What are we handing down?

“You ain’t no better than anyone else, and there ain’t no one else any better than you.”

I heard that several times from my father growing up. I know that’s incorrect usage of the English language, but he got his message across. It’s hard to remember the specific incidences where and why he said it. (That was many years ago. It’s getting harder to even remember things that happened last week.) Probably I was talking about someone in a way I shouldn’t have, or maybe someone had said something they shouldn’t about me. Whatever the case, Daddy had a specific point to make. You don’t look down on the people around you, but you don’t let yourself feel intimidated by anyone, either.

Those were not just words from my father, L.F. McPhail. It showed in the way he treated others around him. I grew up on the farm at a time when they didn’t have all the automatic machinery that is used today. Farming back then was very labor intensive. Many African-Americans helped on the farm, especially during tobacco barning time. I never heard Daddy belittle anyone because of their race. Now if he thought you weren’t doing your job, you would hear from him. We all, especially me, would hear from him. But his response would be based on what you were doing, or not doing, not who you were, or the color of your skin.

I also saw how he lived out what he believed. I can remember him helping out people in his community financially, and with his time, in their time of need, no matter what the race. A few years ago, Daddy told me about when I was real young, Aunt Lona had given him fifty dollars for Christmas. Back then, around 1960, fifty dollars was quite a sum. He told me that we really needed the money to help with our Christmas that year. But a minority family in the community had just lost their home in a fire. So he went and gave them the money. “It was hard,” Daddy told me. “We really could have used the money. But they needed it more.”

I was reminded of that last Fall while working during early voting at Roseboro. Several African-Americans, who were voting, mentioned to me how they missed my Daddy, and shared how much they thought of him when he was alive. They knew he meant it when he said, “You ain’t no better than anyone else, and there ain’t no one else any better than you.”

Two events during the past week brought all of this to my mind. The first was, of course, Father’s Day. Then, there was the tragic murders of nine African-Americans by the racist, Dylan Roof, at the church in Charleston. How could this white, punk racist think that he was any better than these fine people that he killed in cold blood, just because they were black? And it happened at a church, where they had welcomed him into their Bible study! The response of the families of the murdered, the church and the Charleston community, showing forgiveness, only emphasizes how misguided Roof is.

I heard people blame the devil for what happened that Wednesday night in Charleston. And ultimately, it is true the tragedy was the result of Satan’s work in a fallen world. But that can be an abstract excuse that we can use inorder to remove individual responsibility.

Back to my father. L.F. McPhail was not perfect. He didn’t always use the politically correct language that is so often used as a measuring stick in today’s society. And some of his opinions about race were based on the culture and the times in which he was raised. (Over the years, I saw his language and his opinions changing.) But I saw how he treated people around him with respect, no matter who or what they were. And isn’t how you actually treat people the important thing?

I heard in a sermon last weekend that what is not healed gets handed down. There will always be some cultural differences and personal preferences. That’s OK, because that is what makes us unique. But that is no excuse for racism, and for not doing what we should to eliminate it. It’s time to quit handing it down.

Why did Dylan Roof think that he was justified in killing those good people? Because somewhere along the way he heard it and accepted it. Was there not anyone in his life to tell him, “You ain’t no better than anyone else, and there ain’t anyone any better than you?”