Why Are We Afraid?

By Tai Anderson and Lee Jenkins, January 7, 2017

Throughout my life, I have been on a personal journey to better understand the African-American experience in America. My journey began in 7th grade. I had moved from an all-white private school, commonly referred to as a "Christian" school, to a public school in Dekalb County on the north side of Atlanta. In 1972, under a court-ordered mandate to desegregate, Dekalb County had established the M-to-M program (majority to minority). It allows for students to transfer schools within the county from schools in which they are the majority ethnicity to schools where they are in the minority. It has not been a perfect program, but it has been a step toward desegregation.

So, even though the neighborhood in which I lived was completely caucasian, our elementary school had healthy diversity. However, when I arrived at Montgomery Elementary School in 1988, the cafeteria proved that the M-to-M program was not the “end all, be all” cure for desegregation and prejudice. Black students sat at one table. White kids sat at another.

That same year, I decided I wanted to try playing basketball. Apart from the YMCA, the community sports programs at the time strived for no pretense of diversity. All the white kids played in the “church leagues.” All the black kids played in Lynwood Park. Lynwood Park was the local African-American community that traced its origin to the 1930’s when African Americans sought to form their own community as a shelter from the overt racism of the day. They built Lynwood Park, and it remained a majority-black neighborhood through the '90s. It’s unrecognizable today as a black neighborhood. The neighborhood has been gentrified. The African Americans have been pushed out by the higher property taxes resulting from the McMansions clustered along the desired Brookhaven real estate.

Learn More About Lynwood Park

When I went to my father and told him that I wanted to play basketball, he comically replied, “If you want to play basketball, you’re going to play with the brothers.” So, he signed me up to play basketball at Lynwood Park. I wasn’t just the only white player on my team, I was the only white player in the entire league! However, through the season, I formed friendships with many of my teammates, and became a pretty good basketball player too! So, when I started crossing the line of the cafeteria segregation in my school, I was no activist. I just wanted to hang out with my friends. 

Don’t get me wrong, you can’t grow up as a white kid in the south without absorbing at minimum some racial bias and prejudice, especially if you’re raised in a “Christian” home. Chances are, your childhood church experience was nearly completed segregated, but probably never discussed.

Whenever I try to talk about these issues with my white friends, the discussion is usually dismissed by one or more of the following 5 statements:

  1. I have a black friend. I’m not a racist.
  2. I’ve never said the “N” word.
  3. Slavery ended a long time ago, black people need to just get over it.
  4. My ancestors never owned slaves. It’s not my problem.  Or….
  5. I don’t see color. (Yeah right!)

11 Things White People Need To Realize About Race

That’s usually the end of the discussion. No one wants to discuss the deeper issues at play. I’m trying to dig deeper.  I’m starting first by examining my own heart, attitudes, and unrecognized privilege. It's not always easy. Most people don't want to do it. But, I believe in you! You've made it this far.

I’m trying to live out Stephen Covey’s leadership principle to "seek first to understand, then to be understood."

In that spirit, I’ve been listening to and learning from a new friend, Pastor Lee Jenkins. I believe that real progress can be made when we, as white people, just be quiet for a minute and listen; when we sit at the same table together, just like I first did in 7th grade.

In that spirit, I wanted to share a blog that Pastor Jenkins just published. It talks about the many "racial" experiences in his life that helped shape his perspective. When I read his blog, I gained greater empathy and understanding for the man that has become a dear friend. Some of what he says is challenging. I'd encourage you to listen anyway. You might take issue with one of his experiences, and be tempted to then dismiss the larger narrative. Try not to do that if you can. Take it all in. It has helped me understand why he sometimes has a different take on current events than many of my white friends and relatives. It has challenged me. It has changed my perspective. It just might change yours too, if you're willing to listen.

Why Are You Afraid of Me?
By Pastor Lee Allen Jenkins

I was 6-years old and thought policemen were superheroes like Batman & Robin. That view was shattered when I, along with my 8 and 9-year old cousins, unknowingly walked through a “Whites Only” park on a scorching hot summer day in southern Georgia. An angry police officer ran towards us and grabbed us, pushed us, and slapped one of my cousins in the face. I was just 6-years old and I was petrified.

Why Are You Afraid of Me?

I was walking home from middle school. Two white men approached slowly in a car. They pulled up next to me. I thought that they were getting ready to ask me for directions. Then the passenger yelled, “NIGGER!” They drove off laughing.

Why Are You Afraid of Me?

I waited at the bus stop one evening after basketball practice. I was tired and just wanted to get home. A police car sped towards me. The siren lights flashed, the brakes screeched. The officer jumped out of the car and turned his flashlight into my face with his hand already on his gun.

Why Are You Afraid of Me?

I walked into the grocery store looking to buy bubblegum and toothpaste. The clerk saw me come in and immediately began following me around the store. Down every aisle. At the counter I handed the clerk my cash to pay for the merchandise and waited for her to place the change in my open hand. The clerk slammed my change on the counter with contempt, avoided eye contact, looked behind me and said, “Next.”

Why Are You Afraid of Me?

I was seventeen. I had never committed a crime. A police officer arrested me, cuffed me, and threw me in jail. I was profiled.

Why Are You Afraid of Me?

