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The Reeking Rot of Racism

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Have you ever walked into a room and detected a barely discernible odor coming from somewhere and you couldn’t quite put your finger on what it was or where it was coming from?  You wonder what the heck it could be.  Is it a dead mouse under the kitchen stove or perhaps an undetected sewage leak in the plumbing?   Well, I’ve been catching whiffs of something foul ever since Barack Obama first announced his candidacy for the highest office in the land and I have finally discovered what it is.  It is the subtle, but reeking rot of racism. 


Of course I know Senator Obama is a black man and of course I know that racial prejudice exists here in America and puts off an offensive reek.  So, what else is new?  I guess what bothers me is that I’m finding it in quarters that I didn’t previously expect.  It wafts up in more subtle ways than the blatant stench I recall from my childhood years in segregated south Texas.  I remember at a very young age asking my Mom why I couldn’t drink from the public water fountain with the brown handle at the local A&P store.  She explained that the colored people used that fountain and we were not supposed to.  I puzzled over that yet didn’t question further because my sense of smell for injustice had not yet developed.  It wasn’t until later, when integration happened and black kids came into our high school, that I had my first interaction with people of darker skin color.   My olfactory sense awakened and helped me to realize that they didn’t stink, but how they were generally treated did.  Being schooled with these amazing kids of color caused me to begin to hate the repugnant odor emanating from racial prejudice.


I have been somewhat naïve and perhaps a little sheltered in the last few decades of my life cloistered away in a remote valley in Tennessee.  We have chosen to go without live television for most of this time and only recently put up an antenna to get a couple of fuzzy channels.  The Internet, NPR and newspapers have kept me informed with as much of the world news as I can absorb and tolerate, so it’s not like I’m completely out of touch. 


I know, without the help of media, that some in our mostly white community are prejudiced, but I thought it was confined to the less educated and older generation.  Lately, the odor seems to be drifting in the air everywhere, like when the wind shifts from the south and the atmospheric contaminants from the paper mill in Alabama drift up to Tennessee.   I’m starting to get the disheartening revelation that it’s not just the South that generates the putridness I detect. It’s somehow being released all across the country as if a mass graveyard, where things like racism are supposed to be buried, is being unearthed.  Dank crypts previously sealed under grave markers of common decency, education and higher consciousness are cracking open and allowing the seepage of this rancid stench into the air.   An issue that I naively hoped had almost completely died is being resurrected like a zombie or a vampire in a bad movie and is coming for the very souls of our families, friends and our nation. 






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Gary Vance is an evangelical pastor/writer living in rural Tennessee. He is the author of "Wasn't Jesus a Liberal?" and other published essays.
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