Column 40 Published in the November 8 Warroad Pioneer
We had buried my grandpa earlier in the day and though many of us were emotionally spent, we gathered for living-room conversation of light-hearted fare, marriage, babies, the future.
An old family friend and self-made pastor was commanding the floor in his well-intended, often over-bearing comedic way. With my pregnant cousin and her hubby at the center of it, he steered the conversation from jokes about baby names to having all your babies with the same father to “those women down in the Cities who have 14 children with 14 different men” – his words.
Normally I would find a quick exit at that point. Words such as those collide with all my spinal sensory nerves, make my root chakra wince and then I flee.
But grief does funny things to filters, to nerves, to practiced patterns.
The speaker didn’t falter. “I’m not racist,” he continued loudly to the group, “buuuut…” and then, muting his voice with his hand he said glibly out of the corner of his mouth, “…but they’re almost always black.”
Without raising my voice, I quipped, “Anyone who says “I’m not racist, but…’ is most decidedly racist.” This got a laugh from my sister, who nodded her agreement. The pastor hadn’t heard me, nor, in my cowardice, had I intended him to.
He continued his tiresome schtick, but the group had quietly divided its attention. My uncle sitting near me turned and said in an exasperated tone, “I’d like to see ONE person who’s NOT racist.” We were still speaking quietly at the outskirts of the small circle, lounged comfortably on my grandpa’s worn living room furniture. Everything quickly got very uncomfortable.
It was one of those moments I wish I had practiced for; the kind that afterwards I would relive again and again, perfecting the response in my mind.
Before I could spit something out, he turned even more directly to me and asked, “What? You’re not racist?”
Though my first instinct was to blurt a vehement “No!”, I stuttered for a second, processing thoughts of all the current events and the volatile national conversation on race.
I stopped myself from a simple denial.
Absolute truth seemed infinitely more important in that moment than simply defending my moral character.
When words came, there was no righteous strength behind them. “I know I have been guilty of it,” I said slowly, cautiously. “I mean, I’m sure I’ve done things…but, I don’t think I’m better than anyone.”
My uncle turned back to face the group but he nodded to show that he was listening.
“I don’t think I’m better than anyone because of their ethnicity,” I continued quietly, “or because of where they come from.
“And I don’t think I’m better than anyone because of their sexual preference.”
I added that last part hastily after realizing that several other family members were listening, specifically one who had taken to Facebook referencing scripture in an argument against homosexuality and against marriage equality. (Note – this was all taking place in late fall of 2014, about a year after Minnesota became the 12th state to legalize gay marriage.)
In my typical passive-aggressive way of responding, I had quickly unfriended her. Now, this little verbal jab felt like vindication for having spent so much energy confused about who Christians purport to be and my perceptions of their intolerance for the very people to whom Jesus would have ministered.
The not-racist exchange ended there, and I got up pretending to be concerned about what my toddler was doing elsewhere in the house. In the moment, it had felt egotistically good to finally speak a small piece, but there was no feeling of glee or gloat, just an overwhelming sadness that compounded succinctly with the existing grief.
The thing is, these are not “bad” people, the not-racist pastor nor my extended family. They are hard-working, lower-middle class, Bible-believing people who try to lead good lives and are simply a product of their environment, just like me and just like everyone else.
Perceiving their ignorance only strengthens my own. I must forgive and I must ask for forgiveness.
But, I cannot and will not align myself with the likes of their beliefs, the limitations of their religion, nor their political candidates.
A recent funny but telling social media meme goes, “Another way to look at an election is to see who the Nazi’s and Klansmen support, and then maybe look elsewhere.”
November 8th, the day this paper comes out, is my 41st birthday. November 8th marks eight short month of non-drinking for Tony and me. And, November 8th will tell us if a misogynist or a feminist will take the oval office. Yep, it’ll be a big day in my house.
I grew up telling anyone who would listen that I want to be the first woman president of the United States. At the very least, I’m hoping I get to vote for one.
Back to the not-racist pastor, our old family friend … last week, in a subtly-threatening public post written directly to me on a NW Angle non-profit organization’s Facebook page, he called himself a “representative of God” said he had to love his friends’ kids, and told me I needed to get some help. On a photo of a quilt-raffle, no less.
When my flee impulse resided, I had to laugh. What else can you do?
It was the most bizarre outreach I’ve ever encountered. From a man who used to tease and tug on my baby blonde curls, sing funny songs and make me feel so special. Tony, ever the wise diplomat, said simply, “ignore him.” My decision, which clearly proves why I could never get elected to anything, is to write about it in the paper.
I don’t call myself a Christian, but I do learn from the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Dear one, you interpret your Bible and I’ll interpret mine. You vote your beliefs and I’ll vote mine. We are no different, you and I. We both cling to the beliefs of fear, because that is all beliefs are. Every belief, right down to the big one about a God that exists and resides outside of ourselves, takes us further from being Truth Realized and achieving Christ-consciousness.
Clearly, your Jesus would never send messages over a private email server.
And my Jesus? Well, he would never assault women and call names, build walls and deport immigrants, defraud students and mock POWs, make fun of the handicapped and make money owning casinos and strip joints. Jesus wouldn’t sleep with the wives of other men let alone brag it, and he wouldn’t cheat on his wife. In fact, he might stand beside his spouse through a very public, very difficult time of moral failings, not unlike a certain woman candidate who did just that and for which she is now harshly judged.
There are many more comparisons, but the election is over. My breath is wasted.
You don’t believe you’re racist and you do believe you are a representative of God.
I don’t believe I’m not racist. I don’t believe anything. Or at least I’m getting there.
I just Am.
2 thoughts on ““I’m not racist, but…””
I just cried. Finally.
I didn’t sleep a wink the night of the election.
I’m an import. A naturalized citizen from Canada. I didn’t feel American until 9/11. And now I just want to go home on 11/9.
I’ll never look at people the same way again. I’m now jaded. I’m mourning the last of my innocence at 48 years old.
I will hold tight to my brown granddaughter. The light of my life. And protect her from the America that was there all along…..I just didn’t see it.
I believed. Not any more. Hate won.
Oh Penny. I’m so right there with you. Was trying so hard to “accept what is,” but yesterday the tears came. That’s exactly what it feels like – a loss of innocence – you’re totally right. I’m now working on my next column, not that anything any of us says fucking matters anymore. I’m so disheartened. BUT…the warrior arises. I can feel her stirring like a kept dragon. Time to make some more enemies at the angle and in warroad.