On being called a racist

Father David Epps's picture

Recently, someone suggested that I was a racist. The charge came, of course, from someone I do not know, who disagreed with something I said in an article, and who sent a comment to the newspaper anonymously.

I am a child of the South. I remember the segregated school systems, separate water fountains, separate entrances at the movie theater, and the segregated seating on public transportation. I also remember our high school being integrated in the fall of 1966 and black and whites playing on the same sports teams for the first time in history. So I know something about the way things used to be.

I turned 59 a few weeks ago and this was the first time in my life anyone ever insinuated that I was a racist. At first I was amused. Then I was sorrowful — not that an anonymous person who refused to sign their name would express such an opinion — but that such a damnable charge can be leveled against anyone for any reason without any substantiation.

One of the black football players who became part of the Dobyns-Bennett High School football team was named “Freeman.” I once asked him why he was named “Freeman.” He said, “If you don’t know, you probably wouldn’t understand.”

He was right. I didn’t — at that time anyway. Black history was not routinely taught except for notables like George Washington Carver and Frederick Douglass.

I wouldn’t know until much later that the first casualty of the Revolutionary War was an escaped slave who died fighting for the nation’s independence. I wouldn’t really begin to understand until the marches in Selma, Birmingham, and in other places were televised and we could see for ourselves the treatment the marchers received — dogs being set on peaceful marchers, women and children being blown down by powerful fire hoses, grandmothers being clubbed by white police officers — it was there for all to see.

I remember hearing the “I Have a Dream” speech and being moved by the passion and the powerful words. And when Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered in my own state of Tennessee, something changed in nearly every person I knew. We knew racism was not confined to the pre-Civil War days and that it was ugly, unrighteous, and unacceptable. We could see it on television and that helped us to see it in more subtle ways in our own communities ...and in our own hearts.

A few years ago when I served as a hospice chaplain, I visited with a black woman in her 80s. Over the course of the next few months, she told me about her life. Without any anger or rancor, she shared about long-ago days of being on the receiving end of bigotry in Coweta County. How blacks had to walk to school because the buses were for the white kids, how black children would be spanked if caught playing with their white friends, and how white girls would be referred to as “Miss Julia” while black girls were just “Julia.” How white youths who turned 18 would be “Mr. Smith” and black men, even elderly men, would be called by their first name — even by white children. And worse, much worse.

One day, grieving for her in my heart, I said to her, “Mrs. Smith,” (not her real name) “I am so, so sorry.”

Surprised, she said, “Why, son, there’s nothing to be sorry for! You didn’t do anything. Besides, folks just didn’t know any better back then.” Then smiling, she added, “And, Lord knows, it’s much, much better now!”

Yes, it is. Even I know that. Perhaps, that’s why I was so saddened when this blog writer threw out such an accusation. Only those who know me and know my heart, especially those who are “of color,” can judge whether the charge has any validity.

But to blithely and ignorantly call someone a racist because they simply don’t agree with some political or social view is to demean all those who truly suffered under the cruel hand of oppressive segregation and overt bigotry. It is to deny the gains that have been made and the high price that has been paid by so many. It is to fail to recognize that men and women, of all races, have risked their lives and livelihoods to crush the evil of inequality.

May God grant that the evil of racism — in every heart, regardless of color — be so stamped out so that when we see each other we fail to even notice the color of their skin.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctkcec.org.) 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277, between Peachtree City and Newnan. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. He is also the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org). He may be contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.]

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The Wedge's picture
Submitted by The Wedge on Sat, 02/06/2010 - 4:51pm.

Most know of this specious statement--that more women get abused on Super Bowl sunday than any other sunday during the year. It is a completely bogus claim that was repeated so frequently that even news reporters would cite it in their stories around that time. Look it up in Snopes. The point is that if you repeat a lie often enough it gains the veneer of truth and respectability. Lies should be dealt with quickly and with force. A pastor cannot be thought of in this way. It is right to fight for your reputation. I do not fault Epps at all.
And remember- lies are easy to make up. Lies such as a poster is on the sexual predator list or that others are criminals. Words mean things, though

Submitted by PTC Observer on Sat, 02/06/2010 - 3:26pm.

The pastor doth protest too much, methinks.

Certainly you above all other professions realize that people are empowered by calling other people names. The more we react to these “victims” the more empowered they become. Only you know what you are, no one else can disarm you without evidence to the contrary. For something to be true, it must be observable. Even God is observable in our lives. If you are a racist then others will see you for what you are because they can observe it.

Our society has been so sensitized to being politically correct that even the most minor slip of the tongue may bring retribution, we have become a country of tails wagging the dogs. It's time to call a halt to it.

My guidance to you is for you to stop protecting your honor with silly columns; your character is seen in everything you do. You are the man we see and your heart is revealed through your actions. Don’t protest too much.

From a Buddhist admirer

Submitted by blowback on Sat, 02/06/2010 - 4:01pm.

Im a what you would call a yankee, even if from the Oregon Territory. In the late 60's up there it was end the war. Race was not as big an issue as the rebs have it. It is 2010 but still racism rules some. How much money is wasted on crimals that spout hate. Would you smile with a weapon behind your back just to use it on your neighbor of a different race. Is a war to break out?

dawn69's picture
Submitted by dawn69 on Sat, 02/06/2010 - 10:48pm.

