Racism, Politics and Relationship
Last week, I got off the train near the Freedom Tower on Fulton, to walk to our office. Help me Jesus, but my “excuse me” shrunk from a polite, high-pitched suggestion, to a low-toned snarl because tourists are the slowest humans on the face of the planet. Oh yes, please do stop in the center of the sidewalk to look at your phone. Please, do walk slow as Christmas, while you eat your ice cream. And please, do feel free to make a dead stop in front of me for no good reason at all. To encourage myself toward niceness, I thought about the significant amount of income tourists bring into our city, and thought, well, that’s great, but I don’t want them here.
Wait, I don’t want them here. Did I seriously just think that? I began to chase the train of thought down it’s track to the root, and words passed me by: frustration, annoyance, impatience, control, pride. Pride. There it is, in all it’s ugly. Pride. I don’t have time for this. My schedule is the only one that matters. My time and destination is more important than yours. I am more important than you. I am better than you… so MOVE.
I stopped dead in my tracks. How can the thing I hate so much, live in me? A selfish, privileged, polarizing mentality, this othering of people, that is subtle enough for deniable plausibility, but damaging enough to hurt and wound and silence and oppress the image of God living in humanity. Listen, I know it just started out with me mad at some tourists – what’s the big deal – but the big deal is that I am capable of thinking of people this way. I am capable of thinking I am better or more important than others, which is the exact opposite of how I want to think, and who I want to be.
On the heels of the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, the officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Charles Kinsey, and in the middle of this intense political climate, I’ve been struggling. I’m heartbroken over the state of our world, and I’ve felt overwhelmed and helpless. I am fighting hard to track what’s deep down inside me. What does my heart actually believe; what are my implicit biases; how do I judge others?
As a small example, in a meeting last week, a friend shared about how the Bachelorette and the Bachelor are shows people still watch. My exact response: “Oh, you mean watching a live brothel/harem on tv, is something people actually do?” And not thirty seconds later did I picture myself, back in the day, watching every single episode of Flavor Flav, and I love New York, which is basically the same thing. I’ve also found myself giving folks the side-eye, a bit baffled, as we sit on opposite sides of the spectrum in our convictions about politics, race, economics and more.
I’m such a judgmental rascal. Geez.
Anyway, after almost unfollowing more people than I imagined were racists this week, I’ve been thinking about the distance social media puts between us. Not only are the networks we love potentially inflammatory in nature, but photos and tweets and snaps leave us with a mental picture, and the picture is the problem. There’s nothing consistent or complete about a snapshot of our lives; it’s not teeming with context, history or understanding. There are elements of connectivity, but without tangible, meaningful connection in real life, it’s easier to arrive at conclusions that might not be the whole truth.
I’ve done this more times than I’d care to admit. I’ve decided in an instant who I will never share a meal with, who I will not be opening my heart to, and while some of that might be wisdom, I’ve erected a wall between myself and good people who are just starting the journey of understanding privilege and how racism hides in systems and structures, forgetting that I was there once too. My skin is still white, which means there’s plenty I “don’t get” too.
Pride hinders us from sharing, from listening, from understanding others, and hinders us from all sitting at the table together, which is the only way we will ever affect change in this world. Until we know each other, we’ll remain on opposite sides, but if we are willing to press beyond our judgements, and sit together for the purpose of understanding, we begin to build relationship. Only through relationship will we find room for our humanity, our history, our perspective, and the important opportunity for us to learn our common ground, to respect each other as equals, and to move toward love in action. We must be reconciled in healthy community where we are less likely to disregard, wound, or abuse each other.
Humility is required for this, and humility is hard. It means we’re always taking an inventory, a personal account for our actions towards God, ourselves and others. Listen, I’m not that even-tempered (oh, you noticed?), and while I might forgive quickly, I am not sure I always forgive completely. After an incident, I tend to place people in this category: Suspect. But I don’t want to be this way, and I don’t want others to treat me this way either. I want to live a life of love, and I want to be loved. I want my heart to be whole, and I want all this grief to matter. I desperately want this struggle to lead us all toward freedom and unity and wholeness.
What about you? How’s your heart? How are your relationships? We need each other now, more than ever. There’s a reason we’re awake and alive. We matter. We count. We can make a difference in the lives of others, and others can make a difference in ours. You’re not alone, my friend.
Want more resources about the issue of race in our nation? Here’s a small list: Race, A Theological Account by J. Kameron Carter; The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander; This Ted Talk by Bryan Stevenson; Race and Grace, Resources from Redeemer Church; Follow Officer Tommy Norman on Instagram.