I am white. Very white. #Ferguson
This post is about Ferguson … but not really.
This post is about about racism … but only kind of.
Honestly, it is more about me … but maybe you.
I grew up in a middle-class home in a mid-sized town in Southern Illinois. I am white. Very white. Not just in color but in culture. Diversity was not a part of my upbringing. This was not an intentional decision. My hometown was just not diverse. The number of non-white students in my high school was limited and, therefore, my exposure to different cultures was limited.
As a result, I do not know America.
I know a small part of America, but I do not know America as a whole.
It wasn’t until I moved to Chicago that I realized just how little I knew. My pastor there, Tim Hoekstra, has a huge heart for bridging the gap between suburban life and urban life. He exposed me to a world I never knew existed. (I had seen urban life before, but only through the lens of Hollywood.)
What I learned was shocking … and heartbreaking.
My parents (and teachers and pastors) taught me “the American dream” — the idea that, if I worked hard enough, I could be anything I wanted to be. And, for the most part, this was true … for me. If I wanted to be a doctor, I could have gone to medical school. If I wanted to be an astronaut, I could have dedicated more time to studying math (and not making fun of my trigonometry teacher and her weird sense of style). I could pursue my dream.
The emphasis was always placed on my ability to work hard. The opportunities that enabled my hard work were typically taken for granted. What Chicago taught me is that not everyone has those same opportunities. There are young men and women, living in the inner-city, who could easily out work me, out think me, and deserved it more than me, but because they were born in a sub-standard school district or their family is less capable of securing a $20,000 loan, they won’t get to attend college and pursue their dream.
The more time I have spent discovering the diversity of our nation, the more I have realized how sheltered I had been. Racism, oppression, and (systematic) slavery still exist. They had just been hidden from me. I had been blinded by my upbringing. I had been too white to see the colorful, often messy reality of our American canvas.
And I am still very blinded. I still have a lot to learn and a lot to understand.
There was a time in my life when I had an opinion about everything. (Just ask my parents.) If the past few years have taught me anything, it is that there are some issues on which I am too ignorant to have an opinion. Any issue that deals with race falls into that category. I am too sheltered. I am too white.
Because of this, I have had to learn to shut up. (For those of you who know me, this has been a challenge.) I have had to learn to listen. Anything I say prior to listening is not only ignorant but arrogant. I have had to realize that the goal is not to have a voice but to understand the voices already speaking. I must follow Jesus’s example and sit down at the table with those who are different than me. I must hear their story.
Why am I writing this? Because Facebook. Because Twitter. Because of the many racist comments I have seen posted over the past few days. Too many updates beginning with, “Why don’t black people…” Too many tweets ending with, “I knew it.” Too much ignorance, too much arrogance.
The writer of Proverbs says…
Fools find no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing their opinion. (Proverbs 18:2 CEB)
Those who answer before they listen are foolish and disgraceful. (Proverbs 18:13 CEB)
Maybe that last one could be better translated…
Those who tweet before they listen are foolish and disgraceful.
Racism, oppression, and (systematic) slavery still exist. Repeatedly, they are pushed under the surface. We try to pretend they aren’t there. But then something happens — something like Ferguson or Donald Sterling — and they rise to the surface. It is as if someone drills a hole in the dam. Unchecked passion and emotion break forth and flood the social landscape, often crushing those who stand in the way. To avoid drowning in the debate, many just start yelling — speaking without listening, expressing without understanding.
This must stop. We must stop. We must become people who — like James instructs us to do in the New Testament — are slow to speak and quick to listen.
We must take time to hear their story.
Then and only then can we truly join the conversation.