christ came into my life. Shortly thereafter, thoughts of that episode, that had been dead and buried in the back of my mind and soul, came very suddenly and vividly to the front of my remembrance and I could see it replayed right before me.

But what was I to do? I had no idea who he was — he was old at the time and by now, some twenty years later, he undoubtedly had passed on. I was trapped — there was no way I could replay that tape and seek out that old man and beg his forgiveness.

What was I to do?

Psalm 32:5
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Colossians 2:13
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins. …

1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Through verses such as these, I discovered in a very real and personal way, why Jesus Christ came into this world. He came to become sin in my stead and provide a forgiveness of sin — even one as vile as the one I recalled from that Saturday many years past.

I have this thought about that old man. One day I will meet him in Heaven, and will go to him seeking his forgiveness. He then reaches out with a big smile on his face and gives me a big hug saying “I have no idea what you are talking about — lets go sit awhile and talk.” 

_______________________________

The next episode is not one of an act, but one rather of thought and reflection.

It was years after the episode above, perhaps 10 years ago or so.

I was sitting on an airplane, in the very last row. In the seats right in front of me was a Jewish family, and right in front of them a black family.

In a mood of reflection I was grateful for who I was, where I was, and when I was — let me explain.

The “who I was … ” — a white man living in a free United States of America early in the 21st century.

In years past, in my own nation, I could have “owned” that black family and could have done whatever I pleased with them as a family and as individuals. That’s no longer possible, because of great sacrifice by many who preceded me.

In years past in a different nation, I could have rounded up that Jewish family, locked them in a cattle car and sent them off to gruesome slavery and death in a Nazi death camp. That’s no longer possible. Again,  because of great sacrifice by many who preceded me. 

So on that airplane — and now, I am grateful.

_______________________________

Continuing in this reflective mood, I am reminded that all of us — all of us, me included and especially me — of whatever the color of our skin, are susceptible to the vilest of thoughts and actions.

But as I discovered of my sin in Butte Montana, there is a better way —

Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
             (Christ Jesus being the creator spoken of in Genesis 1)

Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
(He created one race, the Human Race. Not white, black, brown or yellow)

Don Johnson — October 2017

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