WRIGHT WAY: A rush to racism?
by WILLIAM WRIGHT, Lifestyles Editor
Oct 07, 2010 | 3229 views | 0 0 comments | 36 36 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When I started my career in the insurance industry, I was sent to what many called “the most racist area in West Tennessee — Skullbone.” There was a ruckus in the office among the managers who wanted to see me go and those who were afraid I would be killed.

I felt some of the 15 to 20 agents there thought it would be amusing to see how I would handle myself in that environment while others thought I should adamantly refuse to go because I would be there alone for the entire day.

The fact that O.J. Simpson was also on trial at that time for a double homicide of two white people had the community edgy, if not angry.

It was left up to me whether or not I would accept this high risk or take another territory assignment. Since I wasn’t afraid, I accepted the challenge. I found it hard to believe people would be crude and rude in the face of kindness. Because if nothing else, I was determined to be polite and kind.

Yes, I love people. In my heart of hearts I believe others can tell when they are liked. It takes a certain kind of evil to be ugly to someone who is being nice and respectful to you. I don’t believe most people are that kind of evil.

I felt if anyone is going to like or dislike me, it’s going to be on the merits of my character, not the color of my skin. So off I went. It was already hot that summer morning when I arrived in Skullbone.

It was not my imagination that a few cars slowed down as passengers got a good look at me entering their town. The first home I came to was an old man swinging on his front porch bench. Before I got to his porch he shouted at me.

“We hang your kind up here!” he said.

I pretended not to hear him and kept walking up his rocky driveway.

“I beg your pardon?” I shouted back.

“I saaaaid — we hang your kind up here!” he shouted even louder.

“You hang insurance agents up here?” I said naively. “This is the first area I’ve ever been where they hang insurance agents. Why is that?”

He just stared at me. Slowly, a smile eased across his face.

“Who you looking for?” he asked in a pleasant tone.

“I’m looking for you,” I said and explained why I was in his neighborhood.

“Not interested,” he said.

I could tell he meant it. So I changed the subject. I asked him about the people in the community and what he liked about the area. He was brief but he shared his thoughts. I listened carefully, thanked him for being “kind” and shook his hand.

The majority of people I met early in the day were housewives and widows who were not only willing to listen and talk but who were quite generous with their fruits and vegetables. Several ladies took me out in their gardens, picked vegetables for me and told me how to cook them.

One old married couple invited me in and talked with me for over an hour about the Bible, then filled up half a plastic bag with okra. The policyholders I met in Skullbone were as friendly as any area I had been in. In fact, many of them were nicer than the people in areas considered more tolerable of diversity.

Later that afternoon I came to the home of a biker mechanic in his early 30s. He was muscular with tattoos all over his arms, neck and bulging chest. He had a Confederate Flag bandana wrapped around his head and several pit bulls chained in his backyard.

I saw him in his garage before he saw me. My instinct was to turn quietly around and tiptoe out of his driveway. But his barking dogs made sure that idea was off the table! I had to “man up,” extend my hand and introduce myself. He gave me a good look over and shook my hand.

He listened to my presentation as he worked on a car, telling his dogs to “shut up!” When I finished, he reached in his wallet and paid for an insurance policy on the spot! He shook my hand firmly again, thanked me and advised me to get out of town because it was getting dark.

I guess you know what I did. I took my bag of fruits and vegetables, my new business and rode off into that fading sunset! I left Skullbone even more convinced that, for the most part, people will treat you the way you treat them.

Jesus said it best at Matthew 7:12 when he said, “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them.” — New King James Version. That’s the way I was raised. That is what I truly believe.

Is it wise not to be quick to take offense, to be humble and have a sense of humor? I think so. Was it wise to accept that assignment? Well, you decide.

But some people need help to see beyond stereotypes. If they are never exposed to the diversity and dignity of individuals, how will they ever be convinced that all people of a certain race are not the same?

Perhaps I was just fortunate that day. But I also consider myself fortunate to still believe in the goodness of my fellow man. Do you?

*For a copy of The Little White Book of Light featuring more Wright Way columns, visit barnesandnoble.com, booksamillion.com and amazon.com.