By Jim Wallace, Th.M.
This was written by me in April of 2019—well before any of the current protests. It was printed in the Reno Gazette-Journal in April or May of 2019. There was criticism of it in letters to the editor within the week.
I am a white man’s white man.
Born of northern European ancestry, I was raised in the “South”—Southern California. I lived in Orange County, a bastion of white, conservative, political, spiritual values and people.
I had no black friends, acquaintances or classmates in any of my schools and precious few in college. My associations with Blacks were so rare that my first conversation with one my age, at 12, is a vivid memory. And I was afraid, concerned that my people’s “past” oppression of his might prejudice him against me!
I now realize that although segregation was never official in my part of the South, it was as much a reality there as in the actual South. I had naively assumed blacks preferred to live elsewhere. After all, most of us whites weren’t really prejudiced.
But I now understand “we” made “them” uncomfortable– that “they” were subtly and sometimes unconsciously excluded by prospective friends, employers, real estate agents, and white neighbors who feared loss of status and property values if a black family moved next door.
How have I come to these conclusions? For the past five months, a black friend has lived in our home. He’s lived there because he’s homeless. He cannot find a job in mostly white Reno’s hot job market. And it’s not due to lack of qualifications, ability, morality or common sense. He holds a college degree, is a dedicated, moral Christian, and one of the most personable, articulate, sensitive, intelligent, and able-bodied people I know.
I have watched for two years as he has experienced literally hundreds, even thousands, of rejections from employers. Certainly, often there were more qualified candidates, but isn’t it strange that he has never been interviewed by a black manager or employer? Is this only a coincidence, or a sign of something none of us whites want to admit—that racism lives on, and not in somebody else’s backyard, but even in our own hearts?
I see the hurt in his eyes as his dignity and self-worth has been assailed every bit as much as though he were in chains, wincing under the wicked whip and words of a Simon Legree in the pre-Civil War South. I’ve heard repeatedly about how his resume, articulate speech and 3.86 college G.P.A. has led to interviews, only to see those interviews go nowhere. Surely it’s never because the interviewer discovered that the man behind the resume turned out to be black.
Yes, I’m sure many of these employers were not consciously “prejudiced,” just like I’m not prejudiced. He just wasn’t what they had pictured, or anticipated, as their new associate. But the final result of their repeated rejections isn’t entirely different from that of a Ku Klux Klan Rally in the 1940s—a black man can’t make a living. No wonder a 2016 Pew Research Study showed white incomes are thirteen times higher than blacks in the U.S., many studies show black unemployment rates are twice that of whites even for college graduates and the gap between white and black incomes has increased since 1979!
I interviewed the Black Affirmative Action coordinator at Cal State Fullerton for a newspaper in the early ‘70s. I remember interviewing a Science Professor a few weeks later when a fellow professor burst into his office explaining how a white male candidate for a job had, incredibly, aced the proficiency exam, but how he instead was recommending a minority candidate just to fulfill Affirmative Action quotas. Undoubtedly Affirmative Action sometimes became reverse discrimination. No, two wrongs don’t make a right. But I am also now convinced that some kind of affirmative action must take place to overcome the unconscious racism practiced by many whites like me today.
How can our white President blame both sides when a white anti-supremacy protestor is killed by a white supremacist? Why, in the home of the free and the land of the brave, can he urge NFL owners to fire any “S.O.B.” who openly protests against racism while simply exercising the very right to freedom of speech which we all cherish?
Why do you and I do a mental, if not physical double-take when we see a black man with a white woman? And why aren’t we white Americans standing up for what we claim to believe—that all men are created equal and have the same rights we do—to life, liberty, even freedom of speech and a decent job, as well as the pursuit of happiness.
I don’t agree with Colin Kaepernick dishonoring the blood of American veterans by kneeling during the National Anthem. But I do get his point—a point now proven by his inability to get a job in the NFL. Racism, even in the form of innocent black men and children who are regularly killed by white police officers who are just as regularly acquitted of any crime, lives on in America today—just like it did in the old “To Kill a Mockingbird” South.
But, of course, it’s not because I’m prejudiced. It’s got to be someone else’s problem.
Jim Wallace is the pastor of Risen King Community Church which meets at Sepulveda Elementary school in Spanish Springs. Contact him via RisenKingRenoSparks.org or at firstname.lastname@example.org.