Son of a Bigot
I guess I was simple minded and too child-like to know any better. I was 8 years old when it happened. I did not know what it was called but I knew it was painfully wrong. My little mind did not have a category for this. I did not know where to deposit the event but I have never forgotten.
It was early fall of 1980, I made friends with a black boy my age named Lee. He was tall and skinny and had a natural smile with a chipped front tooth. He was like me in many ways, at least that is what I thought. He came home from school with me one day because I invited him. He was hungry and so I wanted him to eat supper with us. He was excited to come to my house.
However, once we arrived, my father had other plans. My dad told me to come inside so he could talk to me. What I remember my father telling me was that that boy was not welcome at our house. “But he’s my friend and he is hungry.” I did not understand as I questioned my father. My father made it clear, “that nigger boy is not welcome and we are not feeding him any food. Now, you go on and tell your friend to leave.”
I walked out of the house and went and sat under the Deodar Cedar tree in the front yard to hide. I cried as I sat in the cover and safety of the tree with my friend Lee. He asked me what was wrong and I told him as best I could what my daddy had said. Lee put his arm on my shoulder and with that natural broken tooth smile he said, “its alright, I understand. We can still be friends.” We sat there for a while not saying much as the pain sank in. Lee walked to his grandmother’s house a few miles away and I went inside with a great deal of confusion.
I grew up in a church going family. Religion was important and both my parents came from a religious upbringing. I assumed this was “Christianity.” We were living the “American Dream” ideology. Middle-class white family with two nice cars, spacious home, two incomes, three kids, a dog and a cat in a middle-class white neighborhood. We attended an all white church and my parents sang in the choir as we had perfect attendance and dressed the part (However, we were not Christians but a cultural Christian family).
That fall of 1980 was perhaps one of the first of many challenges to every Sunday School lesson I ever heard. Every verbal instruction on Christian faith was contradicted by real life at home. A confession of faith is about as dependable as wind blown grass. Its easy to profess under the right circumstances but when the show is over and the music fades, that is where faith must begin. The divorce of my parents a few years later marred this truth for me and sent my family spiraling down into hopelessness, shame, and rejection. How do you make sense of any of this? What will become of us now? Hell seemed closer than heaven. And I learned why people value dogs and cats more than humans.