A few weeks ago, I did a video (written narrative only) about my confessions of being a bigot. I posted that on my FB page as well. Some of the people I grew up with were a bit taken back that I would describe our community in NE Tennessee as bigoted. They grew up in the same environment as me and from their perspective, we had no bigoted influences or tendencies, then or now. For me to say that, seemed to them, to be a liberal Pacific Northwestern person (who I am now) disrespecting their cultural roots. They still live in Tennessee.
Okay, maybe I was wrong. Maybe I misinterpreted what I thought were bigoted ways of thinking. I will give a few examples.
My parents (otherwise very good people), my siblings and the kids on my street taught me about Ns (the letter I will use for the “n-word” because that was the ONLY word they used to describe blacks). They were dirty. Dangerous. Ungodly. Will steal or kill at a drop of a hat, and frankly very stupid. Did I mention we were taught that Ns were very afraid of ghosts?
I remember putting a quarter in my mouth about age 6 and people screaming “What if a N had touched that?” I remember asking my adults at that age why are Ns so dirty. “They just are. They are like animals that we took out of Africa. They have never adjusted to a civilized life. They don’t bathe, don’t use toilet paper but wipe with their hands.”
So, I guess I was wrong by my interpretation that this was a bigoted view, after all, I was only 6.
We lived in a small town of 1500 people. It was pure white. The one and only black citizens were there only for one year in 1940. My mother remembered them well. It was a black man and his sister. No one wanted them to move in. There were even discussions about a lynching.
My grandfather and a few of his friends snuck up to the black folk’s shack and stretched a wire around the post of the porch at neck height. They then took one of the black man’s sheep (he had 2 I think), dipped it in kerosene, set it on fire and threw it in the shack’s back door. Then they ran around to the front of the shack and watched the man and his sister run out (when a ball of fire came running through the house late at night) and the wire caught them by the neck. The men laughed their heads off. That story was told to me several times when I was growing up, as a funny story.
There were rumors that this black man was having sex with his sister. So, a group of teenage boys, with the good-ole-Baptists people’s blessing, went up to the “sinners’ shack.” They dragged the man outside. Rather than lynching him, they staked him down to the ground and used sticks to blind him. The man and his sister moved away, back to Kingsport, after that and no black people, until this day, have ever lived in that town again. That part of Kingsport, where the blacks lived, was called N-town (not the letter “N” but the word). That was the ONLY name for that part of town.
The boy who led the high school group that blinded the man, well he became the town sheriff and was the sheriff when I was a kid.
But, again, I may just be reading into things as being racist when those high school boys were just doing “God’s work.”
And speaking of high school, a classmate created the first KKK club at my high school. He applied to be an official club with photos in the yearbook. However, the principal said the liberals down in Nashville would not allow such a club in the state schools. But, they could meet just off campus and the principal said he would give them moral support, just off the record. That man who started the KKK is now a respected businessman and spiritual leader in my small town.
I remember our boy scout leader apologizing to us. We were going to a regional jamboree at the Mountain Home VA Center in Johnson City, Tennessee. We were assigned to camp next to a troop from Johnson City. Our scout leader said that troop had Ns in it. He had to stay in the same barracks as Ns in the army and they stink, he warned us. They never bathe and smell like foul ammonia. He said that our stuff would not be safe in our tents with the Ns camping nearby so we had to lock all our belongings in his car. Just to mention, that was the same car that he used to hide booze and pornography for his favorite 13 year-old-troopers. Those special troopers got to sit in his car with the 40-year-old leader, looking at the porn and drinking booze until the windows were too fogged up to see them. But at least he wasn’t a dirty N (in his thoughts). But I digress.
Oh, did I mention how I heard my mom pray out loud that MLK would be shot, and then he was that night? It is true. But, to show her remorse, she broke down in our kitchen and cried because she felt so guilty.
Did I mention the comments from neighbors about how stupid Pollocks or Hispanics are? I was taught that throughout my school years by teachers. Not to mention how we should nuke the Iranians for taking our people hostage . . . “Kill every one of those brown-skinned bastards,” was what I heard from the adults in my community.
When I became a Christian and was in college, attending a PCA church with great theological certainty, the “N” word was not used as much among my Christian peers, at least not in public. However, they did suggest such things as God, in his sovereignty, created slavery to bring the black people out of the dirty, swampy Africa, to America where they could be civilized and Christianized. That they lived very well under the control of their Christian owners. These PCA friends spoke very highly of the Confederacy. Generals like Lee and Stonewall Jackson were men of God, doing God’s work against the liberals up north. That the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery because most of the black people in the south favored slavery. I sensed no remorse, not guilt by association.
But again, it was just my perspective that they were bigoted. What was I thinking?
The last event that I remember, which I wrongly thought was bigoted, was when I visited my sister’s big, all-white Baptist Church in 1981. The previous day the University of Virginia, with their superstar Ralph Sampson, played in the NCAA final four. The first thing that their pastor said from the pulpit was, “Did you folks see that seven foot four N on TV yesterday? And the liberals argue that ‘coons’ are not closer to apes than us, but they are obvious still apes. That man swung from the rim, like an ape in a tree.” The whole congregation of 400 + people screamed in laugher. I should have walked out in the middle of the service. My family thought I was being ridiculous. However, I didn’t stand up in the middle of the service and scream out, “You people are a pile of bigoted pieces of white shit,” because I was too bigoted myself to realize how serious the offense was.
So, I guess I grew up in a loving, tolerant culture after all and I just misunderstood them. I also must apologize that I misunderstood all those social cues as being racists. Again, what was I thinking? They certainly sound racist to me, but I’m just a Pacific NW liberal snowflake.
One response to “Well, I’ve Been Told I was Not Raised Bigotted.”
Auch … I feel sorry for you Michael. What a place to grow up in! And it must be hard to deal with the cognitive dissonance of people not wanting to remember what really happened or what that meant …