Knocking Down the Wall of Racism, One Brick at a Time

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.              Romans 12:21

One of the things I miss about my dad is his self-deprecating sense of humor, which would come out at random times and have the whole room laughing. Or just the passenger in his car.

At the end of a brief visit during my freshman year in college, Dad was driving me back to the airport. We came to an intersection where we had to stop but the cross traffic did not. It was a busy time of day, and cars sped by, with seemingly no one willing to sacrifice a few seconds to let us on. After about five stressful minutes, Dad muttered under his breath, “Come on, somebody …!”

Just then, a black man slowed his car down, smiled at Dad, and motioned to him to go ahead. Dad smiled back, waved a “thank you,” and pulled out. After a moment of silent smirking on my part, I heard Dad mutter in mock disgust, “How’d’ya like that? Forty years of prejudice, shot to hell.”

If my father were alive today, he would be over 100 years old. He grew up in a time and way of life that might be called “racist” by today’s standards, but I have never known a sweeter man. Dad was one of three boys, raised on an “farm” – a large lot with a pond, some chickens, a vegetable garden, and an occasional random creature, such as an orphaned baby bear and an alligator, which wouldn’t have been unusual in Florida, but this was Missouri. (Don’t ask.)

My grandparents had “hired help,” which I’ve come to understand were more like members of the family. My grandmother would discuss dinner options with her cook, who told her it didn’t matter how many chickens they prepared, the boys would eat everything in sight anyway. According to family lore, one day after a rainstorm, the chickens lay around looking as though they had all drowned. The cook told Granny that they weren’t dead, admonishing her to hang them on the clothes line by their feet. Granny followed her advice. Sure enough, after dangling in the sunshine for a while, the chickens dried off, perked up, and began flapping and protesting.

A generation later, my parents had a maid named Vester, who worked for my mom from the time I was about five. (I remember hiding from my sister’s wrath behind Vester’s skirt, and her ordering Susie to be nice to her little sister.)

Vester was the first one in the family to know that Marty and I were engaged. As it was a week before Susie’s wedding, after the initial silent squeals and hugs, she advised me regarding the best time to tell my stressed-out parents. Vester traveled all the way from St. Louis to Michigan to attend the wedding – not as a caterer, but as an honored guest. I will never forget how beautiful she looked in her royal blue kaftan.

Four years later Vester was the first to know that Joanna was on the way, not because I told her, but because she’d had a dream about a child in the woods. When she had asked who it was, a Voice had told her, That’s Ann’s little girl. 

Although Vester was nearly as old as my father, after my mother’s death she kept “working for him” (taking care of him). And Dad took care of her, in the only way he was able in those last years, by giving gifts to her and her family. When he could no longer drive, he gave his practically-new luxury car to her grandson, who was a chauffeur. Vester stood in Dad’s room at the assisted living facility and gave a tearful speech about not waiting until someone’s funeral to give them flowers. “You gave me my flowers today.”

After Dad had passed away, my sister and I kept in touch with Vester and her daughters during her last days. I remember visiting her in her home and seeing many familiar things that I recognized as having belonged to my mother, and even my grandmother. (Vester had more heirlooms than we did!) Her devotion to our family was so profound that my youngest daughter Kelly and I traveled from Michigan to attend her funeral at a church we had never been to, in a part of St. Louis we had never seen, full of people we had never met. Vester’s daughters excitedly introduced us to almost everyone there, and almost everyone we met fairly gushed about how much Vester loved our family. There was no talk of race or economic status, only talk of God, grace, and the devotion of people who genuinely loved one another.

As an adult, I have enjoyed deep friendships with people of different ages, races, religious traditions, nationalities, and backgrounds. I have learned a lot from them all, including that practically every individual I encounter has the potential of becoming a close friend. It keeps life interesting.

I was sharing the anecdote about the intersection with another blogger, and it occurred to me that the black man on the busy street had the answer to racism – kindness! He wasn’t glaring at Dad, pointing a finger and calling him a racist. He was treating him as he himself wanted to be treated. And while admittedly there are people and situations that are too far gone to respond to kindness, attacking a racist is not going to change him, either. Hateful behavior only drives prejudices deeper. (Why do we even have to state this obvious truth?)

What would happen if we treated everyone with kindness and respect, even those we perceive aren’t worthy of it? (Are we worthy?) Who knows, we may see more people’s attitudes change for the better – more “years of prejudice, shot to hell.”

Prayer: Lord, open our hearts and minds to Your image in every person we encounter, and help us to resemble You by loving them as You do, in Your name. Amen.

43 thoughts on “Knocking Down the Wall of Racism, One Brick at a Time

  1. Ann, you have a gift of storytelling and are a gift to us story readers! Yes, kindness goes along way with knocking down walls. Bible reminds us, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him, if he is naked, clothe him, for in doing so, we will heap coals of fire on his head.”

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I agree. Kindness and understanding that we’re all people with the same basic wants and needs are the keys. We come from different backgrounds and cultures which, on the surface, makes us appear alien to one another sometimes. That’s not a black and white thing, though. Whiteness itself is a social construct. Italians, Irish, Germans, etc. are all different cultures who happen to share (somewhat) the same skin tone.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ann, I wanted you to know I nominated your inspo blog for the Sunshine Blogger Award. Your writing is so worthwhile. Today I posted my nominees and gave your blog a quick review. Keep the smoke rising from your keyboard. God’s grip. – Alan

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dear Sister, My name is Silvia Lia Leigh (but almost everybody calls me Malia). I was born in Romania 65 years ago. For the past 45 years I am married to ‘the love of my life’, Richmond Leigh (who is a Nigerian; with a black/ brown skin). I am white/pink. We have three adult children and 7 grandchildren of all shades of brown. My husband and I are retired medical doctors now pastors in full time ministry Nigeria. I gave you enough information so that you can imagine me and my family. To us, racism is something learnt, something borrowed from the environment. My birth country Romania never had colonies or slaves. We have been conquered by the Roman and Ottoman empire for hundreds of years. Because of this, myself and most Romanians I know are not racist at all. My husband was the first black man I saw with my eyes and touched with my hands. I was not racist, just curious. America has a problem with racism because of its history. It is hard to let go of the past, with its tragedies or triumphs. But the past most go to make space for the future. Dear sister, you have a gift with words. Continue to use it for the joy of humanity. God bless you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Malia, what a joy it was to receive your comment and testimony! I’m afraid America has become a very angry society, and most of what we are angry about is either not true, or is caused by people in the past, who have been dead for centuries. I will be posting tomorrow about anger, and how to make it work for us instead of letting it destroy us. It is my prayer that we Americans can leave behind the past (which we can’t change), realize that we can do better, and reach ahead to make a brighter future for our children and their children. I have found that help in doing this is found in the pages of Scripture. Jesus defined love for us, and by laying down His life for us, Jesus not only told us what love was, He showed up what it looked like.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dear Sister, In Nigeria where I live there is a funny proverb (here, most people speak ‘a broken’ English). This is it: ‘No matter how hot your tempa be e no fit boil beans’ (Translated: ‘Calm down! Your temper won’t solve the problem’). There is good anger and bad anger. Most of the anger is rooted in pride, inferiority complexes and impatience. Most of the anger is useless to construct something good. I am looking forward to read your article. God bless you and the work of your hands!

        Liked by 1 person

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