I have never felt so white as in recent years. Even all the years we lived in North Africa weren’t like now. Being white, politically conservative and evangelical, some would say, in our current political and cultural climate, that folks like me come from a camp of perceived unsavories.
That reality is might be changeable as political parties come and go in power. What I would love is to have conversation with you…if you would engage with me in the Comments below…is about the realities of those whose skin and cultural experience is black.
No matter what my heart is toward people of color or my attempts to bridge the racial gaps of this city…is it too little, too late? No. I know it’s not too late, but what can I do definitively to help?
This is what I’m asking and searching out.
When the Rodney King arrest happened and became a cultural phenomenon, we were living in the hills of East Tennessee. Far from the struggles that poverty and racial tension bring to urban America.
With violence in the US on the rise, it is easy to see how edgy police officers could get. Police brutality is never the answer. It is, however, a part of the many problems we have in our country right now.
[I couldn’t imagine someone I loved being in law enforcement and am grateful for these men and women who try to do right and try to keep us ALL safe.]
What stirred me to write today (besides it being MLK Day) was an account by a friend of mine who was pulled over recently by local police. This friend is well-educated, conservatively dressed, articulate, and kind. He lives in a part of the city that is being revitalized, doing work in a non-profit organization and he has a family. He is also black.
When we talked, he told me this was actually the fourth time he had been stopped for confusing reasons that could have put him in harm’s way, when he wasn’t guilty.
When he was in high school, he was among a group of students gathered by a police officer. The purpose of the class was to teach them “how not to get shot” if ever approached by law enforcement.
My friend has applied those lessons on these multiple “pull overs”.
When he and his wife shared the details of some of these encounters with police, it caused me to be scared for them…and for all those who experience this kind of profiling (because of their color?).
That conversation reminded me of my only experience that was anywhere close to his. [And then, it’s not even close.] Once when we lived in North Africa, a police officer pulled me over, took my papers and refused to return them to me until I paid him “a fee”. I had done nothing wrong, and I couldn’t leave without my papers. Stuck. It was the only time in all the years we lived overseas that I essentially cooperated with a bribe.
As infuriating and exasperating as that North African experience was, I still felt the benefit of white privilege. I had the money to pay him. I, an unaccompanied woman, was driving a car. I knew if I appealed (to anyone in our hearing that day), he may have probably backed off.
A big difference between my friend’s situation and mine was that I knew there was a way out. Not sure of his confidence of that…
Photo Credit: Flickr
The phrase “white privilege” feels wrong, to be honest, and I chafe in every conversation where it comes up. I wanted to be a person who has tried to be “color blind”. The problem with that “color blindness” is our black neighbors, coworkers, friends don’t have that option. I’m beginning to see and acknowledge how privileged I am in so many ways. This is what I used to call “blessed” which had no color attached. Unfortunately, when my friend shares his experiences, I want to agree with him. There is privilege attached to my life. If there is privilege, then how do I use it for the sake of others?… This friend of mine has his own privilege through education and class, BUT the color of his skin trumps all of that.
On Sunday, at the start of our church service, I saw, sitting by our pastor, a person of color, wearing the “pastor’s mic”. I’d been praying for some time that when we added to our staff, we would seek a black man or woman. When Rayshawn Graves was introduced as our speaker, I forgot for a moment that his presence was aligned with our observance of MLK Day. Initially my heart thrilled at the possibility that he was preaching “in view of a call”. Oh well (I would find out later)…he is contentedly on staff at Redemption Hill Church in Richmond.
Rayshawn preached out of Ephesians 2:11-16 on the reconciling of Jewish and Gentile believers. He also preached on Galatians 2:11-16 on how racism can creep into even the most devout believers if we aren’t careful. His message was so encouraging to me as a white believer desiring to figure how to deal with racism in America (what could I do?). My takeaways from his assuring and equipping sermon follow:
- Racism is a sin which will always be present. It separates and isolates us from God and each other.
- Jesus died for that sin as for all other sins.
- Through Him, we can have the guilt of that sin removed. We can all be free to live in unity with God and each other.
- Our identity in Christ is above every other identity we may have.
- We don’t have to live out guilt (as whites) or the hurt of racism (as blacks). We belong to Christ and we are called to live that out – loving God, loving others, making every effort to keep and preserve the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:2-3).
- We are called to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) – within the church and with marginalized peoples especially. Unless we come close to each other, and have heart conversations, how will we know what those burdens are?
- Because our identity is in Christ, and we love Him and want to be like Him, we make a habit of being proactive in pursuing reconciliation.
You can listen to Rayshawn’s sermon in entirety here. So helpful.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
As we pause on Martin Luther King Day and reflect on the sobering issue of racism in our country, and world, we can be hopeful. The hope must be grounded in what has already been done for us to be unified…and what we can do, based on truth, towards racial reconciliation. Still thinking of my friend, somehow profiled by law enforcement, I am more resolved than ever before to reach out in as many directions as possible. May God open doors and bring unity.
Postscript: Below I have excerpted just a few of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s observations on what was happening in his day. He wrote these to a group of white pastors who had expressed concern about his actions. He wrote from the Birmingham jail where he was imprisoned for nonviolent demonstrations against segregation.
[Bold emphases are mine. Read his letter in its entirety here.]