It was a single, thoughtless, and quick noise that would become a loud, confusing, and regretful clamor in my soul.
Just one click.
Years ago, I was in my car, trying to make a left turn out of the bank. I had been to the ATM for cash, and traffic made it challenging to exit left. As I waited, I caught sight of a black man walking toward my car with a fairly quick and confident stride.
I don’t know why – I guess the honest explanation is that it was instinct – but I noted that I hadn’t locked the car. So I did.
It’s easy to say that my response – just one click – became a problem because the man noticed. And he was immediately offended and reactive. I was horrified as he waved his arms vigorously, jumped up and down, and shouted –
“What’s wrong with you, white woman? You think I’m going to hurt you? What’s WRONG with you?”
I mashed the accelerator, turning right as fast as I could.
It’s more honest to say that my response became a problem not because the black man noticed but because it was my response.
Countless times, I have replayed this scenario in my mind. Was it the way he carried himself? (maybe) Was it the way he was dressed? (perhaps) Was it that he was a man? (could be) Was it that he was a black man? (very likely)
I came home and told my husband about what happened. His response was pretty simple, “Well, you should keep your doors locked all the time anyway.” Good husband answer. True yet sad.
And I have substituted many other people in the black man’s place, trying to imagine my response. What if an Asian man walked to my car? What if he were older? What about a white man, a black woman? On and on and on … And every time, I come back to the same condemning conclusion, the voice ringing in my head:
What’s WRONG with you?
I write about “speaking life” and the honor and dignity of every human being. Have I consistently acted this out?
The fact that I even attempt to imagine how I would respond to people of different ethnicity, background, outward appearance, and gender means that there is exists in me a tendency to place people in categories. Where’s the honor and dignity in this?
Does this particular race belong in a “safe” category whereas another race does not? It’s a judgment process that’s discriminatory, racist.
A few years after “the click,” I had an opportunity to write about it in a seminary course on cross-cultural dynamics. I wondered how my black professor would receive this paper. I don’t remember his exact comments, but I remember finding relief in confessing to a black person an action that I deeply regretted. He could have been the man I locked out.
But tragic events have stirred the internal pot all over again. I still have struggles to release. Upon hearing the news, I’m influenced by the polarization among black people, police officers, Christians, Muslims, homosexuals, heterosexuals, Democrats, Republicans and on and on and on … And if tomorrow I find myself in the same scenario after using an ATM, can I say that I would react differently this time? I’m not sure. As an American, I thought that we as a people had progressed so far toward justice and equality, but have we? The examination needs to begin in my own heart.
Writing that cross-cultural paper offered me relief in the act of confession (which is essential and biblical). But I am still a sinner in need of daily grace and cleansing. I am weakest – yet potentially most harmful to my fellow human – when I think I am above temptation regarding racism. I need to be continually in the act of release, letting go of every puffed-up attitude, every prejudice, every blind eye, every root of inequity. And I cannot do this unless I open my hands in humility and implore God to replace my grip on self-righteousness with His liberating love.
Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10).
Last month, our family volunteered at an Albanian camp which served a mix of children from orphanages, desperate poverty, and relatively “normal” homes. And I was delighted that, for the most part, I could not tell who was who. In my eyes, they were all children unattached to categories.
My daughter’s summer reading assignment is The Same Kind of Different as Me, the true and powerful story of friendship between a black homeless man and a white prosperous businessman. While I know that discrimination and ethnic tension exist in Albania, all I saw for one blessed week was the same kind of different between the Americans and the Albanians across a broad spectrum of life experiences. What made it possible? How can our family come home and live changed?
One way, I think, is that we simply need to try. At camp, Americans fumbled through broken Albanian phrases, and Albanians tried their halting English with us. And we laughed through the awkwardness. Sure, it was uncomfortable at times, but the success of camp depended upon our perseverance toward understanding. By the end of our week together, we were a team, loving and valuing one another through the differences. The same thing, I believe, can happen in my neighborhood, town, state, and country.
I feel a similar responsibility toward my black brothers and sisters to keep the conversations going. To release my pride and fumble through the awkwardness and own the discomfort and say, “I want to hear your stories and listen to your experiences because I value you and I see God’s image in you.”
Another way to live the same kind of different is simply by living differently. I like how Albanians eat food that’s freshly Mediterranean and how they greet me with two kisses on my face and how they speak to each other with gusto and animated body language.
The differences enliven me, and why would I come home to America and want us to all be the same? For a long time, I thought that “speaking life” meant that I regard a person primarily at a soul-level, meaning that I look beyond the external and into the internal. And I still believe this is important. One of my favorite Scriptures is 2 Corinthians 5:16 – “So then from now on we acknowledge no one from a worldly, an outward human point of view.” Ultimately, all souls matter.
