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John Perkins Shares His Greatest Regret

The Christian leader John Perkins has written movingly about the need for racial reconciliation even after his painful encounters with brutal racists. In his latest book, Dream With Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win, he writes:

In New Hebron, Mississippi, I grew up around poor whites who felt they were better than blacks and expected us to move out of their way when they were walking down the street …. They were oppressors, and common knowledge through the years was that in rural areas, poor whites sought to become sheriffs, cops, or guards in order to have some power over society. So we did not have a great relationship with them …. To be honest, I had never given a second thought to poor whites. I still regarded them negatively—as redneck, trailer-park trash.

But over the years Christ has slowly transformed John Perkins' view of poor white people. He tells a story about watching white people come to a church site that distributed food for the poor. Perkins writes:

Sometimes when I visited the church, I would just hang back and watch the people come and go as they picked up food items. I always found the behavior of the white people quite curious. Their body language showed so much shame. One would almost think they were stealing the food.
I noted also that these white folks really didn't have a voice or anyone in power to stand up for them—that they too were victims exploited politically by those in power. Many times the man of the family would not even go inside to get the food; rather, he would sit outside in the truck and send in his wife.
I've gone from almost hating them (when I was young and angry and they were bigoted and violent) to genuinely loving them as brothers and sisters. I think about how many poor whites respond to me so positively when I speak today. Often I can see a spark in their eyes. I'm truly sorry that I've neglected the needs of these neighbors of mine and have not responded often enough to the spark.

Perkins concluded by confessing, "There's one thing I know I would change if I had the chance to do it all over again: I would do more to help poor whites."

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