Monday, October 5, 2009


I have been avoiding this blog topic since it entered my mind Saturday night. However, it won't leave me alone, so here it is.

Saturday night I watched an excellent movie called, "The Great Debaters." It's about a debate team from a small black college in Texas back in the 1920's. Their success grants them the opportunity to debate white college teams, and they eventually defeat the national champion Harvard debate team. Of course, similarly to "Remember the Titans," it was set in time of much racial tension. Those movies always get to me.

It reminded me of a scene from my childhood. I rode the bus most of my school years, and while most bus-drivers are notoriously bad-tempered, our bus driver, Otis, was a kind and friendly man. Otis also happened to be a black man. And there was one bus ride with him that remains in my mind to this day.

It was tacky day at Smiths Station Elementary School. I don't remember what I was wearing that morning when I stepped onto the bus, but it must have been interesting because Otis gave me quite an astonished look. I playfully responded to his inquisitive glare with, "It's tacky day, boy."

This was quite innocent. My friends and I had been calling each other "boy" for days until it became a regular part of our speech. I thought nothing of it. Yet when Otis dropped me off at my stop that afternoon, he stopped me. He gently explained, "I'm not a boy. I'm a man."

It hurt to be misunderstood. I hadn't meant the word literally. I thought he would have known that. It wasn't until years later that I realized how Otis must have heard my comment. It was a racial slur. Not too many years back, black men had been regularly and systematically called "boys." That Otis would have heard my comment this way makes me sick to my stomach.

Racial reconciliation is a matter that I feel deeply and strongly about. Working with teenagers, there have been many times I have had to condemn and correct common racial slurs or jokes. With adults, it is harder to do. I would ask everyone to consider your words and the impact they have on others. Language that is racially divisive is wrong whether it is in the form of a slur or a subtle implication. This type of language reveals more about our own hearts than the character of another ethic group. We can and we must do better than this. Love, on the other hand, is not rude. It does not delight in evil. It does not consider others as lesser, but greater. And I submit that this ability to love another, even those who are not like us, with even our private language is what truly separates the "men" from the "boys."


  1. it wasn't until i started teaching employment law that i learned just how many things in our language - some that are still regularly used today - have been used as racial slurs and to demean other races. there is history of this in everything from 'boy' to 'eennie meanie minnie moe...' there's even been litigation over it. no doubt, addressing adults about this issue seems to be difficult. when i have the opportunity, i try to educate people about some of the history behind these words and phrases as a gentle way of encouraging them to be careful about their use of them.

  2. Aw, this story made me very sad. I wish he could read your story and understand what you meant.
    This issue is definitely one that I feel strongly about as well. God created us all differently for a reason. If you have a problem with someone's race and color, then take it up with Him.