“You never picked cotton and I never owned a slave. Get over it … blacks have done nothing to help themselves for the past 50 years except commit crime, shoot each other, make illegitimate babies … why don’t you write articles and tell the truth to blacks?”
Such were the words of an angry reader who recently emailed me to express his ire regarding my June 29 column on why I believe Christians must work together to end segregation within the church.
The funny thing is that his rant did not address any points that I made within this specific column. He went on a tangent about government handouts, particularly food stamps and welfare, that he believes blacks receive due to laziness.
When he wrote, “Asians aren’t in the streets screaming and destroying property,” it became apparent that this was really an incensed reaction to the rioting that has continued in cities across the nation after the death of George Floyd.
The racial prejudice and stereotyping in his tone was quite offensive, but he was right about one thing: I have never picked cotton. My great-grandmother bore this extreme hardship as a young sharecropper in Georgia’s Walton County.
Her story, however, ends with an extraordinary accomplishment of the American dream. I did not share this remarkable part of my family history with this reader because he was not in the mindset to appreciate it.
The trajectory of my great-grandmother’s life forever changed the day she accepted my great-grandfather’s marriage proposal and never went back to the scorching heat of the cotton field. God blessed their union with seven children, and they became landowners and homeowners during the height of the Jim Crow era in the South. They survived the Great Depression by growing vegetables in their garden and raising chickens.
I am proud of my family legacy, not just because my great-grandparents made it through one of our country’s most difficult and grave periods but mainly because they passed on their faith as the central core of their work ethic to their children and grandchildren. They believed in working hard, but they also trusted God to provide the increase.
When I receive hateful emails like this one that stereotype blacks as just wanting to live off of federal assistance programs, I often think about the drive and spiritedness of my great-grandparents. I do believe some of this is missing from many young African-Americans today who feel hopelessly trapped by unstable homes, poverty and violence in their communities.
In mentioning unstable homes, I am referring to single-parent households that many black children grow up in, which result in generational cycles of poverty. Strengthening the black family structure is vital to solving the racial disparities my disgruntled reader was alluding to, although he was voicing his disgust from a biased perspective.
In part of my response to him, I pointed out that the social problems he referenced were inextricably linked to being poor.
I did not get into family statistics with him, but 2017 percentages cited by a January Thomas B. Fordham Institute study revealed that for black children being raised with both parents, the poverty rate decreased 73 percent compared with those in “mother-only households,” and decreased 67 percent for those in “father-only households.”
Living in an economically stable home obviously comes with better educational opportunities for success, but I want to emphasize the importance of the father in the home, not just from a sociological standpoint but a biblical one.
Proverbs 13:24 teaches that a father is supposed to discipline and raise his children, and this extends to Proverbs 22:6, a verse familiar to many: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
Fathers who teach their children to revere God provide a firm foundation that will help them make wise decisions to prosper in life. This does not mean that their children will not make mistakes, but oftentimes, they will avoid the pitfalls of crime and other ills that my reader continued to harp on in his tirade.
In reflecting on my reader’s challenge to “tell the truth to blacks,” he did not understand that my faith is my way of expressing truth to all of my readers during these crucial times. He scoffed at the main point in my response that called for the church to lead the way in tackling the problems that infuriate him, irately telling me to “preach to your own.”
Sadly, this way of thinking continues to divide us.
— Jessica Johnson is a lecturer in the English Department at The Ohio State University at Lima. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter: @JjSmojc. Click here for more columns. The opinions expressed are her own.