Treat Your Neighbor As Yourself, or Treat Your White Neighbor As Yourself

Young & Free Columnist Corinne Vance paints the face of Robert Jones at a track and field event in Clarksdale. Benjamin Parker watches with interest. Photo courtesy of Delta Bohemian and Clarksdale Press Register Photographer and Columnist Troy Catchings

Young & Free Columnist Corinne Vance paints the face of Robert Jones at a track and field event in Clarksdale. Benjamin Parker watches with interest. Photo courtesy of Delta Bohemian and Clarksdale Press Register Photographer and Columnist Troy Catchings



And one of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (NAS, Mark 12:28-31)

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            I recently finished my first year at the University of Mississippi. Being a freshman on campus was nerve racking and exciting all at once. Coming from a small town I was accustomed to classrooms with no more than 20 students, all whom I knew, and now I was being thrown into auditoriums packed with up to 400 students and I couldn’t name one of them. It was scary to feel so alone while being surrounded by people.

            I tried to get to know people in each of my classes and would sit next to the people that I thought I had the most in common with. I was making friends and everything was going great, until I began my sociology class in the spring. All my classes before sociology were basic memorization or concept classes, but sociology was far from basic.

            During the course of the semester our teacher, Dr. Snook, questioned our views on all that surrounds us. She made us go back to the beginnings of our lives and inquire about every thing we grew up knowing about gender: why do girls like the color pink, why do boys play in the mud, why do girls have long hair and boys have short?

            When a child is born, the first question asked by everyone is if the child is a boy or a girl, and in response, if the child is a girl, the person usually comments on how pretty she is and how when she grows up she’s going to break all the boys hearts.

            If the baby is a boy, that person will typically respond saying he’s going to be a big football player when he grows up. We also discussed social class and the effects of functionalism. We questioned the actions and decisions made by people in society and attempted to learn why these decisions were made.

            I learned a lot while discussing all these various topics but I had had some general idea and knowledge about the subject matter already, except for when we began talking about society and race.

            I am white and I have always known I was white, but if someone were to ask me to list 10 things to describe myself I would never have included my race. At the beginning of the semester we were asked to make this list without knowing what the list was for. When we began the lesson about race everyone was handed back his or her own list. Not one white student listed his or her race, every black student did.

            This display blew my mind. Why did the white students view the color of their skin as unimportant while the black students considered it to be essential to who they were? In the society that we live in white people are awarded white privilege and are allowed to turn a blind eye to the effects of race. I didn’t list that I was white because being white has never affected me negatively or stood in my way. But if I had been asked to list 10 things to describe a black student in the class I can’t deny that I would have included their race.

            This put a pit in my stomach and a hole in my heart. Was I like those awful women on The Blind Side who assumed the only reason Sandra Bullock would be treating a black boy with respect and care was for charity? I would have never considered myself a racist before this class, and I still don’t know, but my eyes have been opened to the realization that I have a racial tendency just due to being white.

            Even though I’ve always prided myself on treating people equally who are of a different race than myself, I can’t deny that when I would look for a seat in my classes I would look for one next to another white female. The realization of this hit me hard and unsettled me like never before.

             The black students in my class listed that they were black on their lists because that is a part of them that affects them on a daily basis. Our society has deluded us into thinking that whites should be treated as the hierarchy and that the people who belong to the racial minorities should be treated as if they are less than.

            I believe this is crap. Whose to say that just because the tone of my skin is lighter than others I should be treated with more respect and feel comfortable about who I am on a day-to-day basis? And in the rare cases where I do feel outnumbered and inferior, all I have to do is walk out of the situation and once again I am considered the “superior.” Race follows people of color everywhere they go. Unlike me, when a black person walks out of a situation where they feel inferior they walk into another situation where they are still treated like the lesser race.

            I am a Christian, and growing up I was always told that God made people in his image. I don’t ever remember hearing someone say, “God made white people in his image.” How did we become a society where we judge people before we even know their name based on the color of their skin? When did it become okay to forbid a black person entry into a sorority or fraternity?

            How has it grown to be reasonable for country clubs, book clubs, schools, and youth groups to ban black members? When did we become so powerful to make these wicked decisions? How are we able to sleep at night?

