On Being White and Southern

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“I’m not going to talk,” I’d contend.

Early in Chris’ career, he often entertained and hosted educational programs for physicians in the swankiest of restaurants. Anytime I accompanied him, I vowed silence.

I grew up in a charming, tiny town on a tobacco farm. There was no swank and not many physicians either.

These dinners, wholly of my own creation, made me feel inadequate and inferior. I feared I would appear foolish and simple.

“No. I’m really not talking this time,” I’d insist.

Because, without fail, each time I would discover I could navigate all the pieces of silverware and enjoy engaging conversation with his guests. I’d tentatively gain ground on my fear and allow a bit of me to come out to play.

I have also experienced a parallel timidity about visiting other countries. Each of the times I’ve boarded flights to the UK, Germany, Kenya, and Israel, I’ve been afraid of the differences in culture and perceptions and language.

Fear certainly hindered me from becoming involved in jail ministry before now. I was frightened by the place and the people; the trappings of incarceration were foreign to me.

This cowardice towards difference stretched so far as a new home we purchased a decade ago. By all accounts, it should have been our dream home. It was twice the size of our previous house, possessed upgrades we could only afford because the house had been on the market a loooooong time, and was well-built with a smart floor plan.

Nonetheless, I lay on the couch our first night there and sobbed. I wanted my smallish house back. There were eight exterior doors on the new house, which alarmed me from a safety perspective, and I was afraid it would never feel like home.

Different scares me initially.

In fact, I think that’s so for most people.

That’s what’s infecting our Facebook and Twitter feeds right now.

Fear.

Racism. Classism. Feminism. Legalism. Cynicism. Chauvinism. Anti-Semitism. Homophobism (I may have just concocted that word).  All the black sheep -isms.

These are systems or ideologies rooted in fear. Based on unfounded generalizations about a group of people who are different.

It’s not new.

In the Old Testament in Exodus 1, the Egyptians were afraid of the Israelites, so they enslaved them.

In the New Testament in John 4, Jews feared defilement by the Samaritans and had no association with them.

And this phenomenon has continued to pock the history of mankind via countless wars and atrocities. And it always will.

It’s not new at all.

Difference scares us.

During our vacation to New York, we stayed in Stuyvesant Heights, a largely African-American community in Brooklyn. We landed only days after Dylann Roof killed nine African-Americans just two hours from our home.

I felt conspicuously white.

When we checked into our brownstone on a beautifully tree-lined street, we found it decorated with strong political statements:

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It made me uncomfortable. Afraid even. Can I be that honest? Afraid that my whiteness would be offensive. Because people of my shade have committed acts of horror against African-Americans.

Not a hundred and fifty years ago.

Four days ago.

And I knew my region would be as apparent as my race the first time I spoke. I expected their disdain based on the color of my skin and the sound of my voice.

We dropped our bags and walked to lunch just around the corner. By the conclusion of our meal, I had shaken the fear that different can summon.

I can honestly say I felt less aware of being Southern and white in an African-American neighborhood in Brooklyn than I do in South Carolina. It was a non-issue in our interactions. I’m guessing the residents realized we were white 🙂 , but my race had never felt more irrelevant.

It was freeing.

After lunch, we caught a taxi to the Brooklyn Tabernacle, a predominantly African-American church led by a white pastor, and felt so warmly welcomed by the ladies seated around us.

It was the next morning in our flat, while the girls were still sledgehammered by exhaustion, that I sensed the Lord whisper Truth very clearly:

Perfect love casts out fear, Cookie.

Huh?

My mind drifted to a t-shirt I ordered in mid-May, long before hatred had its day on June 17. It would be delivered while we were away. Maybe Chris could ask William to grab it off the front porch and stick it in the house…

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And then it was as though God put a puzzle together right before my eyes….

The passion ignited by my visit to Kenya years earlier + Recently hanging out and speaking to folks at our local homeless shelter + Getting involved with jail ministry + Being smitten with a quiet neighborhood in Brooklyn.

All people different from me.

