Twilight had already fallen and I was driving down College Street, a four lane street, to take care of an errand. Saturday night traffic in Auburn was mild due to the out of town game. At a traffic stop I needed to check for receipt of a possible email. It had indeed come and had some needed details. I drove a few more blocks and knowing I needed to review this email more thoroughly, I made a quick decision to pull into a fairly empty parking lot on my right. I believe it was the Urgent Care next to Jim and Nick’s BBQ. As I pulled in, I looped around in order to park. A silver SUV was also in the parking lot and also wheeling around. I was reading through the received email, my light on in my car. Out of the corner of my eye, I realized the silver SUV had parked a space down from me. Sensing someone was looking at me, I peered up. There was a lady staring at me with a flat expression on her face. Rolling down my window, I politely asked, “Can I help you?”
With anger and fear in her voice, she began yelling at me and asking me why I was following her. She said she had been driving and it was obvious I was following her and why did I feel the need to harass her. “I cannot understand what is wrong with you people and why you are acting senseless and racist” Stunned, I desperately tried to apologize and let her know I was not following her. She cut me off saying how out of control we are and that I was part of the Ku Klux Klan. I was shaking my head no and trying to explain that I really was not following her. I felt terrible. The last thing she said to me was that “I needed Jesus to save me” In polite frustration, I replied, “Ma’m, I am a minister” and “I am really sorry”. At that, still shaking her head in disgust, she drove away.
My mind was swimming, flooded with emotion. Now, before you jump to conclusions and start speaking out against this African American woman let me reveal to you how I felt.
It saddened me this is where we are. Her actions confirmed the fear and anxiety that so many, especially our minorities feel right now. Many that are dear friends and are sharing stories from the other side of how they are being mistreated and accused. I did not blame her nor fault her for her actions. Hurt? Absolutely—probably one of the worst things someone could say to me is that I am racist or would intentionally hurt someone. Fear and intimidation was real for her and in my heart I wanted to validate her fear. But it does not minimize my own fear and pain I experienced.
What do we do with this? How can a white person of faith work this through? Here are a few starting points-and books are written about this so I am just scratching the tip of the tip of the surface.
1) Take the blinders off- we don’t have slavery and Jim Crow but the effects of systems of racism and discrimination very much exist. They are so subtle, we may not see them but they are there. And events such as Ferguson and all the way through this election cycle have busted it wide open.
What do I mean?
- Have you ever been followed through a store or establishment by the management because you were being watched in case you might steal something-just because of your color?
- Ever worry about driving to your home and if you will be followed by police because you don’t look like you should be there?
- Ever noticed how some of our schools are still segregated because of our tax structures?
- Ever asked why housing projects are located where they are? Do there seem to be any nice, white neighborhoods located nearby?
- Ever noticed what color Band Aids were for years?
- What color is “Flesh” in the crayon box?
- Asked why, there is still gross inadequacies of wage structures for minorities (and women for that matter)
* Only the military and sports systems have been able to balance the access to promotion and opportunity.
Some of these seem petty…but it reveals we have normed our culture on being white. And the systems of norming have done so at the expense of groups of people’s access to opportunity. Because we are in it, we cannot see it. By not recognizing them and helping dismantle these systems, we are actually perpetuating them.
To my black friends, I do not assume this is how every black person feels or is responding. But I do want to validate your experience, your feelings, and the frustrations you may be feeling. Especially during this campaign system, bigotry and racism seemed to be a justifiable platform. I am sorry if we have been too silent when we should have been standing with you to say “enough”. Many of us were absolutely appalled and disgusted. Not every white person voted for Trump. And, not every person that voted for Trump is a biggot. But, we still need to stand up and say enough when the rhetoric is obvious.
To my white friends, I ask you to join with me to validate that person’s fear. What she said was false and inappropriate. She did not allow me to explain the situation and made it look like I was just making up a story. She was not able to hear me either. But I also am seeing story’s of my black friends being called ugly, racist names and being treated rudely by white people. So, it is real.
And just remember, as you wonder why people are rioting and burning…that we did it first. Yes, when the blacks received their civil rights and the right to vote and “separate but equal” policies were outlawed, we, the whites took to the streets and bombed and burned black businesses. We burned homes and bombed churches. We were the initiators of these intimidation factors. I am not saying I agree with the this display of frustration, just that I understand it.
And as the church…the evangelical, white church has remained predominantly silent in the most ungodly of ways. Focusing only on morality and our individual positions with God, we have neglected the weightier matters that Jesus discussed; mercy, justice, and righteousness. We have expected individuals to rise above these broken systems on their own; to achieve their way out of debilitating policies; and to just suck it up. Somehow we forgot that white people, many of which who went to church every Sunday, created these very systems. So, it is time to take a hard look at what the Gospel…good news…says…and do it.
Yes, lets end the violence. I don’t want another black person to fear she or he is being followed and intimidated by a white person. I don’t want my black friends called ugly and hateful names. I don’t want to be accused of being racist because I am white. And I desire that the body of Christ lead the charge on prayerfully and boldly dismantling the systems of injustice, racial practices, and anything that exists to undermine the potential growth of any person. I really do believe in our aim for life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for all people who call themselves citizens of this country (and beyond).
So, let’s listen. Listen hard, listen actively, and be quiet when our friends who have dealt with centuries of discrimination share their stories. Let’s be extremely careful to not make false assumptions. Let’s give people the benefit of the doubt when we do not have all of the facts. On an individual level, let’s smile first, wave first, and be polite first. And then lets speak and stand up for our friends in the right places. We don’t fight against flesh and blood but against principalities and authorities that perpetuate darkness. The systems were created in political and governmental structures. There were created in business practices. And we have to ask the hard questions and undo these systems. We will never be completely whole until all can achieve wholeness together. In God’s mercy!
Two books that I have read that have influenced me and given me insight are listed below. I highly recommend you read them.
Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America2001 by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith
Lifting the White Veil: An Exploration of White American Culture in a Multiracial Context Jan 2003by Jeff Hitchcock
Grace and peace,