Racism and Reconciliation
“My premise begins with the belief that God resides in every human being. And I think at the core, privilege is an othering of people. It is an othering of people that is also supported structurally, institutionally in such a way that it’s become the norm. So when I think of myself as a Christian, and I am very much that, I have to acknowledge that for me to operate in privilege, is for me to declare that the God in someone else is somehow less than the God that’s in me. I invite you to begin to look for the God in everyone, for if you are Christian, you indeed must believe that the very breath of God lives in everyone of us. And if life is structured in such a way that there are those who are elevated over others, what does it say about the God you serve?”
Reverend Traci Blackmon
In the last 15 years, I have had seven warrants out for my arrest. I am not proud of my past inability to deal with traffic tickets in a timely manner! Happily, I report to you that my record has been clean for six years straight. In fact, I missed a court date for a fix it ticket last week, and when I realized it at 3:30pm, I was able to extend the court date until September. In case you were wondering, I have fixed the ticket. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize I would have to take another license photo and since I had to get in line at the DMV at 7am, I did not have my hair, or anything else, did. In fact, I had make-up on from the night before and hair that had not been washed for seven days. When it comes to looking good, or taking a shower, nursing is the pits. (I look absolutely ridiculous, but at least it’s better than my Costco photo where I am missing teeth due to pixelation. I shredded this last month, or I would show you.)
Besides having my car impounded – which is a hilarious blog for another day that involves Cody when he was just my boyfriend, my mother, and my laundry on a side street in Hollywood before I was a Pastor – I have never been arrested. The Sheriff did come to my house in NC once, probably to arrest me; luckily, I was in another city and had a friend in the courthouse who saved my stupid white butt.
My white butt has saved me more than once. The fact that I have tested the law by my avoidance of dealing with tedious, expensive, scary court dates and tickets, and never paid the consequences, probably has more to do with my skin color than my luck. I think I thought God was just giving me grace or favoring me or whatever it is we attribute to God when we don’t get in trouble for our choices, but what does that say about God when others are penalized for the same choices?
In 2004, when I was pulled over driving out of my apartment complex, thanks to a California rolling stop, the officer told me, “Young lady, you need to turn around immediately and go home. You are driving with a suspended license because of a ticket and there is a warrant out for your arrest. You need to resolve this issue and do not drive a car again until you do.” Then he said, “I could impound your car and take you to jail.” My heart was literally beating out of my chest. Looking back, with new eyes, I believe it would have ended differently if God had made me male with a darker phenotype.
To be clear, I am not anti-police. Building personal relationships with officers of every rank, and serving within the walls of several LAPD stations, as well as serving as an LAPD Prison Chaplain has healed my paranoia (I no longer pull over, pull into a driveway or shout “PO PO” when I see a cop) and has allowed me to understand that cops are people too. Relationships do that, don’t they? They help us see that those we fear have families, issues, and personalities like the rest of us. Still, as our nation sits in the wake of disparate policing around our country, and blatant hate crimes like the painful tragedy in Charleston, we are forced to deal with how we process trauma personally. Do we blame, take sides or make the courageous choice to examine, confront and repent from our own implicit biases that determine who we love, who we avoid and who we have a propensity to hate? Do we recognize where we are on the privilege scale, or are we, like myself, naive to the opportunities we have that are at the expense of others?
It is so difficult to talk about race, privilege and the power of the social construction of race that is tied to our own value and the value we place on others. Humility, honesty, integrity and faithfulness are required to pursue and achieve racial reconciliation. If we are to break down our divides, we must confront our own heart and recognize the prejudices we carry innately. If we are to diversify our life, we must examine our closest relationships, our mentors, our media influences, for diversity and where it is lacking, ask ourselves, why? What are the privileges we benefit from? Almost all people benefit from privilege, and no one gives up privilege without a fight.
It has been a fight for me to purchase my clothes from companies that have fair wages and work hours for their employees, but I make this choice because my privilege to shop and buy cheap clothes is at the expense of a human being. It has been a fight to realize racism does not just exist when one individual hates another, but also in the “invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious.” (Peggy McIntosh) It has been a fight to look at actual statistics, numbers, evidence, data that proves that people of color, along with the poor and marginalized in our communities, have more invisible barriers to deal with than I ever will. It has been a fight to go against the grain concerning mass incarceration, and to have come to the conclusion that this “New Jim Crow” is a type of oppression American society is more than okay with (please see the simple three minute video below for more about this). It has been a fight not to knock a few ignorant men upside their heads when they think I am dumb and blonde, and that unfair wages, privileges, and distribution of power are okay because our genitalia differs.
And it has been a fight to repent, to face my own self, to see who I really am, to say sorry to God and people, and to turn and make a change. I want better for my children, so I must be brave. I must do good.
Friends, I don’t pretend to know everything – I have a long way to go. Sometimes I feel so helpless. But, I remain convinced that we were each created in the image of God and that the first step to reconciliation is relationship. We need each other to move forward and we are all richly and beautifully connected within the fabric of creation. Thank you for who you are – We are better because you’re here. Your life and your voice matters.
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-18