When love is the driving force in you,

there is no place for fear of difference.

Only love. 

Because love is never satisfied

until it takes over every room of life space.

It’s a mutually-exclusive saturation. 


I feel like I’m supposed to say I don’t see color. Or whatever difference exists between you and me. That that’s the correct response.

Maybe it is.

To me, it may be richer progress to acknowledge that we’re different.

To admit that you and I are different people, be that based on race, region, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

To admit that we have different histories.

That we have experienced the world differently because of our differences.

And appreciate that. Even greater….LOVE THAT.

Can we have the freedom to see each other as exquisitely different? That feels truer to me than pretending I don’t see color. Or gender roles. Or class inequities.

Because I only know Southern white girl; that’s all I’ve got. I don’t know what it’s like to be Middle Eastern or a felon, Asian or gay or a man or black, but to the extent that I am better equipped to love people and understand the heart of God, I want to.

I want to divorce unwarranted generalizations of people based on the actions of individuals.

But I don’t want to ignore the things that make you you.

Because how can I truly love you, with a genuine knowledge, if I ignore what your experience brings to the table where mine lacks?

We can take down the Confederate flag, which I staunchly support we do.

But we can’t legislate love.

We can fight for it though. We can be advocates and purveyors of it.

I’m about that. All about that.

I’ll take my example from a man who loved people very different from himself. A man whose every action was motivated by love. Whose death was the greatest expression of love of all time.

He is uncompromising with regards to our hearts. They are to be soft, affected, and undivided. Pure.

Wholly submitted to the Truth……..love trumps fear.


You may also be interested in checking out these popular posts on depression, pursuing a woman’s heart,  or a really, really neat personal encounter with God.

Blog subscribers….look for an email headed your way this week with the skinny on our fall Bible study.

[Feature Image: Kat B]
Hidden, but not healed
Humans of SC Take NYC

12 Comments

  1. Ted Whisnant
    Ted WhisnantReply
    July 7, 2015 at 11:27 am

    I tell you Cookie, your reflection here on self-identity fills my heart. I’m not much on church or organized religion, but I am big on spirituality. As a teacher I was fortunate to have many of the so-called “best” students at MHS, yet some of my most rewarding times were with those labeled “remedial,” “special needs,” or worse. I ached about young men in Marion, black and white, who felt the sting of bullying because they were effeminate. I was inwardly troubled by the “unpopular” kids who came to prom alone, had their picture made, drank a bit of punch, and then became forever adrift in yet another solitary sea. As a boy, a high school history teacher once kept me after class and said: “I heard from the guidance office that you’ve applied to UNC. Are you sure, Ted? I mean, this would be an awful strain on your parents, and you might not be comfortable in Chapel Hill; they’re pretty much upper middle class and rich kids at UNC.” I applied to a smaller school, and I don’t regret it, but I will always wonder what might have happened had I gone to Chapel Hill. In my hometown it wasn’t about race, it was about class and money and social position. As I grow older in Marion, I see some of this all over again. I appreciate the genuine nature of your love for mankind.

    • Cookie Cawthon
      July 7, 2015 at 11:50 am

      Blog readers, Ted was my high school English teacher. My favorite teacher of ever. And the reason I became a high school English teacher.

      Mr. Whiz, your words still carry heavy weight in my world….even after all these millions of years. I remember sitting at the end of a bar in Clemson as a fresh graduate, moved to tears with passion about being an educator and leader in the poorest place I could find. Instead, I bought the American dream, snuggled up to comfort and ease, and catered to fear’s every whim. It makes me sad that it has taken this long to get back to the raw passion I remember of the younger me.

  2. Pamela Cody
    Pamela CodyReply
    July 7, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    Cooking you have a beautiful soul. I know God smiles upon you. Sending you all ♡.

    • Cookie Cawthon
      July 7, 2015 at 4:59 pm

      Thank you so much, Pam! Super cool to have you reading and commenting here! Love it!