I remember when I was young, asking my mom why God made me white and not black. When she inquired why I would ask such a question, I remember saying that it wasn't fair that some get treated better than others because they're white and why had I been so blessed. I imagine that the thought struck me because on some level, I understood that there was a real difference in the treatment of people. That was in the '70s.

Before moving to Riverdale in 1981, we lived off Stewart Avenue (now called Metropolitan Ave) in Hapeville. I remember very well hearing the "grown ups" talking about all the murdered children in Atlanta and remember knowing that there was a growing racial tension in the city. I remember when the two Atlanta disc jockies, Ross and Wilson, were fired for making cruel and inappropriate comments when another dead black boy had been found. The situation was horrible and frightening for the black community. It is unthinkable that anyone would be so filled with hate that they could murder an innocent child, the love of some mothers life.

In the end, to put an end to the turmoil, an innocent Wayne Williams was sent to prison. He was only charged with two of the murders and evidence against him was shitty at best. Justice was never served in then.

Sir, if we avoided a race war in Atlanta, after all that sorrow and injustice, I doubt that such a thing looms in the balance for us now. We've come along way since then - all of us have.

"The most beautiful things in life cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart." - Helen Keller

Submitted by Davids mom on Mon, 02/08/2010 - 3:33pm.

People demonstrate what they understand or believe. Racism covers such a broad spectrum - that it is difficult to know when and where it will raise its ugly head. To those who have given it some thought and observed it in themselves and others - it is obvious that choices can be made to overcome the ugliness of racism - or add to its ugliness. The choice is up to each individual - and the ugliness is an equal opportunity 'employer' - ugliness comes in all colors. There are many people participating in this blog who cringe at being called a 'racist'. I, for one, believe that most Americans have been exposed to racism. How we handle it regarding ourselves and others is an individual choice. We would all do better if we knew better. . . .and learning is a lifelong activity. Rev. Epps can make/has made the choice on how he'll handle being called a 'racist'. I applaud him.

hutch866's picture
Submitted by hutch866 on Sat, 02/06/2010 - 10:55pm.

In Atlanta it's called Metropolitan, in Hapeville it's called Dogwood.

I yam what I yam....Popeye

dawn69's picture
Submitted by dawn69 on Sun, 02/07/2010 - 12:57am.

We lived on Lake Drive, off Stewart Avenue. Lake Drive was down at the south end of Stewart close to the old airport. Do you remember the area? Thomas' Restaurant was our favorite little breakfast spot, that and the Old Hickory House across from the Colonial Inn. My mother and I used to walk to the Quick Pick at the corner of Stewart and Lake Dr. I always get a kick out of telling people that I used to "walk Stewart Avenue". Smiling

"The most beautiful things in life cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart." - Helen Keller

Submitted by jevank on Fri, 02/05/2010 - 5:20pm.

So much for turning the other cheek. It's just a blog, we all have our opinions on your articles. I assure you, one blogger can't change our opinions so easily.

I will remain anonymous also, Mr. Epps.

Submitted by idk_revisited on Sat, 02/06/2010 - 8:06am.

Attitudes like this one are the fundamental problem with our society as it stands today - no accountability or responsibility for statements made.

People feel as if they have insulation through anonymity, and, unfortunately for the most part, they do.

Discussing topics and having opinions is one thing, but making character judgments on an individual without fully knowing the person and posting them online for all to see, is damaging to people.

If I were to call someone a racist to their face in a public place, loud enough for someone else to hear me, couldn't you imagine the awkwardness that would be felt? I guess what becomes difficult to fathom is by posting these words online, it's worse than saying it someone's face - it's spraypainting it up like graffiti that can't be erased.

Issue-focused debates without personal attacks are fine. But when we call our elected officials corrupt, mentally-disturbed people...when we lump government employees as incompetent, lazy buffoons...when we take to task columnists as morons or racists, we're leaving the issue and attacking the person, and that shouldn't be acceptable anymore.

Have we lost all tact in this world because we now have a medium to let our voices be immediately heard? When others attack people (not ideas) and then say, hey, I was just kidding or, hey, it's just a blog, how do we know that? Every joke has a little bit of truth in it.

In the end, it makes all of us look foolish. If people want to make assertions, base them in fact and substantiate them with evidence. Otherwise, stop auditioning to become the next "talking head".

As a world, we need to take a breath and remember that what we do matters to others, good or bad.

And, yes, I'm anonymous too, because I can be. That doesn't give me the right to be an oaf - I have to remind myself of that when I get "caught up in it".

Let's try working on being better people and focusing on issues, not personalities.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go back to watching Jersey Shore Eye-wink

Submitted by jevank on Sat, 02/06/2010 - 9:03am.

Wow! You should run for president. You have it all figured out, id.
I still say it's just a blog. If you give it more credence than that, then it is your problem.

I agree that some bloggers get out of hand, but give us a little credit for disregarding the statements that go againsts our morals and values.

Main Stream's picture
Submitted by Main Stream on Fri, 02/05/2010 - 11:48pm.

I believe Epps was referring to the comment made by lion regarding his "Revolution in Massachusetts" blog.

I didn't refer to Epps as a racist but I did call him out for not telling the truth to that Haitian waitress...the truth being that a god, or devil, did not cause the earthquake in Haiti.

Submitted by jevank on Sat, 02/06/2010 - 8:52am.

I was wondering. I think if he's going to write an article every time he is insulted, then he is going to be very busy.

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