My family was white, incredibly and indelibly. White like winter at the North Pole.

Mom rarely made spaghetti — it was too exotic. We lived in a white neighborhood, ate white people food, did white people things, and all of Mom and Dad's friends were white.

Everyone on TV was white, too. Everyone in the history books was white, leading to a natural assumption that everyone in history was white.

We lived not far from Seattle, a big city, so we sometimes saw different colors of people out the window of the car, but it was suburbia in the 1960s — the world was white.

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My brothers and sisters and I attended God's Own Christian School, because Mom & Dad wanted us to study Leviticus for an hour every damned day. But coincidentally, at GOCS, all the teachers and students were white. 

When I was in 3rd grade, Dad got laid off from his job, so to save money my brothers and sisters and I all switched to public schools. Suddenly, non-beige kids and even teachers began to exist.

It was not traumatic. Without Bible class, school was less boring, but other than that there wasn't much difference. I'd hated the all-white private school, and hated the well-mixed public school.

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In my early teens, I listened from the living room one night, while Dad and my older sister Katrina had a long, loud conversation in the kitchen. A black boy from her high school had asked her out. She'd said yes, but Dad said no.

"The purpose of dating," he explained, "is to find the man you're going to marry, and you're certainly not going to marry a black man, so — absolutely not. I won't allow it."

They argued and argued, but Dad would not be swayed. My sister cried but relented, and said she'd explain it to the boy. Instead she dated him secretly, all through her junior year.

That night, Sis had shouted that Dad was a racist, and she was right, certainly, by present-day standards. For a man of his era, though, he had only a mild case of the disease.

Once, when a TV news show reported that black people had marched for equal access to lending, my dad said, "Well, good for them. They should have equal access."

For the most part, though, race never came up in our household conversations, cuz like I said, we were really, really white.

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Dad did scientific work for a giant industrial concern, and when I was still in kindergarten, the company transferred him to a different job, in a different city — New Orleans, Louisiana. That's a long ways and a world away from Seattle, Washington.

I've heard that moving is supposed to be traumatic on the children, but when Dad announced it, I didn't mind. I hated kindergarten, and had no friends to be uprooted from. Moving seemed like an adventure.

For Mom and Dad, though, there was a major problem: they'd asked our pastor whether our denomination had a church in New Orleans, and the pastor had called someone and asked, and the answer was no.

Oh, my. Where would we worship in New Orleans, twice every Sunday and for mid-week meetings?

Their religion was a major part of my parents' lives, so to answer that question, even before we moved, my dad poured through reference books at the library. He researched where each denomination stood on questions like Calvinism, determinism, infant baptism, the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed, and all that crap.

Dad and Mom decided that the Nazarenes were close enough to their beliefs, so we'd be Nazarenes in New Orleans — problem solved. There were no other major concerns.

We packed everything, and moved from America's progressive north to its very, very South in the early 1960s, just as the Civil Rights movement was beginning to simmer.

I am barely old enough to remember, but there were colored drinking fountains. Segregated schools, restaurants, theaters. Segregated everything, really. Welcome to the deep South in the early 1960s.

Dad was well-off and Mom was a slob, so we hired a maid, like on The Brady Bunch, except our maid was black. She was pretty cool for a grown-up. She was the first black person I'd known, and maybe my first black friend.

Come Sunday morning, though, Jessie went to her black church, while we attended the Nazarene church, which was all-white, of course.

And then suddenly we weren't going to that church any more. I didn't know why, probably didn't even wonder. I don't think my older brothers and sisters knew what had happened either, until some years later the subject somehow came up, and Dad told us why we'd switched churches.

It was only one sentence from one Sunday's sermon. I can't imagine the context, but the pastor said, "I lost my wallet, and I think some n-word lifted it." Except he didn't say 'n-word', he said a word that I won't even type. Said it from the pulpit, in front of God and everybody.

Dad said that he and Mom looked at each other, started whispering to their six kids, and they promptly walked us out of that church, never to return.

For a lot of Louisiana white people in 1963, it would've been nothing, but suddenly we were Baptists. According to family folklore, my oldest brother asked the next Sunday why we weren't driving to the Nazarene church, and Dad said, "We are not a Nazarene family."

Republished: 11/12/2023   


  1. Well-written piece of personal/family history. Nice job.


    1. Too long. Doesn't quite swish. It hits the backboard, then bounces off the rim. So it's a rim job.

    2. Yeah, you're right, but what are ya gonna do? You're telling three stories in one piece; that's not always a bad idea. I reread the piece, and there's nothing to take out. If anything, the piece is too short to tell three stories.

      But it's not a clunker. The three stories are all interesting and are both time-specific and timeless.

      On a barely related note, I've always said that if you were drugged and blindfolded, a condition I call "my weekend", and were placed in the middle of an American city, there are only two you'd recognize immediately when the blindfold was removed: San Francisco and New Orleans. Of course, prosecution of the sons of bitches who kidnapped you is optional.


    3. I don't remember enough about New Orleans to say, but in SF there are some areas that look like anyplace. But I know what ya mean and it's basically true.

      My Seattle hood could be Cleveland or Boston.


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