I grew up in a white, affluent town. I know there was one black kid in my elementary school, maybe more. There were a few Asians – two of them were my closest friends. As far as I could see, they weren’t treated any differently than me. As far as I could see.
The problem is, I couldn’t see very far. Racism was something that happened somewhere else, but it didn’t touch me there. I assumed that because I wasn’t racist, I wasn’t part of the problem.
At our ministry conference this summer, we talked a lot about what it means to be together as the body of Christ. One of the barriers to that is the fact that our lack of diversity among our staff; we’re not reflective of the population at large. We spent time bringing this issue out in the open, asking hard questions, hearing stories – not for the sake of being diverse, but because it is what we are called to do in Christ. We are a better reflection of who He is when we are together.
I walked away from the conference with the realization that I need to see further. Here are some of the thoughts I’ve gathered:
First, it doesn’t serve anyone to say, “I don’t see color.” I understand the sentiment behind this because for a long time I said the same myself. But I think of my Asian friends and how often they are asked where they are from, or are told how good their English is (though they were born in America). I think of my black friends, who get pulled over for driving in nice neighborhoods and asked what they’re doing there. I think of the people who shared their heartbreaking stories this summer of not being seen because they are in the minority, of imbalances of power and opportunity due to the color of someone’s skin. I need to know these stories, and enter in to the heartache of them. I must see what other people experience.
It doesn’t serve anyone to say that because I have lived in another country where I was a minority somehow I understand what it feels like to BE a minority. I spent 13 years in that position, and never did I feel I was treated poorly because of my skin color. If anything, I was envied. And if I did live in a place where I was hated because of my skin, I would have the power to leave. That’s a choice so many cannot make. It’s not about being the majority or minority culture, but about what culture dominates. Being white brings privilege. I must see my privilege.
It doesn’t serve anyone to say, “If you just stay on the right side of the law,” or “if you just work hard and make the most of your opportunities,” you’ll do well. I’m seeing more and more that people can do everything right, but if you have the wrong color skin you can be sitting in a Bible study at church and be killed. It is hard to admit that we have a system that is biased toward the white majority; even harder to admit that I benefit from that system. I may do what I can to treat people equally, but I am still sitting in a position of dominance in a system that keeps others subordinate. I must see what that gives me that others do not have.
I think racism grieves the heart of God, because all of us are created to be a reflection of His glory. We are all image bearers, every last one of us. He sees it all. I want to see what He sees.
I would love to say that I am not a part of the problem, but the phrase that keeps running through my head is, “Silence is not neutrality.” Silence is complicity. I can opt out of this conversation, but so many cannot. I need to opt in because God wants us together. I need to see further.
So I’m making some choices about how I will do that. I will choose to keep posting about issues of race, even though already I have discovered that many white people don’t want to talk about it. I have a list of books to read to educate myself on issues of race (I welcome suggestions!). I am starting to brush up on my Spanish (how do people hold several languages in their heads at once?) so that I can more fully engage with the large population of people in Central Florida who speak it. I want to engage more with people of other ethnicities and to hear their stories. I hope to be a learner. I hope to be someone who listens well, is humble, is apologetic. I want to do it because I believe that what God says is true – we are better together.
For a great reflection on this topic, please read this: