A StoryCorps confession from an 94-year-old white man about steeling $2 from his African American maid has led to a wider conversation about race, guilt, forgiveness and atonement. KPCC’s Take Two asked the Rev. Najuma Smith-Pollard to comment on the themes that the story brought up.
Here’s what she said about his confession:
My initial gut said to me that this is a gentleman who has carried this burden for a long time. It’s possible that whatever he saw or experienced at eight was significant enough that it stayed with him all of these years. There is a human tendency to want to clear the air with some things. This was a man who carried the burden for a long time, and he was at a place now where he felt like he needed to clear this up.
Smith-Pollard said that because of the way the situation played out—the maid was fired and blacklisted from jobs in the same community—it was “an act of racism,” even if the eight-year-old didn’t intend it to be a racist act. Still, she said that the man could have gone further than offering a confession 86 years later:
Atonement is about forgiveness, but it’s also about reparations. If you want to do something, then yes, this is a good time to find an organization, find a family, find a non-profit, find a church that — maybe in Pearl’s honor — you do something that can be a benefit or a blessing to a family or a child. How about to a single African American woman trying to raise her children, because that’s who was affected by his actions at eight.