Reveal it, deal with it, heal it. A recipe for dealing with racism.
When I was seven, a little boy threw a rock at me.
Because I was white.
I hit me behind the right knee, in the soft spot. Left a mark. And really hurt.
But what hurt more, to an innocent first-grade girl living in another culture, was knowing that there was absolutely nothing I could have done to prevent it.
I didn’t know, that then, as now, people who look like me had exploited the beautiful Puerto Rican island, charging high taxes but providing few government services, exploiting lower minimum wage requirements, and living high on the hog while those who worked for us struggled.
I didn’t know I was a colonialist.
I didn’t know that the reason I attended private school was because the schools on the island weren’t considered high-quality enough for my middle class parents.
While I revelled in a multicultural world and learned history differently than my friends back home (Christopher Columbus looks a little different standing in the ports where he landed), the Native Americans in my country, that Columbus christened “Indians” were dying quiet deaths from desperation and alcoholism.
While I learned Spanish and had my first crushes on Hispanic boys, their cousins were carrying out terrorist attacks in the US due to inequities.
That when I gave my heart to Jesus and pledged to become a missionary going into all the world, that others were dying at home, due to racial injustice in my own nation.
I didn’t know.
But I sure do now.
Or, at least, I’m starting to.
They call it getting “woke.”
And the Christian in me is actively believing and praying for another Great Awakening. Many of my Christian friends are. Diligently.
I don’t know that we realized that we might be the ones that got woke.
I don’t guess we knew we were asleep.
Racism. I was taught, returning home to Texas, that the civil rights movement had won, the racism was gone and we were all equal.
But a quick glance around my third grade classroom, with people sitting in groups according to skin tone, would’ve shown that to be a lie.
It wasn’t gone. It was so much a part of our daily life in around Houston, Texas, that we became immune to it. It became invisible to us.
The first step in racial reconciliation in America today is this: we have to believe that racism actually exists. It has to be revealed to people like me, in the middle class or even higher, with light skin and great schools, who grew up in fantastic churches where there just, um, weren’t very many black people.
Not everyone lives in the same America.
Because any honest look at America will show us that there are differences in the way people live. If you look at income, academic achievement, incarceration, even diseases, people of color fare worse–on almost every measure.
Regarding how and why people of color have it worse, there are only two possible explanations.
Number one is that there is an invisible wall stopping people from succeeding. This is so painful to those of us who didn’t construct it that we don’t want to acknowledge the possibility. And, to be fair, we truly benefit from it. But most of us don’t even see it.
The other possibility is heinous. And that is to assume that somehow people of color are somehow not as smart or as noble. Their failure to achieve is due to defects in character, ability, or just plain poor choices.
If you take a minute to think, that doesn’t even make sense. So, if we assume that character isn’t linked to skin type, and intelligence isn’t linked to the amount of melanin you have as pigment, then we have to stop and realize that the only real possibility is that the playing field isn’t level. The system is not just for our brothers and sisters who have slightly different amounts of brown in their skin than we do.
I came to know little bit about this, like I did when that rock hit me behind the knee, when I began to work as a female professional in Fort Worth.I was shocked to find out that even when my qualifications, expertise, and achievement statistics were greater than those of my male colleagues, I was treated in meetings as if I was a little girl. My comments were tolerated, my insights ignored. That is, unless a male colleague repeated them and took credit.
In America women function normally in careers, jobs and professions until they reach a certain level, beyond which the consensus is that it’s inappropriate for them to go. I liked to joke, when I was younger, that I didn’t believe in the glass ceiling until I hit my head on it three times. But it’s too true to be funny. And I like to think that, just like that rock against the back of my leg did, those experiences give me a small window of insight into what it might be like to be black in America. But I admit that they give me just enough insight to realize this: that I don’t know what it’s like, at all.
I don’t know what it’s like, if I step into the elevator, for everyone there to assume I’m there to steal something.
I don’t know what it’s like to tell my son to be very , very careful driving at night, or in wealthy neighborhoods, because his life might be at risk.
I don’t know what it’s like to tell my daughter never to talk back to the policeman because she might die. I have no idea what that feels like.
We have excused atrocities until we are numb. This is the strategy from Hell.
And it seems to me that for many white Christians the question is this: is it a sin, that when your brother is dying, you do nothing?
A sin of omission.
DEAL WITH IT
What we need in America is a witness. The Holy Spirit has been calling, for generations, for a real choice from those who have the power regarding the twin sins of slavery and racism. For the descendants of Western Europeans to realize that we are brothers to our family with brown and black skin. That it’s not just glass ceilings. It’s glass walls, glass tunnels. It is past time to dismantle the structures in society that keep people down.
It is time not just to awaken from sleep. It is time to get on our faces before God. To cry out and repent of the sins we have committed. When Jesus spoke of the terrible act of leaving a man bleeding by the roadside, it wasn’t the thieves he castigated. It was the religious, the rich and the legalistic who walked by, because they were busy. and the only person in the story who spent his own time and resources to restore, was the only person Jesus praised.
Interesting that the Master chose a hated minority to play hero here. Making the point that love has no color.
We see signs that say, “No justice, no peace.” I say, “If we don’t deal with it, we can’t heal from it.”
We must find our way back to justice; we must become champions of the oppressed.
It’s not a popular Scripture in American evangelical churches, but the Bible says this:
“”Imagine two people coming into your meeting. One has a gold ring and fine clothes, while the other is poor, dressed in filthy rags. Then suppose that you were to take special notice of the one wearing fine clothes, saying, “Here’s an excellent place. Sit here.” But to the poor person you say, “Stand over there”; or, “Here, sit at my feet.”
But you have dishonored the poor. Don’t the wealthy make life difficult for you? Aren’t they the ones who drag you into court?”
James 2:2-3, 6
The King James actually says, “it is the rich who oppress you.”
Not something you are likely to hear at a “Biblical Values” meeting of Christian Republicans.
After we open our hearts for God to reveal it, we must deal with it.
We have to find wise and just policies for loving our neighbor, for truly being our brother’s keeper. With a level playing field, black, brown and red talent can take off, making contributions and enriching our society.
And then, we must heal it.
Everyone of us must confront the sins of our own hearts.
Racism. Bitterness. Apathy. Anger. Discrimination. Prejudice. Legalism. Religiosity. Slumber.
Ephesians 5:10-14 Therefore, test everything to see what’s pleasing to the Lord, and don’t participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness. Instead, you should reveal the truth about them. It’s embarrassing to even talk about what certain persons do in secret. But everything exposed to the light is revealed by the light. Everything that is revealed by the light is light.
Therefore, it says, Wake up, sleeper! Get up from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.
We’re waking up. To a better tomorrow. Together.