I was born in Jackson, Mississippi…in 1964, and we lived there until early 1972. If ever there were a place considered a “hotbed of racism”, it was Jackson in the 60s. We had a maid for a time whose name was Annie Grace. We were by no means rich, but maids were fairly common among middle to upper class whites in the Deep South. Our neighbors the Letherwoods also had a maid named Jesse who as far as I can remember was full-time. Annie Grace and Jesse strolled the neighborhood with baby Roger and my infant neighbor Linda. What a fascinating world.
I went to first grade shortly after integration. My best friend in school was a black kid named Kenneth. Mom and Dad told me it was okay to have a “negro” friend, “just don’t bring him home.” I guess it was okay to have a “colored person” in the home to serve, but not okay to have him visit as an equal. My folks came to Christ later in life and regretted that comment, among others, I’m sure, and yet they were a product of their culture.
We rented The Help over Christmas break; I had read the book a year ago, and though it was definitely chick-lit, it got great reviews on Audible (three different excellent narrators), and so I decided to pick it up. The reviews were well-founded.
If you don’t know, The Help is the story of two black maids and their contemporaries in 1960s Jackson, and a recent white college graduate who tries to write a book from their perspective. Movies are often a let-down after reading the book, but this film was directed by the author’s good friend whom she grew up with in Jackson, and the Knowltons gave it 4 stars.
Reading the book and seeing the movie, I found myself wondering what it was that caused the people of Mississippi (and much of the rest of white America, for that matter) to be racist to one degree or another in those days. And more than that, why do we see so clearly the evils of racism now, here in Midwest America in 2012, when it wasn’t so clear to my folks – good decent people – in 1960’s Mississippi.
More than that, if the mass of people were so clearly confused in Jackson, Mississippi 50 years ago, what gives us reason to think that we have everything all figured out in our culture today? Racism seems downright foolish today, but how does our culture think and act today that will seem downright foolish 50 years from now? Or maybe not…that is, perhaps our culture will never collectively see the error of its ways, but the One with infinite wisdom will.
Either way, one thing is certain, surely many people in our culture are confused about life and morality – I’m reminded of the words of the LORD through His prophet Jeremiah:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV)
What is the answer? What will protect us from such wrongheadedness? I can think of only one surefire solution. The Apostle Paul wrote the church at Rome:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2 (ESV)
It seems that a renewed mind, formed or reformed by the Word of God is our only hope. You may counter that racism reached its zenith in the Bible belt, and I will give you that – even Christians (or those who consider themselves Christians) can be quite fooled – but anti-slavery and the civil rights movement were themselves generally Christian in nature. Jesus is the One Who fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy and came “to set the prisoners free.”
So in 2012, pray for clarity, don’t accept what the culture is saying at face value, and above all, submit your mind to God’s Holy word.
Maybe Peter Townshend said it best…
“I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
Don’t get fooled again”