I might be a rarity in Bluffton; both sides of my family are from South Carolina. My parents met while my dad was attending Clemson and my mom, Furman.
Besides living in Germany while my dad served in the military, I have lived in Tennessee, Mississippi and North Carolina, plus four years in Scotland. My only distinct memory around race was when we moved back to South Carolina mid-year of sixth grade, and I was to have a Black male teacher.
I remember wondering what that would be like. He was a good teacher. I went on to junior high and high school in fully integrated schools, of course. I don’t remember thinking of race as an issue, as I had Black friends in my classes, with whom I played sports.
I attended Furman and didn’t have cause to consider race again until I was working at a bank in downtown Atlanta and became friends with a Black woman who had been working in the Trust Department for years. She had a great sense of humor and was kind and helpful to me while I was on a management training course.
We did some social things outside of work and I remember having conversations in which she politely let me know that some of my assumptions about what she might feel were wrong. She opened my eyes to the racism she had experienced.
It was surprising. It was uncomfortable. It was the beginning of my recognition that I can’t possibly know the experience of others.
In seminary one year, some heated intramural basketball games led to accusations of racism and an outside referee had to be hired. I was disappointed that even those going into ministry, like me, had not or could not work through their own prejudices.
Growing up in church with parents actively involved, I never saw either parent treat any Black person unkindly or disrespectfully. Asking my mother recently about the messages she heard about race growing up, she said she was taught always to be kind, but she hated to admit, conveyed to her was a sense in which Black people were lessor.
I don’t think that crept into me, but I’ve done enough reflection to know that just because I don’t think I am a racist, doesn’t mean I am not. So many values and assumptions get embedded within us that until something or someone brings it to light, we are often unaware.
About 20 members in our church have begun reading “The Other Wes Moore,” a memoir based on a true story. I hope the book will raise awareness for all of us about the experience of others and how environment, poverty, class, lack of education, race and family instability all factor into the options and choices people make.
I hope we will also become aware of the assumptions and judgements we make. We all have biases, no matter our race or background. Our commitment as people of faith, charged to love neighbor as self, compels us to uncover them and realize how they harm others.
We all must work on the plank in our own eye before we judge the speck in someone else’s.
By the way, this isn’t my idea; it came from Jesus. (Matthew 7:3-5)
Rev. Christine Herrin is the senior pastor at Lowcountry Presbyterian Church in Bluffton.