April 26, 2015 Learning About Racial Prejudice
In the summer before I entered seventh grade my family moved to Dayton from Fort Recovery. Fort Recovery is a small town, a mile from the Indiana border, located in the midpoint of the vertical, western edge of Ohio. It was, and is, a farming community, heavily Roman Catholic and all white. This was where I spent my elementary years, and thus nearly all of my early memory.
Our new home in Dayton was located on a busy connector street (think Main Street, Bellville) which was also an invisible dividing line. Four blocks north of us was the mostly white middle class homes that became more costly, more Jewish, and more white as you traveled north. Four blocks south was mostly poor, black rental properties and the further south you went, and the more towards the center of Dayton, the poorer and blacker it became. Immediately around us were private homes owned by a roughly equal mixture of white and black families who were in the lower end of the middle class.
I had never lived next to Blacks before. Nor do I recall seeing Blacks in the flesh before.
And that was what I quickly learned was the correct term. Our family never used the word nigger but called them Negros. It was the era of “Black is Beautiful” and the rising of black independence and pride. In Fort Recovery we referred to each other as “boys” and “girls” without meaning any more than this was a gender description. Whoa! The first time I used the word “boy” in the presence of a Black teenage boy, he became enraged and I barely escaped being beaten up.
It was a moment of revelation as I learned that words and names can carry emotional energy and historical hurt. At the time it was only fear of being beaten up that kept from ever using the word Boy. The books To Kill a Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn and Black Like Me were safe places to learn about the origins of what was behind my friends and neighbors reactions to what I thought were innocent words.
As I interacted in Junior High and High School with a fifty-fifty mixture of blacks and whites, I began my first explorations of the differences and the commonalities between races. At first the differences were all that I could see, but over time and with the developing of relationships the fear diminished and the respect and understanding began.
Part of the genius of Christianity is its ability to cross races, cultures, economics, and indeed all boundaries. Read the story of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts is one of the first instances of that.
Also read Bishop Eaton’s letter on racial justice: