When I was a small child, growing up in the mid 70’s in rural Western North Carolina, segregation was still an unspoken rule. My elementary school was all white, and I rarely if ever encountered African Americans. My maternal grandmother took me shopping in Asheville once, and we passed a man in the lobby that I loudly proclaimed, “Looks like Mohammed Ali!” (Much to her embarrassment and his amusement).
I was in the 2nd grade before I ever had a personal interaction with a black woman. My dad had moved us to a suburb of Charlotte for work, and my new teacher was African American. I fell in love with her instantly, she was a great teacher. On our first trip back home I proceeded to tell everyone that “I never thought I’d love a black person like that!” What did I know? My family was typical of the time and the N-word was commonly used. I guess it’s good I never picked that up.
Still, my dad must have been somehow embarrassed by my naive gushing. He took me aside and informed me that black people and white people were no different from each other. “It is nothing but a skin tone,” he said.
And I believed him.
We moved back to WNC after less than a year, and now in the late 70’s the town must have gotten the memo that segregation was over. Because there began always being 1-2 black kids in my class. Since they were usually boys I still had very little to do with them. One in particular picked on me a lot. But even then I thought he was just a jerk and didn’t extend that to anyone else who shared his skin tone.
By the early 80’s I was in the 6th grade and we moved to the Eastern part of the state, again so my dad could find work. Suddenly, I was in a truly racially diverse class. This gave my parents no small anxiety as the class was learning to square dance with a date to perform our new moves at the local mall. And (horror of horrors) my dad arrived to pick me up one day to discover I had been given an African American dance partner.
“You go back to school tomorrow and you tell your teacher you don’t dance with little black boys!” my mother proclaimed, with all the righteous indignation of someone whose child had been asked to spy for the Soviets. I obeyed grudgingly, telling my (also African American) teacher that while I personally had no such qualms, my mom was insisting. She seemed to understand my quandary, and from then on if I happened to be partnered with a black boy I’d get switched in time for my dad to show up to get me.
To this day my mother recounts her mortification at showing up for parent-teacher conferences about a week later and only then discovering my teacher was black. She still tells this as if I had done something wrong by not informing her.
By this time the genie was out of the bottle and I was growing up in a racially diverse area and actually treating people like people. I made friends with people who were nice to me regardless of color. This caused endless tension and drama in my household as my parents tried to convince me that it was morally wrong for blacks and whites to mix. I was told that yes, they’re the same as us under the skin. But the bible says we’re not to mix. You should be polite, but you shouldn’t go to their house and they shouldn’t come to yours.
I never could wrap my head around that, no matter how many times I got in trouble for having black friends. If I like this person, and she’s a decent person, why can’t she come watch MTV with me after school???
The justification for this came from multiple bible passages. First off, the Tower of Babel from Genesis 11:
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel[c]—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there theLord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:8-9)
Next they’d bring up Genesis 9. After the great flood, Noah was pretty happy to reach dry land. He planted a vineyard and promptly got drunk off of his first harvest. So drunk that he passed out naked in his tent. His youngest son, Ham, went into his tent and saw his dad naked. When Noah woke up and realized what Ham had done, he curses Ham’s son and proclaims:
And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.” (Genesis 9:25)
The sons of Ham were said to have settled southward and to have populated the African continent, so this story was also used to justify slavery and all manner of discrimination in addition to segregation.
Finally, Israel was commanded to remain separate from the inhabitants of the Promised Land when God gave it to them. They were not to intermingle or intermarry. This prohibition is extended to modern Christians in 2 Corinthians 6:17:
Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,
So don’t let anyone tell you that this whole “Religious Freedom” nonsense is new. There’s absolutely nothing new about using the bible to try and keep another group subjugated, marginalized or suppressed.