At 18, I was driving the speed limit in my old, beat up, green, Chevrolet Malibu. The police officer pulled me over for no reason.

Maybe, I needed to drive a newer car.

At 25, I was driving the speed limit in my brand new Honda Accord. The police officer pulled me over for no reason.

Maybe, I needed to drive a more expensive car.

At 32, I was driving the speed limit in my brand new Mercedes Benz. The police officer pulled me over for no reason. He asked me, “How can you afford a car like that?”

Maybe, I was too young to drive such a nice car.

I was driving the speed limit in my Lexus sedan. The officer pulled me over for no reason. I was 40. I was driving the speed limit in my Lincoln Navigator. The officer pulled me over for no reason. I was 50.

Maybe, it doesn’t matter what I drive. Maybe, it isn’t me.

Why Are You Afraid of Me?

I came into the office on Saturday mornings. Instead of playing golf or being with my wife and three kids, I chose to put in overtime to get ahead. Every Saturday, the security guard insisted on seeing my I.D. When I asked, “Why do you always stop me? The guard replied, “I’m just doing my job. It’s our policy to check IDs on the weekend.” Even as he said it, I watched him wave to every white employee that walked pass the security desk. Never asking them for more than a smile.

Why Are You Afraid of Me?

I was promoted into a new private office. I was happy. My “peers” welcomed me with the replica of a Ku Klux Klan mask in the middle of my desk. They laughed hysterically. It wasn’t funny to me.

Why Are You Afraid of Me?

When I spoke with conviction and passion, I was told I was an “angry black man.” 
When I spoke with intelligence and confidence, I was told I was an “arrogant black man.”

Why Are You Afraid of Me?

When I told some prospective clients about my degree, investment certifications, and client list, they told me it didn’t matter because, “I would never do business with a Black financial advisor.” I said, “But I can help you build a better investment portfolio.” One man replied, “The only thing Blacks can do for me is clean my house, mow my lawn, or shine my shoes.”

Why Are You Afraid of Me?

I was the only Black financial adviser invited to the prestigious President’s Club banquet honoring the firm’s top producers. During the awards ceremony, the emcee and audience enthusiastically celebrated each honoree as they proudly strutted across the stage to receive their plaques. When my name was called, I could have heard a pin drop. No “attaboys,” high-fives, handshakes, or pats on the back. No one wanted to celebrate my success. I was not welcomed to “the club.” I was the outsider.

Why Are You Afraid of Me?

When the elevator door opened, the woman took a step inside. I nodded politely when she looked up and noticed me. She took a step back and said, “I’ll just wait for the next one.”

Why Are You Afraid of Me?

When I called the number on the real estate sign about leasing some commercial space for the growing church I pastor, the agent couldn’t set up a meeting quickly enough. Then, he called me back after viewing our website and said, “I don’t think you can afford it.

Why Are You Afraid of Me?

I had a house under contract in an affluent subdivision. Before we moved in, I walked through the house with my contractor. Suddenly, I heard a loud noise that sounded like windows shattering. The neighborhood boys were throwing rocks at the widows in my house. The damage was substantial.

Undeterred I moved into the million-dollar subdivision anyway. Within one month, many of my neighbors started putting up FOR SALE signs in their yards.

Why Are You Afraid of Me?

I drove slowly through my beautiful neighborhood feeling proud. I had achieved the American dream. I noticed an older neighbor walking his dog. He motioned for me to stop. Then he approached my car and demanded to know why I was driving through his neighborhood.

Why Are You Afraid of Me?

For ten years, the white middle school boys roamed the neighborhood woods brandishing paintball guns. Nobody complained. “Boys will be boys” they said. When my middle school sons did the same; everybody complained. The homeowners association convened and outlawed paintball guns in the neighborhood. One neighbor told me, “the sight of black boys with guns frightened people.”

Why Are You Afraid of Me?

A neighbor accused my eleven-year-old son of stealing her $13,000 earrings. When I asked for proof of the accusation, she said, “He is the only Black person who’s ever been inside my house.” She found the earrings. I never received an apology.

Why Are You Afraid of Me?

When a neighbor accused my son of stealing his son’s bike, I told him that we had been on vacation for the entire week, and more importantly we don’t steal. He found the bike, at a white neighbor’s house. I never received an apology.

Why Are You Afraid of Me?

  • Trayvon Martin was walking from a convenience store. George Zimmerman followed him. Dead.
  • Eric Garner was selling loose cigarettes. The police arrived. Dead.
  • Michael Brown was jaywalking. The police arrived. Dead.
  • Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun in an empty park. The police arrived. Dead.
  • Freddie Gray made eye contact with an officer. Dead.
  • Walter Scott was pulled over by an officer for a malfunctioning brake light. He ran. Dead.
  • Alton Sterling was selling CDs. The police arrived. Dead.
  • Philando Castille told the officer he was reaching for his wallet. Dead.
  • Terence Crutcher’s car broke down. The police arrived. Dead.

Do I even need to ask?

Why Are You Afraid of Me?

Lee Jenkins (@LeeJenkinsGroup) is an best-selling author, speaker, pastor, and financial expert. (AND MY FRIEND!)
Visit him at leejenkinsgroup.com or eaglesnestchurch.org