So, I’m white. I’m the kind of white where people make jokes about how blinded they are when my skin shows. Hilarious, really. Keep those jokes coming cause they never get old.
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 tried to treat people equally, I wasn’t part of the problem.
In the last few years, I’ve been involved in more and more conversations about race. It pains me that as a church, we are not the ones leading the way in talking about diversity, or in fighting to break down systems of racism. We should be. We are the ones who know that each of us is created in the image of our beautiful Creator. We are called to justice and freedom for the oppressed.
I’ve realized that we need to see further. Here’s how I’m learning to do that:
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, or complimented for being “so well spoken” (as though that’s a surprise). I think of the stories I have heard from people of color 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.
Yes, we have privilege. It doesn’t serve anyone to deny the existence of white privilege. The very fact that we can ignore its existence is, in itself, a privilege. I never have to think about the fact that I am white. I never have to wonder if someone is treating me differently because of the color of my skin. Seeing my privilege reminds me that all is not equal. It helps me see where things need to change.
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 get pulled over for minor infractions and be killed. It is hard to admit that we have a system that has for compounded generations been biased toward the white majority; even harder to admit that I benefit from that system. I must see what that gives me that others do not have.
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.
We cannot stand at a distance and condemn obvious acts of racism, thinking we are absolved from the issues. We have to come close, to see how we are part of the problem, to hear the real stories of how racism impacts our brothers and sisters, and work for justice.
Silence is not neutrality. Silence is complicity. We can opt out of this conversation, but so many cannot. We need to opt in because God wants us together. We need to see further.