Since I have started attending Living Faith United Methodist Church, I’ve learned so many things. I’ve learned that being a Christian is, and should be, more than what you agree with and think about, it’s who you are and what you do, how you live. I’ve learned that people of different races and cultures can worship together, and learn from one another by being honest, by talking and listening. I’ve also learned something that I didn’t realize before: I am a member of a privileged race.
My pastor, Dr. Irene Taylor, a former Army chaplain, one of the first African-American students to attend public school in Texas, and a woman of incredible spirit, first brought that to my attention. She didn’t throw it in my face as an insult, she simply stated a fact. When she first said it, I recoiled at the idea. I never felt all that privileged. I mean, I have had my share of trouble in life.
But, since the Trayvon Martin trial and verdict, I’ve been thinking about it even more. What did she mean by privileged? Since I respect her, and since I’ve always known that racism was evil and wanted to be part of reconciliation between races, I decided to actually ponder what she said.
Here’s what came to me: I’m privileged because I don’t actually have to think about racism if I don’t want to. I have a choice to care about it and try to do something to change it, or to ignore it. African Americans don’t really have that choice. In spite of what whites think and feel, racism is still alive and well in this country and African Americans are always confronted with it. They live their lives wondering when will be the next time they’ll be looked at like a criminal by people of other races. When is the next time they’ll be called the N word by a know-it-all celebrity or a man in a restaurant in a booth behind them. When will they feel the sting of hearing about another one of their young people losing their lives to violence? The bereaved mothers’ club is a large one in the African American community, but whites, for the most part, can just move on with their lives and not give it a second thought if they want.
Not only are African Americans in this country regularly confronted by overt racism, they’re constantly flooded by ignorant racism, people who are not of their race who speak carelessly to them about things they know nothing about, but think they do. Now, I don’t know what it feels like to be African American in this country, but, all I can do is try to think things through the best I can and try to be respectful and loving above all things.
So many white folks seem to carry a weight of resentment with them toward people of color, that I feel, and I’m sure they do as well. They act exasperated about having to hear about the problem still, but the fact is the problem still exists and hiding your head in the sand won’t make it go away. But then, we’re privileged, so we can live our lives in ignorant bliss while thousands of our brothers and sisters suffer.
It’s no better in the church than anywhere else, I imagine. I remember growing up hearing racist remarks on a constant basis. I remember there were swimming places our youth group would go that didn’t allow African Americans to swim there. I remember hearing terrible jokes on my school bus and at church. It was disgusting on the bus, but it was appalling at church. I was shocked by it and felt sick to my stomach over it. I was always an idealist. I always felt that if you called yourself a Christian, you should be kind, loving and caring. So, to hear these sorts of vile jokes at church by people who were in high positions in the church was unbelievable.
I once asked my pastor, at my high school graduation party, “How can people be Christians and be prejudiced?” I was told to hush, that it wasn’t the place to ask those things.
But I do want to know. How can people cling to racism, and/or hide their heads from the pain of people in our nation that need justice, and still call ourselves Christians? Why are we so defensive when confronted with the problem? Are we more concerned with not having our consciences pricked than doing what is right? Why, as Christians, are we so easily offended?
My pastor said that it isn’t that African Americans want white people to walk around feeling guilty. That isn’t the point of bringing it up. The point is that they want us to care enough to stand up against it — to stand with them as they fight for their rights. They want us to include them in the people we call brothers and sisters. How can you walk by a brother in need and not care? Or do we only think of people as brothers who are just like us? If we do, well, we need to reread our Bibles because Jesus was Jewish and he opened up his heart and salvation to the world. We are all a part of the family by grace, not because we’re white, or Republican, or angry and defensive. The least we can do is open up dialogue and find out what breaks the hearts of African Americans in this country. Since joining some grief groups on Facebook, for instance, I’ve met so many African American women who’ve lost children and are grieving like I am, except for the fact that many have lost their kids to violence. I cannot imagine the grief of that. That is a privilege I have.
This is what has been on my mind and heart these days. I hope you will read it with an open mind and maybe think a little bit. Bless you all.