Innocent Racism: Sooo…Exactly What Are You?

So this week a friend send me this video to watch. I was laughing so hard I nearly died laughing.

Seriously, it was pretty bad. Fortunately my wife was able to revive me. Then I watched it again.

Have at it:

While it’s incredibly funny, the video highlights an all-too-true reality: We judge people based on external qualities and then form opinions based on those judgments. I know what you’re thinking:

“Oh boy – here we go again. Another post on race.”

Well…yes. While some deny it or try to trivialize it, the truth is that this is a common experience in the world. As husband to a mixed-race woman I’ve been there and have heard people ask:

“So…what are you?”

“Where are you from originally?”

Here’s a true story – Years ago we were interviewing for a church position. We had sent in a resume, photograph, sermon sample, etc. The search committee called me to conduct a phone interview. Over the phone one of the deacons asked, “What ethnicity is your wife?” My response? “Um, why does it matter?”

We did not end up going to that church.

Our problem is that, in these questions we pretend that we’re not racist. But we are. If we weren’t racist why would we even need to ask the question? I know,  know. You’re just curious. You just want information.

Baloney.

That’s the kind of question you ask when you have a real relationship with and you end up having a conversation about family trees. It’s not something you ask someone superficially.

The Apostle Paul tried to address the way we view each other and the ways those views play out in behavior. He said that there is no class distinction in Christianity. There is not race distinction in Christianity. There is no gender distinction in Christianity. In Jesus the playing field is leveled. We are no longer this or that. We simply are. When you ask a person what he is and where he comes from you are taking away his ability simply to be.

That’s not Christian. Well, I suppose it too often IS Christian.

But it’s not supposed to be…

It’s Great Being White!

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Hooray, I’m White! I wish all of you could be white, too. It’s pretty awesome. I don’t randomly get pulled over by the police when I’m driving. I have a fairly easy time making my way through airport security checkpoints. I get left alone by clerks when I’m shopping and perusing. Heck – I can even wander aimlessly and still not be eyeballed by nosy employees. I’m fairly certain that everyone would choose to be a white guy like me if they knew how many perks and benefits I get.

Yes, being a clean-cut white male is one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life…

I hope you are intelligent enough to know that I’m being facetious. As Boromir might say:

Boromir on Racism
Boromir on Racism

Yet we cannot deny that there is unfair treatment towards people of different ethnic groups and different skin tones. Racism is a problem that we will be combating for a long time.

I recently came upon a picture on Facebook that talked about fairness to the gist of: If Black people have Black Pride, why is it wrong for us to have White Pride? The basic sentiment was that these people thought it was unfair for Blacks to have scholarship funds, Pride, and everything else yet it would be racist and politically incorrect to have any of these things for Whites.

The basic flaw with their position is that, as I mentioned earlier, it’s already pretty great being White. Most of American society is geared towards me. Movies, Television, College…and on and on. Heck, when this nation was founded people like me were considered 5/5 of a human. I’m whole! Yay, me!

Not so much for minorities. Most of American society has not been geared towards real equality. When only 3/5 of the Black population was counted for purposes of government representation our founding fathers (you know, those great Christian men who birthed this great Christian nation) created an inherent inequality.

In order to maintain any kind of community cohesion, there has been a necessity for Blacks to pursue avenues like the NAACP, UNCF, and the like. These organizations strive to see Black individuals validated. I have never had to fight for validity – I’m White.

In a perfect world it would not matter what anyone looked like. Jesus was commended for his authenticity and his ability to be real no matter who he was talking to. One time the Pharisees complimented him and said:

“We know you are true and that it doesn’t matter to you who anyone is, for you don’t look at men’s faces.” (Mark 12:14)

We do that – we see who we’re talking to before we act. Not Jesus – he was real no matter who was standing before him. That ought to be our goal. In the meantime, why do we have a problem with organizations that seek to give people a sense of validity?

Those who were complaining were saying, “If we can’t do it then you shouldn’t be able to either.” This is a worldly perspective on fairness and justice. It’s the law of reciprocity. Jesus tries to move us beyond that. If someone insults us by slapping our face – turn the other cheek. If someone imposes on us and forces us to go one mile, choose to go two. If someone asks to borrow from you, don’t be stingy but give generously.

We have a choice – we can perpetuate racist animosity or we can choose to join the cause to seek validation for ALL ethnic groups. So there are groups that exist to help minorities – the Church (and the Christians of the Church) should support such causes. Rather than begrudge people a stepstool, why not help people who are not as fortunate as I am to have picked a White family to be born into? 😛

Many kids in church grow up singing:

Red and Yellow, Black and White – they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.

So should we….

Related Posts:
My Kids Don’t Know They’re Black
Reflections on Racism from a Mixed-Race Couple
America: Still Racist After All These Years

My Kids Don’t Know They’re Black

Family - Christmas 2012

I’m a White man married to a Black woman. Actually, she’s only 65% Black. She wanted a DNA test for our anniversary and, being the romantic that I am, I got it for her. So we know that 65% of her DNA traces itself to Sub-Saharan Africa.

