Situated on the plains of Northwest Ohio and protected by a perimeter of corn and soy bean fields sits the place where I call my childhood home. At ten years old and gifted with all the time in the world, our bikes would take us from one end of town to the other all summer long until the school bells began to ring again in the Fall. We’d then exchange towels and goggles for paper and pencils and re-engage with reading and arithmetic.
I never noticed how monotonously white my classmates were. If asked, I would have said we were a diverse bunch (if I had known what that meant). Boys and girls. Tall and short. Various lengths and styles of hair in brown, blond, or red – mullets (yep, I had one too), feathered, or bowl cuts. Eyes that were blue, green, brown, or hazel. And some kids even had glasses. I thought we were varied enough … until Michael* came along in 4th grade. I remember thinking how odd it was for a girl to be named Michael, but that wasn’t the only thing peculiar about her. She had coarse, frizzy black hair and skin the color of chocolate. Furthermore, she spoke differently than the rest of us. In fact, because of the way she said “pencil”, her nickname became as such, rhyming with “Beyonce´” except with “cil” at the end – “pee-yon-cil”. I never knew how she felt about her nickname. She was shy and giggled mostly at our interactions until she slipped away from our town as quickly and as quietly as she slipped into it.
I would never have considered myself a contributor to racism. I mean, I was always kind to Michael. I would cringe when my generally sweet great-aunt would blame “the colored boys” that lived near her for any disturbance in the neighborhood. And, I expressed the appropriate amount of horror when learning about slavery. But what would “Pencil” have said about my complicity in systemic racism?
I came across this Racism Scale this week and it gave me a reality check in recognizing my own racist tendencies. If I’m being honest – and of course I will be – I have ranged from “subconscious racism” to “allyship” over the years. Early on, my subconscious racist tendencies stemmed from xenophobia – an unsubstantiated distrust or even fear of anyone unlike me. Let’s face it, growing up in a community where my only extended exposure to people of color was from the news – and we all know that media makes its bucks by running bad news over good – I allowed suspicion to creep in and obscure my view. I’m grateful for the honest and loving guidance over the years of people in my life who have helped me peel away my prejudices.
This article is a couple of years old, but has some graphics that show the realities of systemic racism. (Plus, it’s from Ben & Jerry’s – the makers of the world’s best bite of ice cream – The Tonight Dough.) Even if you don’t read the article and instead focus on the graphics, it’s eye-opening, isn’t it? African-Americans are 2x as likely to be unemployed. Black students are 3x more likely to be suspended than white students. Black drivers are 30% more likely to be pulled over.
You insult your Maker when you exploit the powerless. – Proverbs 14:31
What is to be done? What can I do?
Allow me to appeal to you as I check my own self – please don’t turn a blind eye to what’s happening in the States right now. The UN just slapped a warning on the United States over “alarming racism”, saying, “We are alarmed by the racist demonstrations, with overtly racist slogans, chants and salutes by white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan, promoting white supremacy and inciting racial discrimination and hatred,” says Anastasia Crickley, who chairs the UN panel. And from Lecia Brooks, a director of a civil rights group, “Unfortunately, Trump’s racist and xenophobic campaign, and his lukewarm condemnation of white supremacists, has heightened racial tensions in America to the point that it’s raising alarms in the global community.” Furthermore, many self-proclaimed Christian leaders are backing these tendencies.
Lord, help us!
You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ. – Galatians 1:6-7
We cannot remain neutral about a system that oppresses another. And we cannot, as people of faith, be deceived. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, comes at ’em with fists swinging. All other letters he began with the typical niceties, but not this one. He’s hopping mad. There were racial distinctions being made and Paul says, “Nope. Not on my watch!”
There is no bigger betrayal to the witness of the gospel than a believer choosing to defend what the cross of Christ empowered to end. – Beth Moore
I’m grateful that we are seeing more and more people standing up to the hatred happening around us. I commit to standing with them. I commit to being an ally.
Will you join me?
Here’s a good place to start: “Being an ally requires you to educate yourself about systemic racism in this country,” writes Courtney Ariel in an article for SOJO entitled For Our White Friends Desiring to be Allies.
*Not her real name.