This is an excerpt of a post from 2015 after the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. It is timely for two reasons. First, Dylan Roof was convicted and sentenced to death this past week for these murders. Second, there has been a lot of discussion lately about what racism is and who is racist. I offer this updated reflection to you and look forward to your comments and reflections.
So welcome each other, in the same way that Christ also welcomed you, for God’s glory. – Romans 15:7 (CEB)
I’ll begin by saying that I am not qualified to speak about racism in America. I’m a white, middle-class, middle-age, Midwestern, possibly over-educated, heterosexual woman. Sure, I’ve had to deal with people who were biased against me because of my gender or my age (often I was both the youngest person and the only female in the room during my corporate career). I’m not qualified to speak about racism, but let me tell you a story.
Last winter as I was hosting at Divine Intervention, I was open about where I lived and having kids. One morning, one of the guests who I had met for the first time the night before asked if I would drive him downtown since I was going that way to get home. Immediately, I think that my husband would not approve. Then I rationalize that this person has signed in and people will see us leave together. I feel like I must drive him because I should – it is on my way and it’s really cold out. If I am going to love others as Christ loves me, I may need to be uncomfortable sometimes. I agreed to drive him.
One of the guys I had met and talked with several times before had mentioned he wanted to go the library downtown, so I asked him if he wanted a ride as well (probably not as much for him as for myself). Another guest also asked if he could have a ride. So I left that morning with three African-American homeless men in my car.
Before I left, I texted my husband to let him know what I was doing and when I’d be home. I dropped all three off together near the library in Milwaukee. They thanked me for the ride and off we all went. I don’t think I’d go as far as to say I was afraid, but I did have a knot in my gut. I would have some dis-ease if it had been three white men. But, honestly, I was more uncomfortable because they were Black.
Good Lord, I’m a racist.
I was ashamed as I drove the rest of the way home. The truth is, that if I am driving through a neighborhood and stop at an intersection with a group of white guys hanging there, I am less concerned than if it were a group of Black men. My white son often wears his hood up on his sweatshirts. When I see a person of color doing this, I feel nervous. I know that racism is a sin and that statistically I’m probably less safe with white men I don’t know than with Black men. I can say that I love everyone. But my gut condemns me. And I hate it.
Racism isn’t simply about malicious intent. Like the rest of our world view, racism is shaped by where and how we grew up and the experiences and interactions of our lives. Those in the majority and with power will never be able to shed their privilege. The question is what we do with it once we wake up and realize it exists.
Racism is evil but simply being a racist doesn’t make you evil. If we really want to address racism in this country, we need to recognize this difference. I hope that the conversation continues and we learn together how to define and delineate racism, racist, and racist actions. Color and difference will always exist – they are gifts from God and we should always see them. May God give us wisdom and love.
Dear Jesus, I confess to you that I am a racist. I see the differences you created and too often attach value or my own assumptions. Lord, give me your eyes and heart.
As a pastor, I also make this confession on behalf of humanity. For some reason, we fear what is different or unfamiliar rather than embracing the opportunity to increase our appreciation for your creativity.
Teach us how to welcome one another in the way that you welcomed us. Give us ears that do not just hear sound but hear the humanity and stories of others. Open our minds and hearts to our shared humanity rather than judgment or assigning value. Give us a clear understanding of our own racism and bias, help us to be honest with ourselves so that we may learn to overcome it.
Heal us of our blindness and affliction so that we may glorify you in our churches and communities. Amen.