            I am not saying that I am perfect and never commit a racist act. I am human and I make mistakes. But I believe that I can expect to be treated as I have treated others, and I would want to be treated equally. Wouldn’t you? So, why not take a chance on making the world that we live in more accepting and diverse? The choice is up to you!

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The following is a video I made about diversity at Ole Miss. The video includes clips from my interview with my sociology teacher Dr. Snook and Kimbrely Dandridge, a junior at Ole Miss who is black but has put herself out there and forced people to look at her for who she is and not the color of her skin. Dandridge is extremely involved on campus and this past fall she went through rush and pledged Phi Mu!!!

Also, I recommend that everyone watch the documentary “The Angry Eye.” We watched this documentary in my sociology class and it was the cornerstone in my realization of the effects of racism. “The Angry Eye” is a dynamic and provocative documentary, showcasing Jane Elliott’s world famous Blue-Eyed/Brown-Eyed exercise in discrimination. The tables are turned on white American College students as they are forced to experience the same kind of racist treatment African Americans and other minorities have been receiving for years. In the documentary, students’ reactions are intercut with Elliott’s observations. The film is compelling and powerful; both for the participants and for the viewers, who are made to confront their own prejudices.



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  1. hayden hall says:

    I had to comment. I will try to be brief, first off, great job! I think it rare and remarkable that someone of your generation and social class is giving energy to this topic! But I believe this is so very complex. Since moving back home to Clarksdale these issues of race and segregation surround me. My main concerns are, one, we will all remain segregated if we always put labels on each other base on the color of our skin.Dr. MLK asked that we would not be judged by the color of our skin but by the content of our character. He also prayed for a day of equality, sometimes it seems that the African American comminity here has overlooked the goal of equality, and aimed for superiority. No one should receive special privileges for the color of their skin, on the same note, no one should be held back! Bottom line, is that no one race can move forward by holding another back! If our generation does not learn this, we will never move froward! Thanks again for your thought provocing message! Peace-Hayden

    • Thanks, Hayden, for such a thoughtful response. Corinne is a tremendous asset to The Delta Bohemian. We are proud to have her youthful perspective on life in this present day. She is honest and forthright and learning and growing and maturing. It is encouraging to witness and give me hope. How wonderful that she put herself out there.

      I remember how I felt at her age when I began to have more of a conscience and reflection on me in the world and how I felt about “things.” We live in a complicated world. I think her opening paragraph nails it all down and shows us our path. Period.

      I hope others will comment too!

  2. Jo Baker says:

    Corinne, This is a wonderful start. I think you have a grasp and knowledge of someone far older. Not to be at all condesending, but I am so proud of you for even caring about this issue. As Hayden mentioned, it is remarkable that someone of your age, sex, and social status would be able to understand such a complex issue, let alone care to try and correct it. I moved to Clarksdale as a “past middle aged” white female. I have lived in the midwest most of my life, and fell in love with Mississippi (Clarksdale in particular) Like you, I have always strived to treat others as I would want to be treated with no regard to sex, race, religion, or handicap. For the first time in my life I experienced being “disliked” and “shunned” due to the color of my skin. I was working in a primarily black enviroment. I endured open hostility as well as having very hurtful rumors spreading about me. I was not wanted and was reminded of this fact daily. I believe these actions were a result of fear. This has made me so much more determined to make sure without doubt to love my neighbor as myself. I love Clarksdale and its residents more than ever.

  3. Corinne, we do not know each other and as far as I know, have never met. I have known your uncle Chris (Red Man) since finishing at UM and working at my Dad’s auto parts business in Tutwiler.I have met your very graceful mom once on some legal business. Also knew your Grandfather Marley. So, I know where you are coming from.

    You, as well as my son, are fortunate to have been raised in the generation following your parents and not the conflicted generation we were reared in. Most of us did the best we could with our children. Judging from your thoughts,your parents appear to have done better than most.

    We were the generation that had to forgo the transition from a segregated society to an intergrated society over night. We were each young people and our parents had much more control over how we lived our lives than is exhibited today. Most of my generation were Told (not asked) that we would be attending one of the newly formed segregated academy’s and parochical schools.

