In this latest note for our religion series, a reader who grew up in the American South during segregation recounts two evil forces in his childhood, one real and one imagined: Satan and institutionalized racism. Confronted with both, the reader’s biggest religious choice was to leave behind the dogma of his family and “rely on my own intellect in dealing with people”:
When I was a child, my mother often referred to the Devil in some form or the other to threaten or keep the children in check, especially if we had been bad or were somewhat hesitant about getting ready for church on Sundays. So we would merrily go off to church each and every Sunday in an attempt to keep a step or two ahead of that ole wicked and evil Devil.
In a child’s mind, as much play as this devil entity received, he had to be some real mean and powerful dude. If one wasn’t careful, this Devil dude would enter your mind and body and take full control of you. You would not even be able to recognize yourself or your family. He would make you do evil thing to others.
I was told that the only power that could protect from the Devil was God. That just blew my mind.
I would often ask my mother if she loved her children. Of course she said yes. I would then ask if she’d stand by and allow a force or some power to do harm to her children, especially if she had the power to control everything. She said no.
I then said, “You tell me that God loves all his children and yet, if I go uptown and drink from the whites-only water fountain, I would be beaten like an unwanted animal or maybe even killed.” I would ask, why must I who is black and one of God’s children be allowed to suffer so much and can’t even do all the things that he allows his white children to do?