Commentary: Race Embracing not Baiting

Before we begin singing “kumbaya” or getting drawn into the emotionalism of praising politically-driven messages of diversity, we need to take the time to engage in critical thinking, not ad campaigns.

When I was growing up living in Jacksonville, Florida, in a small neighborhood close to Mayport Naval Base, there were many kinds of kids to play with. I say “kinds,” and almost instantly race is triggered in our modern psyche.

Pastor L. W. Gainey
Pastor L. W. Gainey

What if I told you that while there was certainly an uber-diverse collection of races in my neighborhood, our “kinds” actually related to the neighborhood kids behavior? Trust me, in a Navy town you have groups of bullies, clowns, skaters, preps, and all KINDS of sociological subsets made up many of different ethnic groups.

I hung out with the latchkey kind of kids in my childhood. Most of our considerations growing up, in terms of what house we’d all stay the night at, was based on food and entertainment: who had the best food, nicest parents, best sound system, and maybe whose sister was having over the cutest friends. The most ethnic considerations were probably food and parental discipline.

My poor buddy Nguyen’s parents were from the Philippines and spoke primarily Tagalog, so when we stayed over at his house, we had no idea what was going on when his mom and grandmother would go off on a tangent as all parents do. But the food–WOW–it was fantastic.

Nguyen was the guy with all the best jokes in our group. Now, why did I say “poor” Nguyen? Was it because of his race? Indeed not. His family, like many of the families from the Philippines, kept the most immaculate lawn you can imagine. One of the steps in this was cutting the grass by hand, with scissors, and using shears for all the plants. Nguyen was always having to cut the grass before he could play…yeah, poor guy.

We may have had racial tensions like our kids do today if someone would have told us we should–but no one did, so we didn’t. We did, however, “embrace” the things that were different about each other’s families. These were cultural differences in some cases, like Nguyen having to hand cut the grass for his parents, but we just didn’t think of it that way. It really was about where we would enjoy ourselves the most, without always doing the same ol’ stuff.

What if we stopped being baited into thinking that ethnic groups are at war? What if it’s the movements, both political and social, that want us to remain in a perpetual state of “High Alert” for conflict born out of offense?

How boring would it be to go out for dinner with your buddy, intimate other, or family, and not have different restaurants influenced by uniquely ethnic contributions. How many times have you got in the car and set out saying “…I’m torn between Thai and Italian tonight?

I have a buddy in Macon whose late father was the Bassist for Lynyrd Skynyrd, Leon Wilkeson. One day he took me to the Music Hall of Fame to talk with the museum curator

Lee Wilkeson
Lee Wilkeson, only son of Legendary Bassist Leon Wilkeson of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Photo courtesy Lee Wilkeson.

about some new contributions to the “Mad Hatter” display.

We had the infamous debate about where we should eat. He emphatically told me, “Buddy, we’re going to the best restaurant in all of Macon, my treat!” Instantly, I had visions of Morton’s Steak House or some swanky little French bistro.

We pull around to a street that’s not in a upper-class real estate market, and he slows the car, shouting, “There it is, Baby! Whooo!,”{like we were at the gates of the Magic Kingdom} Get ready to eat, son.” My eyes caught a small white sign, dangling from beneath an old mortar wall with chipping paint, that read “H&H.” I was less than full of great expectations, but by the time I got in the door, the smell of the food was intoxicating, and the place filled to the hilt with people.

A woman ran from around the counter, hugging Lee, and saying, “Ya’ll little white boys go sit down and let Mamma take care of y0u.”

Lee responded, “yes Ma’am.” I later discovered that he grew up eating at H&H.

Mama Louise Hudson
In Macon, “Mama Louise” Hudson’s cooking is a favorite of the Allman Brothers Band. Photo by Ken Krakow

Looking around I saw autographs everywhere and on everything from some of America’s top music artists. People from all walks of life and musical genres. This was IT! Food and music and people–not politics. The wealthy–and the everyday folks–had dined here for decades at the restaurant founded by “Mama Louise” Hudson and the late Inez Hill for fried chicken.

Imagine the impact on our country if we really grasped the value we all bring to the table, including the kitchen table. Kitchen tables are for more than eating: we discuss politics and social issues but we also talk to our friends and family.

Maybe America’s best hope is not in laws, programs, campaign ads, or robo-calling. What if it’s our attitude? Have we been programmed to knee jerk and take the “race bait” every time someone throws a “race card”? Now, even if we’ve been programmed to buy into this insidious way of responding to the world around us, I think we can “re-program” our attitudes, so that WE–as individuals–will look for the very best in others– as individuals.

American Innovation is powered by “E Pluribus Unum.” We are the one of many, who together have generated the greatest medical breakthroughs, aerospace discoveries, industrial & technological advancements of any nation.  We have always benefited from embracing the contributions of the many, thus converging into our American Greatness.

Honestly, we don’t need government to solve racial divides, we need to stop allowing the government to create them. Let’s Make America, America Again; wouldn’t that be great?

Rev. L.W. Gainey
Twitter @RevGainey