  3. Martha Davis
    Martha DavisReply
    July 7, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    Cookie, I so get Ted’s comment. In many towns like Marion (I lived there for many years), it’s all about class and wealth and that hurts my heart. My younger, single parent self and my boys were affected by the class and wealth issues. I came from a poor family in Floyd Dale and graduated from Latta (very similar to Marion). My boys were not bullied but I was always aware that our circumstances caused many of their friends’ parents look down on me and them. Because I did by best to give my boys meaningful experiences, there was always those awkward events like family nights at Boy Scout Camp where I didn’t fit in. When I called some parents to ask if I could follow them to the campground or even ride along, there was a stunned silence on the other end of the phone. I would get an answer like “I was planning to ride with Mrs. XYZ so I need to check first.” Sometimes I got a return call but I usually had to make two or three calls before one of the moms would ask me to ride with them.

    One summer, several of the campers were caught with cigarettes. My youngest son was one of them. But he was the only boy sent home. I never got a satisfactory answer on why all of them weren’t sent home. I was told that Dustin was sent home because he brought them. Whatever . . .

    Cookie, thanks for this amazing post! Sorry that Ted got me off on a roll. I’ve also had the opportunity to work with at risk children who were mostly black and I’ll tell you that the first summer on a hot bus going from Florence to Summerton, I was afraid of my whiteness in that sea of black, over aged 6th graders. But at the and of a week, those big guys who frightened me, wrapped their arms around me and begged me to find a way to keep them from having to go home.

    I’m happy to say that after moving away from Marion and going back to college, my fear of class, wealth, and color disappeared for several
    reasons, chief among them my faith in God and my confidence level through my love of Jesus.

    Forgive my rambling. I’m usually a much better writer but this is a commentary from my heart.

    Love you, Cuz, for many reasons but mostly for your transparency!

    • Cookie Cawthon
      July 7, 2015 at 5:04 pm

      He’s ever after the purity and devotion of our hearts, isn’t He, Martha? He won’t allow us to remain mired in fear, and status quo is never okay with Him. With regards to anything…

  4. Faye Joye
    Faye JoyeReply
    July 8, 2015 at 10:56 pm

    Cookie, I am Laura Joye’s mother, and Although I am sure you do not know me, I remember you very well. I love what you have written, and I so agree that we all only “know” what we “know”. We are all different and to embrace our differences would help solve so many problems. Great job!

    • Cookie Cawthon
      July 9, 2015 at 7:36 am

      I do remember you and WOW! my Marionites hold such a dear place in my heart. While a small town may bring certain limitations due to its size, it also possesses a unique opportunity for tight-knit community. That’s what I cherish about having grown up in Marion. Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

  5. Marcia Smith Knight
    Marcia Smith KnightReply
    July 9, 2015 at 8:04 pm

    Cookie, your blog is supported by 1 John 4:17-26. John explains how God’s real love and fear relate. I’m glad a friend posted a link to it on Facebook. I’m from Florence, SC and have had the pleasure of meeting Ted Whisnant. He is a remarkable person. Martha Davis has a reputation for being an outstanding educator in the region. I am glad to have been introduced to your blog.

    • Cookie Cawthon
      July 9, 2015 at 10:34 pm

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Marcia! Glad to have you here!

  6. Becky
    BeckyReply
    July 14, 2015 at 9:24 am

    Hey friend! I found the same thing that you did when I went to New York City last week. There you are free to be different. Free to dress however you like. Weigh as much as you like. Proudly be whatever color you are. Love who you want to love. Be original. Be unique. Be quirky. New York is a melting pot of beauty and acceptance that the places I have lived are fearful of. So many folks think New York is scary and the people are mean. Preconceived ideas without even testing it out. Perhaps someone met an unfriendly New Yorker one time. I’m sure if you came to our town you would meet someone unfriendly here too. This doesn’t mean that everyone in either place is unfriendly. Give people a chance. Love them past their skin color, their job, their financial status, their mistakes. Love and love hard…….just like Jesus loves us!

    • Cookie Cawthon
      July 14, 2015 at 10:57 am

      You’re preaching, woman! I love you and your beautiful heart!

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