Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Strange ideas about strangers

“If a white person marries a black person,” my father said to me one day, “their children will be born with one black leg and one white leg, one black arm and one white arm.” I was still in my early teens but I didn’t think such a thing was possible and I told my father so. Then I asked him if he had ever seen anyone like that. He didn’t answer, but he never again brought up the possibility of people having Holstein markings.

Not all strange ideas like this should be labelled prejudice. If someone grows up only hearing thinking like this and never has opportunity to see whether it is true or not, they are just uninformed. In times gone by, when there was less opportunity to meet people who were different from yourself, these ideas might last a lifetime.

My father grew up in the USA around the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th. He absorbed the prevailing attitude toward black people of that era and never encountered anything in his adult travels in the USA or Canada to contradict that attitude.

My mother grew up in a very conservative Plautdietsch speaking home, yet she was much more open minded in her attitude toward other people. It seems that she learned that from her father. Before he was married he had worked in a community where there lived a black man who had been born in slavery and moved north to Canada. Grandpa learned some of the old Negro Spirituals from this man and taught them to his 14 children. While they lived in Manitoba, their home was a place where Indians often stopped for a drink of water, a bite to eat or just a place to rest on their journey. They knew they were welcome at the Henry Letkeman home.

Grandpa was blind, in more ways than one. My mother grew up in that setting and told those stories to me. One of my cousins lives not too far away. Our fathers were brothers, our mothers were sisters. He worked for years with First Nations (Indian) people in housing projects, and in evangelism. I observe his attitude towards people who are different and I know that he did not learn that openness from his father.

We both owe a lot to our mothers – and to Grandpa Letkeman, who we never met. He died before we were born. But, thanks to the attitude he inspired in our mothers, we did not grow up with strange ideas about strangers.

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4 responses to “Strange ideas about strangers

  1. Rachel May 8, 2016 at 17:23

    My mom was born in the 1950s, and it was normal to refer to black people as “colored.” She didn’t mean anything racist buy it – it was just the term that was used. When I started dating a black man (who is now my husband of 10.5 years), we had to have a crash course in what is and isn’t okay to say. She recently visited us out in Washington, and she asked Tim how he felt about the word “colored” and if he took offense to it. His response? “I don’t mind it all, considering I’ve been called a lot worse.”

  2. Bob Goodnough May 8, 2016 at 18:29

    That was a gracious answer. I still wouldn’t use the word to describe people.

  3. Plain Bridget May 8, 2016 at 19:20

    As a person of color I have often been referred to in the Mennonite church as “colored”. They didn’t mean offense, it was what they knew (can’t say that it doesn’t bother me tho). But people learn as they go.

  4. Bob Goodnough May 8, 2016 at 21:24

    I believe that’s a good attitude. I used to get hot under the collar about the way some Mennonites seemed so slow to catch on to the way others think and feel. But that kind of heat doesn’t bring any light. I hope I have learned that lesson.

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