My name is Tuck Taylor, and I am a racist. I do not want to be and I have often denied this to myself, and especially to others. I grew up in rural North Carolina, a white, middle-class, educated, child of the south. My kindergarten class (1969) was the first integrated class in our public school to put grades K-12 together—black and white. My seat in kindergarten was between two black boys, Johnny and Anthony. We came to have a good friendship that spanned years. My pro-civil rights parents taught me early not to say the “n” word. They wept at the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We had black friends. I held a winning hand of the “I’m not racist” cards. It was easy for me to deny my racism.
Denying, however, did not make my claim true. As I said above, I am a child of the south. The subtle, not so subtle, and always pervasive messages of who is superior and who is inferior, who is smart and who is not, who is dangerous and who is not, has infected us all.
The realization of my racism has been gradual and continues to unfold. I cannot point to a particular moment when this truth hit me. It has been a revelation that has come primarily through conversation with blacks and whites willing to tell their stories of pain, frustration, anger and hope. Some of these conversations have been in formal settings, some informal. All have been conversations marked by openness, honesty, pain, and soul-bearing. I am a racist in recovery, trying to let go of the guilt, and recognizing that I am injured. Every white child raised in the south, I daresay in this country, has been injured by the lies of superiority that have fed us every moment of our lives.
As we journey towards the cross this Lenten season, I’m reminded of James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree. The lynching tree, like the cross, is a symbol of violence and death by the state against the unarmed and wrongfully convicted. We have new forms of lynching now; the unarmed and wrongfully convicted continue to be killed, and the silence of the church is reminiscent of the silence of the church during the days of Jim Crow lynchings, as well as reminiscent of the religious authorities who cried, “Crucify him.”
During this Lenten season, may we recognize and repent of our corporate and individual racism as well as our complicity in supporting and benefiting from systems of injustice and racism. And may the church join as one in declaring that black lives do matter and in working to change systems of oppression that push people, especially people of color, towards death. For we are called to stand up to the forces of death in the name of the Lord of Life. May it be so.