When racism hides

This story happened a year ago. I wasn’t sure when to tell it. Maybe now still isn’t right.

But here goes anyway.

Storms had been predicted all day. Everyone was still on edge from the huge tornado outbreak in Alabama on April 27, 2011, that had taken so many lives and caused so much damage.

Tornadoes did come again. On April 28, 2014, several mobile home parks were totally destroyed and multiple neighborhoods and businesses took severe hits.

tornado-newspaper

Our local volunteer clean-up groups (Keep Volunteering and PAR) begin meeting in the community often to saw trees off houses, to salvage personal belongings among neighbors, and to generally be a presence of hope and help in the community.

tornado-damage

But we weren’t alone. People from all over also came to help. From other places in Alabama and the south. And from places far from here. One such group had several members from Minnesota, many who had never been to Alabama before and only knew it by reputation.

What kind of reputation did Alabama have to them in 2014?
We wanted it to be good, even if it hadn’t been before.

helpers

But on this hot day in May gathered around the rubble, everything changed.

Not just for them. But also for me.

The ladies I was working beside had strong northern accents. They were complimentary of the families here who had been housing them during their stay in Alabama. They had been diligent workers and had made a great reputation themselves among those of us working alongside them.

On this day, we had difficult emotional work to do. Going through an old barn on an elderly family’s property, we were deciding what could be saved several days after the tornado and what needed to be thrown away.

you-mean-so-much

There were several Bibles in the barn. They were in awful condition after being rained on and scrambled in a tornado. I flipped through the first pages for any special dedications or notes. Nothing. No special pictures tucked inside. They were ready to be disposed of.

We had a large bonfire that morning for any trash that could be safely burned. I didn’t want to throw a Bible into a fire. But I didn’t like throwing it in a garbage pile either.

But there was more.

As things were dragged out of the barn and as the men began tearing down its walls, we saw something fluttering in the breeze from inside it. A flag was hung on a nail. It looked to still be in good shape. Maybe we could get it out.

I was trying to guess what SEC school it could be from. The colors weren’t either the recognizable orange and blue of Auburn University nor red and white of the University of Alabama.

There was a letter K. Kentucky maybe? But no, the colors were wrong.

Then we spotted a second K on the flag. A sick feeling started growing in my stomach.

Then a third. My heart sank. No! I didn’t want the ladies from Minnesota to see this because I didn’t want it to be true at all.

They asked if these kind of things were still common down here, these signs of racial bigotry. They were assuming yes. I immediately said no. Yes, racism still exists—anyone who denies it is simply unaware. But these physical reminders of it aren’t usually so obvious.

I told them this job was mine. I wanted to be the one to take this flag to the fire. On behalf of my own African-American friends whom I love so dearly. On behalf of those I don’t know who have been mistreated through the years. On behalf of all of us who want racism to disappear forever and ever.

I tried not to cry. But I couldn’t help it. One of the women said we needed to pray. We wrapped arms and talked to God about this infestation we’d uncovered.

I knew the flag story would be retold to their friends up north as something they found in Alabama. But I wanted them to know this flag didn’t represent all of us.

In the end though, I realized it doesn’t matter so much how we looked to them; what matters is how we are.

Looking good isn’t enough; we need to be good.

Storms will come again. We know this. But through them, may our eyes be opened to what needs to be thrown away and what needs to repaired. May neighbors come together from far and wide to work side by side for restoration. And may we keep growing in positive directions to become better people this year than we were last year.

* * *

Where do you still see racism hiding? Please share in the comments.

42 thoughts on “When racism hides

  1. blankBill (cycelguy)

    Powerful story Lisa. I agree with Linda…this story needed to be told. I grew up near Pittsburgh and the racism wasn’t just in the south. I now live in Indiana and again, racism isn’t just in the south. The area I live in used to be a hotbed for the “K.” For the most part, it is gone, and with all that is within me I will continue making sure it stays away. Blessings to you for sharing this story. We all need our eyes opened. (Also makes a mockery of those Bibles you found.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I know; it’s kind of ironic that we found the Bibles the same day. You’re right that racism is everywhere. Wherever there are two people who are different in any way (which is everywhere), we can have prejudice. So hard to overcome, but we can definitely do better.

  2. blankKaren Brown

    Lisa- Thank you for sharing this. The only way to get rid of evil is to bring it out in the open. You shared this story so beautifully- I felt as if I was there with you. This line left my head nodding and my soul cheering: “But I wanted them to know this flag didn’t represent all of us.” Amen! Great post!

  3. blankDebbie

    Lisa, yes this story needed to be told! I can’t even imagine what I would have done in that situation. Sounds like it went well. Burn it and pray. I’m in NC and I’m sure there are a few “K” flags still here, but I pray racism will rear it’s ugly head a little less each day. Thank you for sharing…

  4. blankfloyd

    My heart winces at things like this. To see the enemy use our Father’s gifts to each of us in our senses deeply saddens me and reminds me of the fallen world in which we live.

