After my moment of enlightenment in Chicago I searched for books about race. I’m thankful I eventually found the book, Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball. This wonderful journalist had the courage to tell the truth about his family’s relationship with the slaves they owned on South Carolina plantations. His quiet, terrible truth revolved around the fact that the white Balls and the black Balls were related. Ball’s writing introduced me to “step aside” children, the people who were the product of a white male and a black female. Many of these children grew up along side their white brothers and sisters, but were never recognized as family, just slaves and the descendants of slaves. “That’s just messed up!” I said to myself as I read through this book for the first time. For many people, the dysfunction of this arrangement must run deeply through subsequent generations. I never considered this truth. My conservative upbringing in church and church school protected me from these harsh realities. Also, my history classes never illuminated these important facts. How naive I was to never see this “indulgence” as part of slave-owning!
Aside from reading materials, I also decided to seek out experiences that would allow me to connect with people of color. My life seemed to be isolated from them. As a southerner raised during the Civil Rights era, almost everything in my life was engineered to separate me from black people, rather than build intentional community with them. I decided to research and then visit businesses that were owned by people of color. Of course, being the chow hound I was, I decided to seek out restaurants. As it turns out, only six blocks off my favorite road to the mall was an African-American community. “How could I live in this area for years and not know about this community?” I asked myself. In this community was a small BBQ restaurant. Immediately, I felt out of place as I walked into this restaurant for the first time. But the owner was a kind and friendly older gentleman who welcomed me. I tried the BBQ beef ribs with a side of homemade hot sauce. After two bites my eyes rolled back into my head and I was transported. Delicious! One day when I was at the restaurant gnawing on rib bones, the owner asked me a question. I don’t remember what we were discussing, but my answer to him was, “yes, Sir.” This response was automatic. It reflected my upbringing in Southern civility. The restaurant owner looked at me with sympathy and said the following. “Honey, you don’t have to say ‘Sir’ to me. I was forced to say that in years past. No one has to say that anymore.” I swallowed hard. I didn’t know what to say, or if I said anything at all. I wanted to tell him how sorry I was, and how I wanted to understand so I could live a more loving life. I didn’t have the confidence or the words. I just kept gnawing on those delicious bones.
MY POINT: Our history related to race is sad, tragic, and dysfunctional. We have a great deal of loving and healing to do.