I was (thankfully) raised in a home where racism was not tolerated. My parents had lots of friends of different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds than ours and I never thought twice about it. In fact, I was so shocked by what I saw in a video on racism in the South when I was in 5th grade that I literally sobbed in front of my entire class and had to see the school counselor. I just couldn’t even fathom that type of hatred. It shocked and upset me deeply, but it also made me feel very proud to come from the family that I came from. A family that would NEVER discriminate or feel hatred towards a member of a different race.
I have a great Uncle who has been exceptionally awesome to me. He has always encouraged my love of hiking, exploring, history, and world travel. He would let me roam for hours on his large property, patiently and sweetly explaining to me that the rock I found was not a dinosaur fossil, but was indeed, a very unique rock. He watched all the history shows with me that the rest of my family found boring, and when I declared I was going to go to Africa by myself, he was one of the only ones who focused more on helping me prepare for the trip than trying to talk me out of it.
And then one day I overheard him use the N-word. And I felt the same shock and deep level of distress that I felt the day they showed the video on racism in 5th grade. I couldn’t believe my ears. How could this man who I had always loved and even admired say something like that? Never in my childhood had I heard him say such a thing. I was beyond appalled and stunned. And then he continued on his tirade and it became glaringly apparent that my great Uncle was a racist. A horrible despicable racist. How in the world, could I love a racist?
There ensued a battle with myself. If he was a stranger, I would find him repugnant. But he wasn’t a stranger. He was a man who had cared for me and encouraged me. But he was a racist. Could I reject him knowing how much he had done for me? Could I love him knowing how hate-filled his heart was?
How do you love a racist? Can you? Should you?
I chose to distance myself from him. I explained why. He promised not to say those things around me ever again, but his heart wasn’t changed. I still see him for family holidays but we’re no longer as close as we were. I feel like to go back to the way things were would be dishonest and damaging to my conscience. I think that racism should have consequences and in this case, the consequence was losing a closeness with his niece. It didn’t change his mind. But my mind was also unchanged. I think I made the right decision for myself, but I still think about this question and wonder about how other people may have handled the same situation.
So, I’ll ask again. How do you love a racist? Can you? Should you?