Mary Coleman: Renewing our minds


MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Monday, June 4th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. When we mortals squarely face our own sins, we can see those of our enemies with much greater compassion.

Here now is commentator Mary Coleman who experienced this phenomenon first hand.

MARY COLEMAN, COMMENTATOR: I recently read a book written by historian Charles Dew entitled The Making of a Racist, a Reflection on Family, History, and the Slave Trade. Born in 1937, Dew grew up in Florida, and he describes how the Jim Crow South shaped his young mind. While Dew says he learned more through osmosis than through verbal instruction, his parents’ attitudes and behavior nonetheless supported the prevailing belief that black people were inferior to white people.

It wasn’t until his college years that Dew began to question what he had been taught as a boy.

For example, at Williams College in Massachusetts, black students were his peers. Back home, Southerners were fighting desegregation with a rage that disgusted him.

One summer break, a beloved uncle admitted that he felt pressured to align himself with a white supremacist group, and this troubled Charles, as did the poverty he began to see in the deep South.

Finally, a history seminar on the Old South enabled Dew to think objectively about slavery and the Confederacy. It took four years, but Charles Dew broke free from what he described as, and I quote, “that reptilian skin of racism that had wrapped itself around me as a white Southerner.” 

I experienced a similar change of mind last fall when I attended Citizen’s Police Academy sponsored by the Charlottesville, Virginia police department. I enrolled because I knew that my desire for fair policing in America was co-mingled with bias against police that my dad had fed to me.

Like Charles Dew, my dad was born in the 1930s. Tension between the black community and police was as real throughout my dad’s life as it is today. But despite all my earthly father narrated to me, and despite current events, I knew my Heavenly Father wanted to rid me of disdain and bitterness.

The 12-week academy was transformative. Each class was two-and-a-half hours long and led by seasoned officers. They welcomed our questions, and candidly addressed our concerns about use of force and training standards.

At the last class, we all shared what the course meant to us, and I admitted that on a scale of 1 to 10, my respect level for police was a two when I started the class; but it was an eight by the time I finished. I can say quite sincerely that I had shed my reptilian skin. My mind was renewed.

Letting go of the hateful narratives we received from our parents is vital, considering the influence we have upon the next generation. For Charles Dew, this point was driven home by the African American housekeeper who served his family for more than 15 years. Her name was Illinois, and she asked Charles a tough question worthy of our consideration: I quote: “Why do the grown-ups put so much hate in the children?”

For Christians, there must be no such transfer of hate in families. We are called to train up our children in the way they should go, and that way—in God’s family—is the way of brotherly love.  

For WORLD Radio, I’m Mary Coleman.


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One comment on “Mary Coleman: Renewing our minds

  1. John Melillo says:

    I grew up in the 60’s in North Haven CT. My Mom taught me that all people needed to be respected, and when in my 6th grade Sunday School class, the boys were a little disrespectful to a black Sunday-school teacher (who was one of the first actually GOOD Bible teachers that I had), she let me know the unacceptability of those actions. I never thought about a person’s value in terms of their color or race, and not until much later in life did I understand that others felt very differently both in how they felt, and how they felt others perceived them. I am grateful for the early training.

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