    Growing up in southern California in the late sixties, I can relate first hand to effects of racism for everyone. But pride and insecurity is what fuels that fire, humility is God’s extinguisher. Sharing the story is sharing your love, that’s what’s inside the extinguisher and it’s more powerful than anything else our Father created.

    Thanks for telling the story, Lisa. Your heart is the kind that God uses to change others.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I love this, Floyd:
      “But pride and insecurity is what fuels that fire, humility is God’s extinguisher.”
      So yes, I pray for more humility, less fear. Thanks, brother.

  5. blankCeil

    Hi Lisa! Oh my…I was right there with you as you found each ‘K’. In the middle of such love and giving, you find an icon of hate and ignorance. Who wouldn’t have cried? What glaring opposites.

    I’m so glad you were able answer with a definite ‘no’ when the others asked if the signs of bigotry were still in great numbers. What a great comfort that must have been, even though you were so hurt and rocked to the core by the flag. I do think it’s possible that people move on from such ways of thinking. My prayer is that the owners of the flag just forgot they had it, and they don’t feel that way anymore.

    May God continue to pour His grace on us, changing our hearts and minds to love his children more and more each day. No matter where they live, or the color of their skin.
    Blessings,
    Ceil

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I did wonder about the owners too, Ceil. And did the neighbors know? Did it even belong to the owners of the nearby house? How old was it and where did it come from? Answers I will never know here. I join you in praying that whoever it originated with, no longer feels the same way.

  6. blankAlecia Simersky

    Yes. So glad you told your story. It makes me sick and sad that people hold on to those kind of ideals. Living in Alabama too I see it and hear it. It’s subtle but still there.

    Oh, and on a brighter note…love your hat!! WAR EAGLE!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Sometimes I wonder if the subtlety makes it even harder to erase. When it’s open and blatant, people rise against it. But in more hidden ways, it can go on and on. 🙁

      War Eagle to you too, friend!

  7. blankCheryl Smith

    I can only imagine how awful it must have felt to discover this. Oh, it is so heartbreaking to think of the torment these dear people went through! How a heart could hold so much hatred and mean-spiritedness toward another is hard for me to comprehend. Only God knows the depths of human suffering, and one day, He will wipe all tears from our eyes. Thank you for being courageous enough to share this enlightening post. May God heal every broken heart.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Cheryl. There was definitely so much loss and brokenness in the areas where the tornadoes hit the hardest. I wondered if the owners of that flag (if they were even still around) felt that brokenness in more ways than one by seeing so many different people coming to help clean up, white and black together.

  8. blankTrudy

    Oh Lisa, this brought tears to my eyes. Such a powerful story that certainly needs to be told. Thank you for your tender, loving heart. In God’s eyes we are all the same.

  9. blankSharon

    It’s hard to even comment – but this is an issue that must be discussed – and so I’m very glad that you told this story. How very sad, though. You know, my husband and I were just talking the other night about how much hatred there is in the world – and how foolish it is. Somehow we forget that we are all the same – all needing Jesus, all needing His salvation. May we not only be partakers of His grace, but vessels that carry it to others.

    GOD BLESS.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Yes, I wish there wasn’t so much hatred in the world. Sometimes it seems to rear its head in such obvious ways; other times it goes undetected until a storm blows it up again. We definitely do all need Jesus. Love this, Sharon: “May we not only be partakers of His grace, but vessels that carry it to others.”

  10. blankValerie Sisco

    Lisa,
    I think it’s wonderful how you handled this discovery and I’m so glad you shared the story! Your heart to help not only took on the hard physical work of storm clean-up but you were able to clear out old barriers and harmful thought processes to bring attention to this topic through your insightful words. So glad you did!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I appreciate your encouraging words here, Valerie. Yes, the storm clean-up was grueling not only physically but also emotionally. God is always at work in everything; I’m so grateful.

  11. blankTiffany

    Powerful story, Lisa. I could feel the emotion of you carrying those flags to the fire. And this – “looking good isn’t enough.” Isn’t that so true of our faith – we can pretend we’re good while we hide under sin, and hurt, and the mess of this fallen world – filled with fallen people who one day will have to answer for the flags they fly. God wants us saved – and He’s the only one that can do that saving – the only thing that ever makes us good.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Nice words of wisdom, Tiffany. We all have flags we fly, some good, some bad, some public, some hidden. But God sees through them all straight to our hearts, and transforms us from there outward. His grace is amazing.