But part of releasing my racism is embracing the externals too. As God sees colors clearly, so must I. Speaking life is ascribing value to its multi-facets which reflect color like a precious gemstone in the Light.
I’m committed to do my part, but a complete release will be the work of the Holy Spirit deep in my soul.
Lord, make me willing. Open my hands, my heart, and my eyes and make me willing. Humility is where the healing begins.
Linking today with Holley Gerth. Visit her site to read hopeful words – “God Isn’t Afraid of the Dark” and discover what other writers are contributing.
Here’s a collection of really good words – convicting, inspiring, moving words. I’m grateful for these pastors and writers who are helping me to process a jumble of thoughts and to release my racism:
From Adam Mabry, What I’m Learning about Pastoring a Multi-Ethnic Church:
God isn’t colorblind. He sees colors quite clearly.
The picture in Revelation 7 isn’t of a grey, amorphous humanity. It’s one of persons from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation before the throne of the Lamb. God sees their color, culture, songs, and stories. He chose them from before the beginning, that his kingdom would be a multi-ethnic one.
When white pastors like me disconnect from the racial problems in our nation, we’re guilty of two errors: We affirm the negligence of those who look like us while affirming the fear of those who don’t—namely, the fear we don’t really care about them.
We’re all made in the image of God—black and white, young and old, rich and poor. We’re also all shattered and strangled by sin. But we can’t stop there. The gospel also means that peace is possible—peace with God and peace with each other.
Pastor, inflame the sanctified imagination of your congregation to hope for a world they don’t yet occupy, a world free of racial hatred and shaped by holy affection. Give them the imaginative tools to desire the kingdom of God. Don’t let them settle for the latest version of man-centered utopia pawned by politicians and prognosticators. If we can get this right in the church, then the church will showcase an inexplicably good story to the world.
From Jeff Cook, Why I’m a Racist
The security guard that makes a mental note that they are there, the woman who locks her car door as they walk by, and yes, the times they get pulled over for driving while black. (No matter how much or how little you think that happens, we all know it happens.) So you see, while I am very uncomfortable when forced to confront a terrible reality that I can generally avoid, my friends and neighbors of color are forced to confront it every day.
I have to make it my business to overcome my discomfort; I have to be intentional about educating myself and raising my awareness so that my ignorance can diminish; and I have make it personal.
I need to let my heart break at the fact that there are people in this country who do not receive the benefit of the doubt, ever.
If ignorance is defined as lack of knowledge, education or awareness then I am most certainly ignorant of the racial inequalities that exist in our country. The beautiful thing about ignorance, though, is that it is easily remedied ― but not without willingness and intention.
From Bryan Loritts, Four Ways to Pursue Grace in a Racially Diverse Society
I have become entrenched in my conviction that culture is not to be ignored but subjugated to the master culture of the kingdom of God. My blackness is not to be dismissed, but submitted and subjugated to the redeeming power of the cross, and in humble participation to this new chosen race and royal priesthood called the church of Jesus Christ.
From Erik Wolgemuth, writing on Trillia Newbell’s site, Don’t Move On
I don’t need any more wake-up calls because I’m not asleep. I recognize that I’ve been in a position that allows me the choice to sleep…but no more.
I can’t pretend like my black brothers and sisters – and their children – are experiencing life in America just like I am. And where this equates to inequality and injustice, that must stop. Further, I’m done discussing the value and equality of all lives only when the news and social media chatter prompt it. When the headlines change – and they will – I refuse to move on and pretend like all is well.
I want to raise my children to see skin color that’s different than their own and praise God for his beautiful diversity in creation. I need to grow and learn, which means I acknowledge that I don’t know what it’s like to live as a black man in America. But I won’t sit back – my black brothers and sisters deserve my proactivity. To pray. To weep. To repent. To learn. To listen. To grow. To love. To speak. To remember.
From Jen Hatmaker on Facebook:
I promise to examine the darkest, most discriminatory parts of my heart, the ones tucked away from public scrutiny and in some cases, protected from even self-awareness through justification or denial, and I commit to pull those places into the light, repent for harboring and nurturing them, and do the work required to banish them from both thought and practice.
It’s all any of us can do. When the world is on fire, we look inside and see if we’ve lit a match. It is no small thing to offer our own love and grace and brotherhood and sisterhood to our communities. What would happen if we walked straight over to the one person, the one group we most fear, most reject, most disparage, most misunderstand and reach our hands out for understanding and unity? If we sat down and said, “I’m listening. Tell me your story…” I believe we would see healing in our time.