Recently, I read an article from the LA Times, in which woman talked about having been invited to a dinner specifically for the idea of discussing racism. Her summary is, “it didn’t go well.” Why was that? It seems that everyone had a narrative depending upon the color of their skin or their country of origin and had difficulty seeing the validity of anyone else’s narrative. Well, that’s the thing about narratives. They represent our justifications or explanations or our excuses for our lives being the way they are. Is there any hope for improving race relations by discussing race relations?
No, I don’t think so, but there are models of decent race relations we can consider. But first, we need to define what good race relations look like. Is it the so called color-blindness? No, we see someone’s color and automatically and often subconsciously make judgments. I do, and I immediately question and challenge my judgment. That is a key–challenging our own judgments! Here are some excerpts from the writer of the article:
“The other black woman in the room spoke next. She looked to be in her 20s, like me, with a similar dark complexion. I presumed we would have comparable stories, but she told the group she had never experienced any overt forms of racism. I almost choked on my food. I spoke last, touching on the overt and covert racism that I experience every day in this city: the looks and stares I get walking down the street in my predominantly white neighborhood; how I wake up self-aware that the color of my skin is going to make my daily tasks that much harder; how appearing too black can be dangerous. There is a difference between tolerating blackness and accepting it. As we went further around the table, I found myself growing annoyed. Not to discredit anyone’s experiences, but I was surprised that not one person at the table had used the word privilege; the privilege of being a white man, or the privilege of being a black woman who can racially pass. Instead of being open about the ways in which they benefit from systemic injustice, everyone took a turn playing the victim.”
Notice her attitude. How much of her narrative is self-fulfilled expectations and how much is objective reality regardless of attitudes? What if the statement of the other woman who looks similar to her is true? What if it’s wishful thinking or a lie for mixed company? The point is, we really don’t know. She doesn’t know. How can anyone separate their interpretation of the “looks and stares” from her expectation that “the color of my skin is going to make my daily tasks that much harder; how appearing too black can be dangerous.” Racism certainly exists, but whose experience is more objective? Whenever a black couple shows up at our church, I and many other melanin-challenged folks want to welcome them, and often begin that process by trying to adopt a welcoming expression. But who knows what they are thinking about those expressions? Does it have more to do with their expectations than our ability to convey welcome?
As for privilege, well what about it? So I’m privileged to be born in the United States, to be a white man, to be more healthy than not (other than being disabled walking and hearing). So what? If you are a black person in the “racist” United States, aren’t you privileged to be here rather than anywhere in Africa or the Middle East? If you have all your limbs, aren’t you more privileged than an amputee? The whole privilege narrative is really a lack of gratitude for what you have and are. It is whining. Shut it already.
As far as models of race relations, there are some: ministries and private schools where the races work together to better the lives of the disadvantaged and “non-privileged; military units in combat and performing missions together; missionaries and NGO’s which are working side by side to minister to the downtrodden in foreign lands; disabled veterans seasonal sports clinics, during which vets and volunteers of all races serve and love each other (I wrote a blog post about my own experience). These positive examples all have something in common: People with a mission to serve others! They probably don’t have time to discuss race relations, being too busy modeling those relations.