2: Without Prejudice

2: Without Prejudice

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

Without Prejudice

When you teach your son, you teach your son’s son.

~The Talmud

If my mom had followed the pattern of her mother and grandmother, she probably would have been a racist. A kind and loving racist with gracious manners and Southern hospitality, but a racist nonetheless. And I might have been a racist too.

My mom experienced the typical racial prejudice and segregated lifestyle of white families in Jackson, Mississippi long before that segregation was portrayed in the book and movie, The Help. She found the same culture of segregation and discrimination when she moved to Louisiana in her early teens. But at some point on the road to adulthood, my mom decided not to share that culture with her children.

Though few black families lived in our Houston neighborhood in the 1960s, my mom was determined to help her girls embrace racial equality. When Alabama’s governor tried to prevent the desegregation of the state’s public schools in 1963 and state troopers were called to block elementary school doorways, my mom grabbed our hands and lined us up in front of the family television to watch the grainy, black and white images. Mom cried as black children were turned away, clinging to their parents’ hands. My sisters and I were young—just three, five and seven. We were far too young to understand the issues and emotions behind Mom’s tears or the battle over integration. But our age didn’t matter to Mom. She wanted us to share the history-making moment with her.

Mom followed the news of the civil rights movement and talked about it at the dinner table. When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was jailed in Birmingham in 1963, my mom sent him a letter. She didn’t know Dr. King, but she wanted to assure him of her prayers. He was changing the world her girls would live in.

On those weekends when we visited my mom’s dad and step-mom, stepping back into the world of white prejudice, Mom showed us how to respect her dad’s black employees. My grandfather may have called the lawn man “boy,” but my mom introduced him to us as Mr. William. She took time to visit with Mr. William during each visit and ask about his family. She taught us the same respect for the women who cooked and cleaned at my grandparents’ house.

Once my youngest sister started school, Mom put feet to our dinner table discussions about racial discrimination. She began volunteering once a week at a Baptist ministry center in one of Houston’s poorest neighborhoods. There she talked with young black and Hispanic moms who came for sewing classes and food distributions. She cuddled their babies and joked with their children. And she encouraged us to volunteer with her during school breaks once we were old enough.

As I approached ninth grade, Houston’s school district was pressured to rezone the schools to speed up integration. I wasn’t excited about switching to a new school—a school four miles farther from my home—or the prospect of leaving my friends behind. For weeks after school started, I came home with stories about knifings and fights between black and white students. I worried that I might get caught in the middle of one of those fights. But my mom encouraged me to plow through fear and discomfort, keep the big goal in sight, and make new friends with students of other races.

Mom’s lessons stuck. Today my husband pastors a multi-ethnic church congregation in Nevada. If you scan the crowd on a Sunday morning, you’ll see people from almost a dozen ethnic heritages. Funny, but I rarely notice the diversity until a newcomer or friend comments on it.

I think my mom notices the diversity though. When she visits our church, she smiles at the rainbow of races. After the worship service is over, Mom shakes hands and greets people without any hint of prejudice. I see her joy as she talks to my wide array of friends, and I know she is pleased. This is the life Mom always had in mind for her girls.

~Donna Finlay Savage

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