2017 Greatest Hits #3: Prejudice then and now…

(During December we will be reprising some of  “2017’s greatest hits” from the Act Locally Waco blog. I couldn’t possibly pick my favorites – so I used the simple (cop out?)  approach of pulling up the 10 blog posts that got the most “opens” according to our Google Analytics.  It is an intriguing collection that gives at least a little insight into the interests and concerns of Act Locally Waco readers. I hope this “Top 10” idea inspires you to go back and re-read your personal favorites.  There have been so many terrific ones… If you would like to see the Top 10 according to Google Analytics, here’s the link: 2017 Greatest Hits.  Merry Christmas! — ABT) 

by Ashley Bean Thornton

I have a cloudy memory from when I was very young, six or seven years old at the oldest, maybe even as young as four or five. I was born in 1961, so this would have been sometime between 1966 and 1968, I guess.

Some adult in my life, a woman, sat me down and explained to me why, according to the Bible, black people were meant to be subservient to white people.  I don’t remember who gave me this lesson.  I think it was at my grandmother’s house, but I don’t think it was my grandmother.  It might have been an aunt or maybe just one of my grandmother’s friends.  It doesn’t really matter. Plenty of people would have told me the same story.

The explanation had to do with Noah after the flood.  Noah had gotten drunk and was lying naked in his tent.  One of his sons, Ham, saw his father in this sorry state and reported it to his brothers.  When Noah found out about this, he cursed Ham saying that Ham’s offspring should always be slaves to his brother’s children. So, Ham’s children became black people and the brothers’ children became white people and that is why black people were always meant to be subservient to white people.

Nowadays I’m sure every white person I know would cringe at hearing this story.  I imagine most of my friends find it downright offensive.  I hope they do.  It’s a terrible story. I’m ashamed to even tell it.

The reason I am telling it is because I have thought of it often these last few years as I have watched gay people gain more and more rights and have observed the strong resistance to that progress.  I thought of it this morning as I read that two years after the Supreme Court ruled that same sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, gay people still cannot get a courthouse wedding in Waco.

You may be thinking that the woman who sat me down and told me the story of Noah and Ham and black people must have been some kind of mean, ignorant, “white trash,” low-class person.  Even though I can’t remember exactly who she was, I can tell you that was not the case.  Any adult woman I would have met at my grandmother’s house would have been cut from basically the same cloth as my grandmother: hardworking, educated, church-going, white women who had all endured some hard times, and who, despite that, liked to laugh, tell stories, watch Laurence Welk and talk behind each other’s backs about who had the best pound cake recipe.

In other words, I imagine the woman who tried to pass her racial prejudice on to me was a good person by most every measure.   I believe she took the time to make sure a small girl understood the lesson about Noah and Ham because she believed the story was true and that it was right and important to pass it on to me.

In the same way, I think that many people who oppose gay marriage and other gay rights believe very deeply that they are correct in their opposition. They believe God’s word is clear. They believe it viscerally. They feel all the way down to their bones that they are right.

This story from my own childhood reminds me that at one time, not so long ago, many otherwise decent people felt the same way about racial segregation and opposing the civil rights of black people.  You can see it in the angry faces of the white people in the pictures of the mob scenes when schools were being integrated or black people were marching for their rights.  I have heard it in angry words coming out of the mouths of my own family members. These white people who opposed civil rights for black people believed they were right.  Being told they were wrong caused a kind of outrage on two fronts.  On one front, they were outraged because black people were demanding to “rise above their rank” and were “disrupting the natural order of things.”  On the other front, they were outraged because other people, black and white, were judging them for standing up for what they believed was right.

They felt viscerally, to their bones, that they were right.

But, they were wrong.

Thanks to legislated integration, my grandmother, by the time she retired, had taught many African-American second graders and worked with at least a handful of African-American teachers. She realized, at least partly, that she had been wrong about black people. Her attitude changed.  Not as much as it should have, perhaps, but it changed some.  My mother’s attitude has changed even more.  Mine has changed even more.   We’ve changed enough that I feel ashamed of a story that at one time was accepted and defended among my kin as “what the Bible says.”

I believe a generation from now we straight people will feel just as ashamed at having tried to deny gay people the right to marry as we white people feel now at having tried to deny black people the right to vote and to be treated equally and fairly.

I’m not sure what I would have done if I had been born in my grandmother’s generation or my mother’s generation instead of my own.  I don’t know if I would have recognized the way black people were treated as being wrong, or if I would have gone along with the prevailing beliefs of most white people in the South at the time.  But, living here and now, and having learned from that example, I will say that I would be proud for gay people to be able to get married in our courthouse in Waco.  I am sorry that we have not reached that point already. I hope we get there soon.

This Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, she has lived in Waco almost 20 years now.  Far longer than she ever lived anywhere else.  She likes to walk. If you see her out walking, honk and wave and say “hi!” 

 The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.


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