I’m a 30-year-old white man who grew up in the Wiregrass. My dad is a pastor — a really good pastor. When I was about 9 years old, my sister, who was about 12, invited one of her friends from school and his family to the church my dad pastored.
They came. But members of the church made it clear that they would not tolerate a black family being allowed to attend their church.
We’ve always referred to what happened following that Sunday as the church “splitting.” You see, thankfully, not everyone who attended the church was willing to tolerate this type of racism and hate.
As an adult, I’m not so sure it was a split, though. It was more like an exodus. My family obviously left — the church didn’t want a pastor who welcomed people of all races to worship there. A lot of other families left as well.
But do you know what they did the Sunday after they were finally rid of us all?
They had church.
I obviously wasn’t there, but I imagine that someone played the piano, just like normal, and they sang some hymns about the love of Jesus, just like normal, and someone preached a sermon, just like normal, and someone taught the kids Sunday school, just like normal.
I also imagine that they all sat around and were grateful to have gotten rid of all the people who weren’t OK with them being racist.
I still think about it. You know what kills me the most? There is a black family from southeast Alabama who discovered that they were not welcome in a Christian church because of the color of their skin.
I wonder who they blamed more? The people who did not want them there, or us, for having no idea that we were surrounded by racists?
This was in 1998.
Not 1950. Not 1963. Not 1970.
We have not come as far as we’d like to believe.
I know that you’d say that not all churches are like that, but I would argue that there are still people like that at many churches, as they worship a brown, Middle Eastern man that they wouldn’t like if he were here today.
Out of the millions of things of which I am grateful to my parents, one of them is that they never tolerated racism in their presence from anyone. It made racism a lot easier to recognize.
So, when another boy in fourth grade told me that he wished that white people were still able to own slaves, I knew it was racism. He got it from his grandfather.
When all of the kids also started wearing those popular shirts with the cute puppies wrapped in the Confederate flag that said “these colors don’t run,” I realized that was a form of racism, too. They got it from their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.
Intertwined with the chaos of America’s political system, it admittedly took me longer than it should have to recognize that demanding the first black president to provide us with his birth certificate was racism. We got it from our forefathers.
I talked to a very dear black friend last night. She has two brilliant, black teenage sons. She cries and agonizes over the society they are growing up in, over the dangerous futures that await them.
All black mothers do.
I’ve seen a lot of posts this week saying that not all police officers are bad and not all white people are racists. These posts are certainly right.
But enough of them are that black people in this country live in fear.
And it’s not some made-up racist fear like white people experience. It’s real “I might get shot” fear. It’s “people like me get shot all the time” fear.
It’s my friend crying over her sons’ future fear.
This isn’t about your cousin who is a good cop. It’s also not about how you have black friends.
This is about a societal system that trusts a white face over a black one. That listens to white voices over black voices. That fears black skin over white skin.
That pulls the trigger on black bodies before they can raise both of their hands.
That steals the breath from their lungs while they beg for their lives.
Our old, “we love everyone regardless of their color” rhetoric is not enough. It has never been enough.
The topic of the Sunday school lesson does not have to be “How to be racist” for someone to learn how to be racist. Always having only white people in the room is often enough to do the job.
Tell me, fellow white people: Can you think of anyone that still uses the N-word in private conversation?
You probably didn’t have to think very hard or very long.
Shame on us. Shame on all of us.
Minneapolis may be burning right now, but the truth is, we all deserved to burn long ago.
Maybe the smoke will make it so we can’t breathe either.
Maybe we are going to have to be the ones crying out “I can’t breathe” before we finally get it.
Kris Adams is a husband, father of three, and graduate of Troy University. He lives in Slocomb.