  12. blankMarissa

    Lisa, what a powerful experience. I grew up in a completely mixed neighborhood, color of skin didn’t seem any different than color of hair, we were all full of shades, and no one cared. College changed me as I saw not everyone grew up seeing people as people, some saw the colors and nothing else. It’s hard to see and to find a way to straddle the divide, especially when the divide is so unnecessary.

    I was your link neighbor in Thought Provoking Thursday, and so glad I got to see your story. Thank you

    Marissa

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I appreciate you sharing your experience, Marissa. You probably didn’t realize it at the time but growing up in a multi-shade neighborhood was such a great blessing to form your mind early on to not be prejudiced. You have a special voice now to speak into our lives from that beginning. Thanks for using it here.

  13. blank~ linda

    Oh my! I finished reading “Just Mercy” about a week and a half ago and now my husband is reading it. We are talking about the way of things and are appalled. To find that flag and then to burn it says so much of the way we need to be and to honor those whom we know with dark skin. That is the only difference. I taught in the DC public schools in the SE section. It was the BEST teaching job I have ever had. The children don’t always see color. One child saw the red on my cheeks from a slight sunburn from a festival on the Mall. She said, Ms. R…, you light-skinned and red-skinned too.” The “light-skinned” was seeing me as a light-skinned African American…not a Caucasian. When I taught in CA, I introduced a friend to my class of first graders. L… was Black and a child asked if we were sisters. Oh, that we could keep such innocence and not see skin color. We are humans and many sisters and brothers in the Lord.
    I want this world to not be racist. I pray that. One day…Jesus reigns.
    Thank you for recommending “Just Mercy” as it is one of the most powerful books I have read in years. I pray for Mr. Stevenson and his many co-workers. They are defending so many and they each and all need the kind of love and help he is able to give.
    Caring through Christ, ~ linda

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Oh, I love hearing these stories, Linda. Now that my daughter has graduated from Auburn, she’s looking for a teaching job. Her dream job is to work in a school with high-need kids. It sounds like your experience in DC was a positive one. That encourages me for her.

      I’m so glad you felt the same reaction I did to reading “Just Mercy.” I still feel moved by the things he shared and I look at life a little differently now. Because Bryan Stevenson is based in Alabama (my state), I keep thinking there will be some way to integrate his message into circumstances around me. Having to leave that in God’s hands.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      You’re definitely right that this problem is one for God to handle on the grand scale. We’re just to be accountable for the situations and people that we encounter each in our own circles and in ways those circles ripple out into the larger world. I really appreciated too that Darlene was so quick to say let’s pray. I was doing it in my mind, but it needed to be verbally spoken aloud over that area. Even though I barely knew the ladies that were volunteering that week, I feel we have this bond now that goes deep.

  14. blankBeverley

    I would like to say i wasn’t racist, but that probably wouldn’t be true, but the thoughts are my thoughts and never become my actions. Accepting each other exactly as we are, is the hardest thing we have to do.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      You’re honest, Beverley. I’m sure we all still have tinges of prejudice of some kind, hidden or otherwise. Maybe not always about skin color, but about something. Often times it’s about religion, sad to say. Yes, accepting each other is a most difficult job for all of us.

  15. blankBarbara H.

    I can imagine how dreadful and sickening it was to make such a discovery, especially in front of others whom you don’t want to get the idea that this is characteristic. Unfortunately racism is still all too characteristic, even without the flags that declare it. I’ve often been amazed at how people who use the Bible to support racist views can miss all the times Jesus used illustrations of and interacted with and commended Samaritans, one of the groups that would have been the target of much racism in those times, with the Good Samaritan being one of our most loved parables. May our eyes be continually opened to the hidden areas of “unlove,” as Amy Carmichael used to call it, in out hearts. Glad you were able to destroy and have a prayer session over that flag.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      “unlove” – what an apt word. Thanks for sharing that via Amy Carmichael. You’re right that racism is still very prevelant among us, and whether it seems undercover or not often depends on which side of it we’re on. When I talk to my black friends, they see prejudice in a thousand more ways than I do because they are living it. Lord, have mercy on us all as we fight against this.

      I also appreciate you bringing up the Good Samaritan, yes, one of our most oft-quoted parables. Yet also one we continue to need so much…

  16. blankJenni DeWItt

    I’m from Nebraska,so I can relate to people having outdated views of your state. In our case, it’s not something as serious as racism, but people do still ask me if we have running water. Oh my! (And yes we do, in case you were wondering.) Views and opinions change slowly over time, just as they do when an individual person decides to change. But in the end, as you said, it is how we are that counts — not how people view us. Thank you for sharing this hard story with us. It really got me thinking.
    Jenni

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Running water? Glad that isn’t a true one. When I think of Nebraska my main stereotype is everybody is a corn farmer. 🙂 Which is a pleasant thought because I love corn and its byproducts. ha. I suppose each generation wipes out a little more of those stereotypes, but I do wish we could be quicker about it.

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