Dear Neighbor: Kim Porter: Being white

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 25, 2024

By Kim Porter

Dear Neighbor,

I was raised in the true South: north Florida/south Georgia. I was a southern boy, with an accent and many prejudices. My father was a member of the KKK, as a teenager and young adult. He often would use the slang for negro in our household. He also felt Blacks were slow, not intelligent, often unkempt, lazy and not full of energy. I was often reminded what my place was in society. I was white and I was privileged.

I seldom saw or associated with Blacks. They did not attend my schools. They were not allowed to ride in the front of the bus with whites. They would get on the bus, pay for the ride, get off the bus, walk to the back door of the bus, enter and sit behind the yellow line. The yellow line was the place I was not to cross. Otherwise, I would be in “their” territory. And I was wise enough to know if I was in trouble with my parents while on the bus, I could get up, run to the back, cross the yellow line and know I was safe.

And when I got there, I was accepted, laughed with and felt safe.

As a child, I didn’t really understand what it meant to be prejudiced, much less a racist.

It was my custom, my environment, the culture I was raised in. These were real experiences. This was the way life was lived.

In a college course, I sat by a person of color. He didn’t fit my dad’s description of colored people (what we called them). He was smart, wise beyond his age, wore a coat and tie to class and he wasn’t unkempt or lazy. And to top it off, he made a better grade than me. I couldn’t wait for my next weekend trip home to tell my dad. I shared what I experienced and foolishly asked him if he had lied or was this just an anomaly. He refused to converse with me for three months.

Years later in graduate school, I pastored a small, rural protestant church in the shadow of Stone Mountain. One Saturday, I joined a rally/march in Atlanta with Martin Luther King  Jr. An older gentleman with his grandson saw I was a bit out of place, being white and somewhat shy. He introduced himself and asked if I would walk with him.

His grandson grabbed my hand and told me I would learn new songs, hear great speeches and enjoy it all.

At the end of the march, I turned to the grandfather and apologized for not being a part of such an event sooner in my life. He hugged me, and with tears in his eyes, assured me “I wasn’t too late for his grandson.”

I returned home, re-evaluated my sermon for the next day and rearranged what I was to say. I proudly shared with my congregation what I had experienced and how this impacted me. Not much was said as we all exited the church. A week later after going to a movie with my family, I pulled into my driveway, only to find a burning cross in my front yard.

The next day, only a dozen white men attended church. They were polite, courteous and kind to me for what I had done for the church. They especially appreciated that I spent time with the youth and cared for the sick. But, they also felt it was time for me to move on.

I know all too well that words are only worthwhile if actions follow. I have learned that being open to new ideas, new ventures and especially new people has made me a better person. I do not take things for granted anymore. I do not try to change people, but I will challenge what I hear and see in our culture. I make sure I am involved in our society because it is worth struggling with all its ills and shortcomings. I am grateful I did not buy into the prejudices of yesterday and embrace the joy and privilege of being a part of such a beautiful diverse society. I have grown and expanded my horizons, my views, my expectations, my love for everyone.

“Dear Neighbor” authors are united in a belief that civility and passion can coexist. We believe curiosity and conversation make us a better community.