But the DNA test also shows that 29.8% of her DNA traces back to European descent. It was a shock for her. She sat looking at the test results for minutes with her mouth agape, processing the information. When I asked her a question she stopped me and said, “Give me a minute – I’m having revelations here!” Nowhere in her personal sense of identity and self did she imagine that such a large chunk of her DNA was European. But the world in which we live doesn’t give a hoot. You see – she’ll always be Black here in America.

So here we are; a White man and a (partially) Black woman. And we had the audacity to bring children into the world. So what are they? Seriously – how would you classify them? They’re 65% European and 33% Black. Do you classify them as White kids or Black kids? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m asking You, the reader. How do you label them?

We choose not to label them. They’re just our kids. To them, skin color is merely a description of their outward appearance – right now it plays no part in their sense of ethnicity and heritage. They only know that Daddy’s side of the family is “peach” and Momma’s side of the family is (mostly) “Brown.” Descriptively, they see themselves more on the peach side than the brown side. If you were to listen in on my daughter talking about family you would hear her describe herself as “peach.” They don’t have any vested interest or history in skin tone and identity. But the rest of the world does.

I find it odd that parts of the world, even parts of our community in the good ol’ U.S. of A., label my kids based on their parents rather than on themselves. For a Thanksgiving project my daughter’s class colored paper Pilgrims. Everyone in the class got a peach pilgrim to color. Not my daughter. She was given a brown Pilgrim. There was no malice involved. There was an assumption made because my child has a brown parent. She was classified as brown. It tore her up, not because she has an aversion to brown skin but because she wanted a Pilgrim that she thought reflected herself – one that matched her own sense of identity. Even well-meaning people in our church have described our kids as brown, not realizing that they have a different self-image.

I will pause here to admit that I’m getting angry and choked up as I write this. These are my kids we’re talking about – my babies – and the idea of people making them feel “other than” tears my heart out and makes the protective parent in me LIVID.

I’m not writing this because I have a problem with brown-skinned people. I don’t have a problem if my kids decide they want to identify with my wife’s side of the family and their “brown” heritage. It’s part of who they are. One day they’ll understand that better and we can have open discussions about identity and ethnicity. I think that would be wonderful.

No, I’m writing this because it seems that our country recently has lost its ever-loving-mind when it comes to race relations. The Zimmerman/Martin incident in Florida only highlights already existing tensions.

The original incident, the trial & verdict, and the national response show that there is still a racial rift in this country. Recently, President Obama made a statement that was, in my opinion, an attempt show solidarity with a grieving Black community and to help enlighten an unknowing White community.

I have seen and heard a lot of outrage at the President’s remarks. I have seen some ugly behavior and some terrible words thrown around. In my opinion (and that’s what you get – remember…my blog) the President was not making any statement as to the guilt or innocence of Martin or Zimmerman. The heart of his message, as a Black man, was:

“I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”

Years of slavery and abuse, yielding to discrimination and abuse, yielding to a façade of equality, have given the Black community a unique filter through which it interprets events. It’s a filter that lends it a sense of identity and purpose. When White America waves a dismissive hand and says, “It’s not about race” we are saying that our interpretation of who you are and what things mean matters more than your interpretation of who you are and what things mean. It’s an exaggerated scale of what happened with my daughter’s Pilgrim. My lens is better than your lens.

It does no good to tell someone that the lens through which they see and interpret events is wrong. It’s their lens. You have your own. A better conversation is to say, “I want to understand your lens and paradigm and then want to share with you about my lens and paradigm.” It’s hard to do – we all believe that our own lens is the best lens, the only correct lens. But sometimes our lenses get smudged and dirty and could stand being wiped off. It’s the only way to move forward.

As it stands there is too much of an Us vs. Them attitude when it comes to race relations. We focus on the “other than” instead of focusing on the unifying and uniting elements. Here’s the thing – In God’s Kingdom, there is no such thing as “Us and Them.” We’re all part of the community of faith. It doesn’t matter what your ethnic background is, for our faith transcends ethnicity. This isn’t a concept limited to the New Testament. It’s also found in the Old Testament. God tells Israel:

You must regard the foreigner who lives with you as the native-born among you. You are to love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt; I am Yahweh your God. (Leviticus 19:34)

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul tells a story of how the Apostle Peter acted differently towards Gentile Christians than he did towards Jewish Christians. Paul called him out and Peter repented.

We’re in a situation today where many people seem to prefer to exercise their politics before their faith. White and Black alike play the “race card” on each other. Neither side is exempt or immune. We certainly fail to treat each other like equals with the same privileges. We certainly don’t love the “other” like we love ourselves.

It’s time to change. We don’t have to continue down this path. We can turn around. We can work to see things through the lens of the other and help the other to see through our lens. We can work on finding common ground. We can work on true equality – which really only seems to come from God (humanity has a grand ability to botch things up). We can love others the same as we love ourselves.

So be careful how you talk to people. Be careful how you talk about people. Words have power, and you can use them to build or destroy. I firmly believe that God would prefer us to build. So watch what you say. When you speak, say it in love. And whatever you do, watch how you treat my kids.

They don’t know they’re black.

Related Posts:
~ Reflections on Race from a Mixed-Race Couple