Probably, you should go back and read part 3 of this series before going on. The two are somewhat related.
As I said last time, the reason my mother gave me for not allowing me to invite my black friend to church was that "it wasn't a good idea." At the time, I couldn't really figure that out. We were told every Sunday in Sunday school that we should invite our friends to church with us and, the very first time I wanted to do that, I was told it wasn't a good idea.
Needless to say, it was a long time before I ever wanted to invite anyone to church with me again. A really long time.
So let's jump ahead to high school. And I'll try to keep only to the relevant data.
My church employed a number of janitors; they were all black. The building superintendent was white, but all the guys that worked for him were black. Also, my mom was the cook at my church, and all of the help they ever hired for her was... I'll say non-white. I'll also say that, as part of the "paid help," my family, as with the building super, was barely passable, and that's just because we were white. The non-white employees didn't actually attend my church, and the janitors (because we still called them janitors, at the time) were specifically forbidden from entering the sanctuary during services. They could only come in to do the clean-up afterward.
I didn't know about all of this until later, but it all has to do with why it wasn't a "good idea" for me to invite my friend.
One morning, I was walking with the guy who was in charge of the bus ministry. He was helping a little, old lady from the "gym side" of the church to the "sanctuary side" of the church. When I say "little, old," I mean it, too. She was at least in her 80s, unable to walk without assistance, and what you would call wizened. Without any of the wisdom that came with it. As we entered the connecting hallway (the church was laid out in a large U), one of the janitors was leaning against the wall near the intersection. He was supposed to be doing this. They were stationed at what were considered the rear doors so they could open them for people (and to keep out "undesirables" (seriously)).
I liked this guy, and I wish I could remember his name. He was taller than me (not surprising), in his early 20s, had a big smile, and laughed easily. By this point, I was already working at my church, so, sometimes, when I was doing work in the gym area and he was around, we would joke and stuff. Plus, he played basketball with my brother who was only in the 10-12 year old range, at the time, and he treated him like a person, not a kid.
So... there he was, leaning against the wall, as the three of us came out of the other hallway. I went to say hi, the bus guy went to say hi, the old lady... She didn't let us say hi, because she -- pardon the language, but there's really no other way to say this with the same meaning -- lost her shit. Right there. She started screaming that there was a "nigger in the church!" She had a cane, and she, this lady who could barely walk, raised it and tried to go after him screaming about the "nigger" the whole time.
I think my brain froze up, because I just stood there not knowing what to do or how to respond. Evidently, the bus guy had dealt with this kind of thing before, because he just guided the old lady around the corner and off down the hallway while looking back over his shoulder and mouthing an apology. In what I'm sure she thought was a whisper, the old lady was saying, "Did you see that? There's a black person in my church!"
And the janitor? He just shrugged and waved it off. He even chuckled about it. But I stood there, mortified. I hadn't done anything, but I went over and apologized. It was the first time I felt, well, shame at being who I was. Because I was white. I felt soiled just from having walked down the hall with the old lady, not to mention that I had helped her off the bus and into the building. I wanted to go wash my hands. But he said it wasn't a big deal and not to worry about it. It wasn't me, and she was old, and it didn't matter.
To some extent, he was right. I mean, it wasn't me and she was old, but I couldn't get behind the part where it didn't matter. I thought it did matter. I mean, we were in church! What kind of person acts like that to begin with, but what kind of person acts like that at church? Which made me wonder what she'd been like when she was younger and that kind of behavior and been acceptable. And not just acceptable but expected. And I got all sick feeling again and ashamed of being white.
And that's when I understood why my mother had told me that it wouldn't be a good idea for me to bring my friend to church. I never came to a conclusion, though, as to whether it wasn't a good idea because she was concerned for my friend or if she was concerned about any potential labels that might have gotten attached to me or our family over it. After all, "nigger lover" was still a pretty common term in those days.