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When the ‘alt-right’ comes to the neighborhood

Hate card left on neighbor’s windshield stirs race conversation on Podcast hosted by PC(USA) co-workers

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

This card was found under the windshield wiper of a car in neighborhood where “The Word in the Street” podcast co-hosts Charles Wiley and Alonzo Johnson live. (Photo provided)

LOUISVILLE — “America was 90 percent white in 1950. It is now 60 percent,” read the card placed under the windshield wiper of the car. “Make America great again.”

The sign was sponsored by TheRightStuff.biz and DailyStormer.com.

The car belonged to a neighbor of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) co-workers Charles Wiley and Alonzo Johnson. Across-the-street neighbors, they host “The Word on the Street,” a twice-a-month podcast.

Hearing their neighbor’s story — of how she felt targeted after her sister and her biracial children had visited — moved them to talk about race in their recently released podcast called “When the ‘alt-right’ comes to the neighborhood.”

“This person clearly viewed this as a hostile, direct act to her family,”  Wiley said in the show opening. “I spent a lot of time growing up in the South. It’s not like this is anything new, but to be in my neighborhood now, it felt kind of brazen.”

“Our neighborhood is changing,” said Johnson. “A friend who lived here before we were a part of it said this act is the closest thing to the past — it was a white neighborhood. This was, is, Archie Bunker.”

Johnson was sickened but not surprised at the level of hate directed at his neighbor because, he said, it’s always geared toward people who are different.

“White supremacist organizations use this fear-based tactic a lot,” said Johnson. “It’s frightening because it’s faceless. They’re making a statement, raising awareness that they’re around. It makes it large and powerful, like a gang.”

Wiley and Johnson went on discuss their families’ roots and how they grew up. Wiley’s parents lived in Indiana in the early 20th century, when the second coming of the Klan took roots there. “My grandfather was in attendance at a lynching in the 1920s,” said Wiley. “The notion that he was somehow involved — we really don’t know what to do with this.”

Within one generation he saw the power of the gospel to transform his family’s history. Wiley’s father believed the gospel called him to all people and ended up as a missionary among escaped African slaves in South America — giving his life for the Africans. He died when Wiley was 1 year old.

“The mythology of my family becomes me as a baby next to an African-born baby, with matching names,” said Wiley. “I was Charles, she was Charlene. In one generation you move, however imperfectly, from the context of white supremacy as the norm. Now the norm is your sister is black.”

Johnson, who grew in the Northeast, spoke of stories his father told him about Emmett Till. In 1955, the 14-year-old African-American from Chicago was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he was killed for whistling at a white woman.

“He spared no details because he was concerned about his son,” said Johnson. “We talk about ‘the talk’ when they — my parents— gave me my armor. They said, ‘You have to understand who you are. White folk might not like who you are and they might hurt you.’”

Johnson was told this in the ’80s, while he was at an integrated high school with friends who were white, black and Latino. The message didn’t hit home with him until he began “driving while black” in New Jersey.

“It was very clear my father did not want me to hate anybody, including myself,” said Johnson. “Society told us — treated us — like we were not loved. In our community, we learned to love ourselves, which is why when the church talks about its call to become a beloved community it is so powerful.”

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Listen to Wiley and Johnson’s riveting conversation on race at TheWordOnTheStreet.fm.

“The Word on the Street” is available on Apple iTunes, Google Play and other podcast services.


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