Did you ever have a situation where you knew you were supposed to do something, but you really didn’t want to? Have you felt God impressing up on your heart to take a certain action, but instead of obeying you argued with God about it? Or worse, you did something else instead and pretended it was the same as obedience?
Two weeks ago I did just that. I had an idea for a blog post or article—a confession of sorts—and I knew it was an idea from God. I did not want to write it. I feared negative backlash. It involved a story that, once told, I could never untell.
So I wrote a different blog post titled No More Denial.
I wrote it, I posted it, and I called it good.
That post—though on the topic of racism and not at all a bad post—got very little traction. At a time when such posts ought to go viral, it didn’t get even 40 views and three likes. It didn’t really fit the bill of my claim that I write “candid memoir.”
On a recent walk I was pondering another article I want to write, but I couldn’t stay focused on it. God reminded me I still hadn’t written the post He wanted me to write. At some point you have to stop arguing with God. So here it is.
A Little Background
The year was 1982, my freshman year at Whitman College. I lived on the first floor of a co-ed dorm. Whitman College is a prestigious school, often referred to as a liberal arts college in the New England tradition.
It was a challenging year for me. Not academically, but socially and emotionally.
I was thrilled to be away from my hometown, where I had endured too much trauma in the four long years of high school.* But leaving that town meant leaving the guy I loved and any hope we would get back together. I thought I would marry him but he dumped me right before prom senior year. I was in no frame of mind to be dating anyone new.
None of that is an excuse for what I did. But people aren’t one-dimensional and sometimes reasons are relevant for understanding.
There was this nice black guy who lived in another wing of my dorm. He was actually kind of cute too. One day he asked me if I would go out on a date with him. Nothing serious, just a date.
I could so easily have said I wasn’t ready to date because of my recent break-up. Why I chose not to go that route I can’t say. Instead I said, “I’m sorry, I can’t. If I went out with a black guy my dad would kill me.”
There was some truth to the assertion that my dad would not have liked me dating him, but knowing my dad would not approve hadn’t ever stopped me from doing something I wanted to do before.
A Little about My Dad
You might be wondering why I would think my dad would disapprove. To answer that requires telling another story I’d rather not commit to paper. Especially since my dad is no longer alive to defend himself or apologize and recognize that what he did was unkind.
My fear of cancel culture, of being shamed because of something my dad said almost 50 years ago or something I said as a naive 18-year-old, is high. I press on not in spite of, but perhaps because of, that fear.
Again, people aren’t one-dimensional. My dad was many things—good family provider, loving father and husband, hard and honest auto mechanic, friendly and outgoing person, WW II Merchant Marine—but that doesn’t mean he was perfect.
The year was 1972 or 1973. I was 8 or 9, the perfect age to love a day at Magic Mountain amusement park. My mom, dad, sister Berta, and I were having a great time. The sun was shining and the rides were a blast.
We were standing in one of those never-ending lines that switch back and forth, and I was excited for the next ride. A young black man appeared to cut the line to join his friends or family the next row over. My dad called him out for taking cuts, saying “What do you think you’re doing, boy?”
“Who are you calling boy?” he replied.
That’s when my dad said something I’ll never forget and would rather not write down: “Well when you act like a n***** you get treated like a n*****.”
My heart raced with fear. It’s almost as if time froze right there because I don’t remember what happened next. I think we all just stayed where we were in line and got on the ride. But I wonder now what impact that encounter had on the man and his friends or family.
Trying to Understand and Make Amends
I love my dad and he had many wonderful qualities. But he wasn’t perfect. None of us are, we are all shades of gray, good but with flaws. Somewhere in his Ohio upbringing my dad learned this attitude toward black people. The Magic Mountain incident revealed it to me and made me not want to be that way.
When I told my fellow Whitman student who asked me out that my dad wouldn’t approve because he was black, that likely was true. But it wasn’t kind. I used the easy excuse, making my dad the fall guy, instead of just being honest and saying I wasn’t ready to date anyone.
I don’t remember the young man’s name, but I owe him an apology. I would like to tell him I’m sorry for making him feel less than because of the color of his skin.
Less than acceptable to a white girl’s dad.
Less than important enough to be trusted with the truth.
Less than worthy of an honest answer.
Less than worthy of even having his name remembered all these years later.
Lessons Learned and Why I Wrote This
It’s quite easy to point fingers when it comes to the issue of racism. But pointing fingers, especially into the past and at those who can’t join the conversation, doesn’t promote healing and reconciliation. It doesn’t foster change.
So instead, I’m looking in the mirror and relying on the Holy Spirit to reveal any problems in my own heart. If everyone did that, the world would be a better place.
*For a little background on what high school was like for me, check out these blog posts: