The shameful gesture I still regret: A warning for parents

When I was growing up in south Mississippi, there were some Pentecostals who sold peanut brittle door-to-door and in grocery store parking lots.  At one point in my childhood, I remember having a positive view of them because — well, they had sweets.  But my dad took care of that really quickly.

Dad said they were part of a cult, and whenever they approached us, he wouldn’t even acknowledge them.  Behind closed doors, he also made fun of them.  I took note.

One day, some ladies came to our small apartment building wearing ankle-length blue jean skirts, long sleeves, and beehive hairdos.  When I saw the peanut brittle, I knew it was them.  I watched them go to each apartment, selling their wares, and I began jeering at them.  They ignored me.

As they were leaving, they walked under the staircase where I was standing, and that’s when I did something I still regret to this day: I got as much phlegm in my mouth as I could and then I spat.  It landed right in a teenage girl’s hair.  She just kept walking.

You know something interesting about that memory? I’m certain my father wasn’t there, but it feels like he was when I recall it.  I think it’s because my decision that day was fueled by the many times I heard him mock those people.  But those weren’t the only folks he ridiculed.

I heard Dad make fun of Yankees, Democrats, and a host of other folks who weren’t like us.  And when I heard him do that, I took it to mean that it was okay to objectify those people.  They weren’t any bigger than their political party, their accent, or the peanut brittle they sold.

All of us who are raising or influencing kids should recognize that when we mock other groups of people, we poison our kids’ ability to see those people as individuals.  Maybe we do it by impersonating accents, using demeaning names to refer to a racial group, or always casting adherents of a particular religion as the bad guys.  It’s a great way to handicap our children, to make it harder for them to grow up and engage with other adults maturely.

You know, if I could find that teenage girl who walked away with spit in her hair, I would apologize and beg her forgiveness.  That may not be possible, but there’s one thing I can do: watch the way I talk about other people around my kids.

This was published yesterday at Fox News Opinion.  If you’d like an email with a weekly recap of what I’ve written, click here.  You can also keep up with my latest articles (and more) on Facebook or Twitter.


  1. Graeme Phillips

    Accents and racial groups, I can understand the sentiments, but political parties and other religions? The Supreme Court’s judgement on same-sex marriage has reminded us that the Democrat Party is beneath contempt, but that is nothing compared to other religions, whose primary purpose is to lead people away from Christ, the only person who can bring us salvation, but who quite rightly demands absolute loyalty from us.

    The worst situation is when they are, as Christ calls them, wolves in sheep’s clothing. They give the impression of being all nice and maligned merely on account of being different, but actually, they lead people astray. If I hear one more person say homosexuals are “nice”, I might scream!

    Me personally, my strategy would be to teach children that there are lots of very bad people out there who are beneath contempt, but in spite of how bad they are, we have to control our tongues, because if we say something stupid, we will compromise our testimony for Christ. Proverbs 21:23: – “Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles”.

    On the other hand, I admit that a lot of my comedy focuses on mimicking sounds I hear. I am not one to advocate using one’s disability as an excuse, but I was totally unaware of echolalia (the technical name for it) being part and parcel until I saw the film Rainman, e.g. when he was imitating sounds from “Wheel of Fortune” and the “Who’s on first” sketch. But then maybe echolalia is a reason behind my foreign languages (currently English, French, German, Spanish, Afrikaans, Dutch and Swedish), so maybe mimicking accents isn’t so bad?


  2. I’m shocked that you would violate the 5th Commandment and publicly humiliate your father to make a point. This story would have been just as effective if you had protected your father’s reputation.


    1. I wrote the piece with my dad’s permission.



      1. I find it hard to believe that he gave you permission since you make him out to be Archie Bunker on steroids. A lot of us were raised with some type of prejudice expressed in family situations. Most of us didn’t spit in someone’s hair, and had formed our own opinions by our late teenage years. Sorry it took you so long.


  3. Dear Joshua,
    I want you to know if you could find her, she would give you complete forgiveness. The best thing to do is ask God to forgive you and then forgive yourself. For you to see what you did as being wrong is the first step to redemption. I, too, have gone to my mom and dad 15 years after all my mistakes and asked them for forgiveness. It freed me! Whether someone forgives you or not is not your responsibility, but to go to them and try and make it right is….God’s blessing on you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely agree with you that I am forgiven, with or without hearing it from the young woman, but it would be nice to have the opportunity to apologize.


  4. Charles Robinett

    O Boy that one is hard to take . I am sure I did something and a lot more in my past.Thank God for
    Love and forgiveness. we all need it.
    Charles Robinett


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