    I had not attended school or played sports with a black person until going off to Ole Miss as a “Walk On” member of the football team. The year was 1978 and everything at Ole Miss except sports and classes, was still segregated.

    Your article is very insightfull to a “Old White Man” from Clarksdale. I guess my bottom line to you is this. We (Deltan’s) as a society have come a long, long way and sometimes it seems to me that no one ever mentions that. In fact, we have indeed made greater strides in regards to race relations than most of the world today.

    Good Job! Hope to meet ya some day! Tell ‘Lil Round and your Mom hello!

  4. David Elliott "Padre" says:

    Corinne–what an honest and thought-provoking article!! Glad to meet you the other day and see Magical Madge and meet Poor William…
    Your thoughts reminded me of a time in seminary when some of us spent three days and nights on the streets of Chicago with only $1.50 per day in our pockets. It was to help us learn what it was like to be poor for a few days. I dressed in an old hat and coat I got from a garbage can and everywhere I went, people turned away from me.
    When we completed our time on the streets, we celebrated the Eucharist with a black priest as celebrant. I shared my story that I felt put down, look down upon and second class just because of the way I looked. He said something to me I have never forgotten–“Now you know a little of what it’s like to be black!!”
    The next day, I shaved, put on good clothes, went to the American Express office and cashed a check–no questions asked..As Willie Dixon said–“You can’t judge a book by looking at the cover..”

  5. Corinne Vance says:

    Thank you guys so much for your comments and for sharing your own personal stories! I think this is an issue that many people think about but few do anything to change it. Coming from a small town in the bible belt of the Mississippi delta I went to private schools where only a handful of the students were black and the only other black people in my life growing up was our maid and yard man. Looking back now that seems so odd and limited. But that is the way things are in Clarksdale sadly. But it doesn’t always have to be that way! In my opinion, why limit yourself to only the people of your same race? God gave us such a gift by allowing us to enjoy one another and form bonds with other people, so I vote that we share it with all!

  6. Corrine,

    This is not just a Clarksdale thing. Things have been this way as lone as I can remember. As a toddler -thru young alolesence , staying at my Grandmother Greer’s house in Charleston during the Summer months, the same was true there also.

    Grandmother had a maid/partner & companion with whom she intrusted her only grandson (at that time) to be cared for during the day while Grandmother saw to the Day to Day operations of her “Post Office Cafe”. The name comes from being located on the Charleston square directly accross from the post office.

    I distinctly remember the black customers had a dining area in the rear and had to enter through the back door in the alleyway. The food was all prepared the same and was just as tasty as the meals served to “The White Folks” in the front dining area. They could enter from the sidewalk on the Courtsquare however.

    There was a black man that worked there for grandmother. His name was “Grey Bear” and he treated me as his own child. After busing the tables at the conclusion ot the three meals served daily (Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner), he washed all of the dishes, moped the floors, and any other chores that needed to be done. Later Grey Bear would coax me ( I always ate in the back with him) into going up front where the cash register was (in those days every eating establishment had a glass counter upon which the cash register was placed) filled with various sweets, and tobacco products,into grabbing/stealing him a .50 cent cigar. The waitresses would chase me around the intire place but noone ever got Grey Bears cigar from little Jeff.

    After lighting the cigar, we would take off with Grey Bear pulling me around Charleston in my Red Wagon (every black lady in town knew me) all the while stopping to talk and court the Black Lady’s. When it was time to go back for the next meal, he would turn the wagon around and off to the Cafe we would go. We would repeat the same routine every day.

    Life was very much simpler then. People did not lock their doors and intrusted thier baby girls and boys with practically the whole town.

    In 1973 I was the only White pallbearer at Grey Bear’s funeral. I toted him to the grave while crying my eyes out and very prideful because “He Was my family”.

    Two lears later, I did the same for Momma Thelma. I have never loved anyone outside of my family more that these two very special people who raised me as their own.

  7. Charles Evans says:

    This is a[nother] great piece. I always enjoy reading your articles.
    Part of what makes it great is reading the comments from those that you have touched.
    Taken together, someone can gain a lot of insight into Delta life & culture.
    Especially someone that visits a lot, but doesn’t live there.

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