One Tribe is a weekly forum dedicated to open discussion of racial healing. It appears each Monday. Contributors represent many walks of life, but have in common these foundational beliefs: (1) racism is sin; (2) only the power of Christ through the Holy Spirit can break racism’s grip and heal people and relationships; and (3) as Christians, racial healing and reconciliation are part of God’s call upon our lives. The good news of the gospel is that all are one in Christ (Gal 3:28). May it be so!
Please forgive me, Bubba
By Angie Mabry-Nauta
The town in I lived in when I was in high school was small — population 7,000 at the time. The make up of the student body reflected its South Texas location. I’m not good at numbers, so I won’t try percentages. I’ll guess, though, that if we were to have had a pie chart, the slices representing kids of caucasian and Mexican descent would have been the largest and about the same size and pretty much encompassed the entire pie. However, there would have been a tiny slit labeled “other” that would have included the few Asian kids, our foreign exchange students and Bubba. (This was really his nickname. I remember his real name, but will keep that confidential.) Bubba was the only African-American student in our school of about 780 students.
Even then, at my ripe age of 15, I wondered how he felt. I felt isolated because I wasn’t raised from infancy in the town as were many in my group of friends. I couldn’t imagine what living there was like for Bubba and his family. So, every chance I got (there weren’t many because he was a senior and I was a freshman), I engaged Bubba in conversation. We could at least relate to one another on the fish-out-of-water level, I thought.
One night I received a phone call on my parents’ line. A young man with a deep voice was calling, said my mother. I was both excited and nervous. I was still a new girl in a pretty cliqueish school. No guys had yet called my house asking to speak to me. “Who is it?” I asked Mom. “He says his name is Joe,” she said, looking at me curiously. I took the phone from her hand. “He-e-llo?” I nervously began.
“Hey Angie, this is Joe,” Bubba said kindly. “Who?” I asked. “You know, Bubba.” “Oh! Hey!” I responded sheepishly. I was so glad that he couldn’t see my face. I was totally embarrassed not to have known his real name at the time nor to have recognized his voice. We small talked for a while and then he asked me out on a date. I froze. “Uh…” was my first utterance. “If your parents would prefer that I ask them first, that’s fine with me. I’ll ask them.” I was flattered, but so afraid. I didn’t “like him” like him, to use the brilliant terminology of the day. And then there was what everyone else would think. For the first time I thought consciously about the difference in our skin colors. My stomach tightened, and I hated myself for my train of thought. I caved.
“Oh, thanks so much, Bubba!” I began. I turned him down, landing on the lame yet true excuse that I was not yet allowed to go out on dates. The honest truth was I had made a decision based on race. Perhaps I was only a teenager, but I considered myself to be “cool” when it came to people of races different from mine. I didn’t see the problem in being friends with or even dating whoever, as long as he wasn’t in the drinking and drug doing crowd. Or so I thought. When faced with the choice of spending time with what I knew to be a truly nice and polite guy who happened to have skin darker than mine, I decided in a way that I didn’t think I would. I allowed the potential of people, including my parents, thinking ill of me (or worse, abandoning me) for dating an African-American guy to defeat me.
I share this not only to confess publicly my sin, but to make an important point. Even the most inclusive of us still have racist tendencies within us, and we are still subject to racist thoughts and race-based decisions. Sure, these tendencies, thoughts and decisions may scare, fear, anger and even shame us. But, they do happen nonetheless, and this is because sin mischievously holds sway over us and racism is sin. The first step towards racial healing is one person recognizing her or his own tendency for racism. Once she or he acknowledges this, the potential for repenting and overcoming magnifies. Additionally, that same person’s humility aids her/him in crossing bridges towards others and others in doing the same towards her/him.
Wherever you are today, Bubba, I ask for your forgiveness. I am sad to say that phone call 17 years ago was a racist moment for me. I sincerely pray that you are well. Should we ever meet again, I look forward to embracing you as my brother in Christ.
All who hold to the above defined beliefs are invited to write for One Tribe. Please email Angie at firstname.lastname@example.org to express interest in contributing and for additional information.