(Disclaimer: the title is a quote from a gothic, death metal group. I use it sarcastically.)
I am one of those people trying to understand myself and my world. Dunno why, really. Wouldn’t I be better off just to go with the flow?
I was born white, middle-class American and male. On the world stage, the privilege and head start that affords me (if life were a game) is just not fair. And yet, life is not a game, and I am not really ahead. I feel my position under attack on all flanks. I bear a sense of guilt for things I didn’t even do.
Am I rich?
Well, if you pull a peasant out of a toilet in Calcutta and stand him up next to me, then the answer is yes. If you sit me next to Oprah Winfrey, the answer is no.
I think you get the idea.
Actually, there are at least a hundred ways I want to situate myself in history on the world stage. Not so I can justify myself, but so that I can understand my situation thoroughly. I want to tell you about my grandparents’ use of “the N-word,” which was not frequent and not normally overtly hostile either. It was just matter-of-fact in it’s delivery – something which has yet its own layer of ugly.
For instance, I recall as a teenager when my mother’s uncle told me about his daddy (my great grandfather – who I remember meeting when I was very young, and he was very old). It was a story about when he was a boy and was “in town” the day they burnt a [N-word] at the stake for the crime of raping a white woman. My great grandfather had seen this event on the courthouse lawn in Hubbard, Texas (according to my uncle). And my uncle who was not there to see it himself recited this story in the late 1980s to me with a sense of guilt in his voice. It went unspoken between us, but I really think neither of us really believed that black man actually raped a white woman – probably never raped anyone.
I can go on and on with that kind of thing in a myriad of other directions.
Who am I?
What does it mean to be white? To be me?? In today’s world???
Well… I also am one of those people who try to answer such questions and reflect on myself through the grace of Jesus. I am a “Christian,” allegedly. I care about being one, and though I fail Jesus in many ways, I am never far from caring about him.
I blog about these things from time to time too.
And then last week a number of news items (or items mixed in with news, anyway) froth up to my attention which challenge me again.
First, I read a list of “unwritten rules” that people of color live by which I, as a white person, likely don’t know and almost certainly never give my attention. Secondly, I found an article about evangelical churches and their efforts “behind doors” to fund and fan Trump-flames of “the big lie” and white supremacy.
I find them both believable, one from listening carefully and watching events unfold over several years (maybe a little experience), the other from experience (though, not first-hand experience).
The unwritten rules people of color live by include things like:
Always get a receipt and a bag at the store when shopping
Never wear the hood up on my hoodie
Avoid certain towns after sundown and don’t stop in them even in the daylight
Keep your hands out of your pockets
Don’t express anger if you can help it
Speak English in public
One woman even said she keeps a jacket with her college logo on it in case she gets in an accident and goes to the hospital since average people treat her better when they think she is educated.
Some of these rules I never thought/think of, or if I do, it’s rare and not for the same reasons.
I have experienced being criminally profiled by a cop in a small town before. It was not a racial profile, since we were both white, but I was an outsider in his very tight-knit town. I was stopped (illegally, btw) and questioned – forced to produce ID – and scrutinized. It was scary, and I never forgot it. I never forgot the helpless feeling, how that cop had a badge, a radio, and a gun. I had nothing but a stupid grin and a story that did not make me legit (unless you count my constitutional rights and the story of the Revolutionary War).
But, of course, that was an isolated incident, and in over thirty years, I have never experienced a repeat of it – at least not anything THAT bad.
I recall after getting into prison ministry, about 20 years ago, one of my main sponsors, a wealthy elderly couple (the old man was all but homebound). But when we went to events together, the old woman would ask me to drive her fine chariot, a Cadillac Seville if memory serves. She even preprogrammed the seat in the number 2 setting to suit me, since I drove that car almost as often as she did.
Then one evening at the last minute, she begged off and did not attend the event, but she insisted I take her car. As I was returning it hours later, I somehow drew the ire of a patrol car that followed me a dozen blocks into her residential area and right up to her garage where the electric opener let me in and the cop relented, passing me by, without stopping me.
So far, I am up to two such stories in my WHITE experience. I have about three more which land pretty much in between these in severity, in my view. But they are not actually racial in nature, since I am white and only very rarely confused for Hispanic (twice that I know of in my whole life).
Hmmm… so I have some experience.
Does this not put me in a good position for empathy?
I can’t claim my experience was worse than others’ experiences. Mine do not compare to George Floyd, Rodney King or countless others in between. I have seen the videos! I know my experience falls far short, but maybe I know what an average Tuesday afternoon feels like for a person of color, if I bother to reflect on it.
I think it is good for me to consider carefully how if and when I happen to be out with my black kid or some of my black friends about town that while I am walking around interacting with the larger culture at ease in my spirit that they are being overly cautious about how quickly an evening of fun can turn into a lynching. (Yes, I had “the talk” with my black kid, and yes, he ran from the cops one time, but fortunately was not shot!)
For me it might be scary, but more likely inconvenient. For them it definitely is scary and might be deadly.
Look. I am trying to meet in the middle as best I can here. I have a privilege built in where my friend has a burden built right in.
I wonder if I can’t post an article about unexplored ways white empathy can help. It will not do for me to just presume my efforts actually help, but I need feedback, maybe even some good suggestions, from people of color. If you (black friend) and me (white guy) go out on the town for dinner and dancing with our wives this weekend, how can I help with all the caution? How can we leverage a bit of my privilege for you while I help bear your burden?
Can we put a top ten list of simple ways to address this together for a news item?
My evangelical brothers and sisters are behind church doors right now working up a lather about “election fraud” and are redistricting voter maps along racial lines so they can obtain and maintain power – and they do this as a matter of church business. I certainly know this is true of numerous relatives I love dearly. Now I get reports of whole churches getting into this nonsense together passionately.
Yeah. It’s not enough that one or two “Christians” succumb to their fears and try to be involved in this type of thing in their “off hours” away from the assembly. No. This has become the driving force behind the assembly in many places, and I believe it.
I have not been to such a meeting myself, but you can rest assured that if I had, I would protest it. The churches I am currently involved with over the last two decades all have chosen to slam their doors in the face of the homeless as a matter of policy and “stewardship” or “discipleship,” and I protested that.
I have read about churches (such as First Baptist in Dumas, Texas) offering concealed carry permit classes to their congregants at the church building. They didn’t do that by adhering to Jesus or his instruction. Not in the slightest. But they are praised by their own and by others like them for it, and so few are their critics.
And I have relatives who sell guns, people who are nice to have lunch with, but WOW! just the mention of gun control gets them hostile.
If evangelicals are this openly invested in the love of power, then sure, I believe the reports that Trump politics and lies have become the de facto faith of the assembly. I could easily attend such an assembly and be welcomed based on my skin color and my intimate knowledge of how to behave around conservative, Bible thumpers.
But my stomach churns just thinking about it. (My stomach churns thinking about a black man burnt at the stake for anything in Hubbard, Texas around the turn of the last century.)
So, I don’t fit well with my black friends (not without some help). I don’t fit well with my “Christian” brothers and sisters either.
I reflect on these things because I am that sort of person, one who at least wants to belong to Jesus and represent him.
But I find his people to be among the worst parts of the problem.
(Except for abortion. I am glad to see some breaks applied to that! But even that is so problematic that I think it has more to do with the love of power than loving babies, really.)