I came into this world with white skin. I’ll never be a person of color, so my insight is limited to what I hear from one who does life from that point of view. I’m sickened by the thought that I might see a person of a different skin color as less than me in any way. God’s image stamped upon us declares value on every human life, and I dare not mar that image.
I only remember one person of color who attended my high school, a daunting position for sure. Unfortunately, I was too traumatized by my own insecurity to see another’s burdens. I never felt any superiority, but had little contact. Our paths just didn’t cross. College and church opened up more opportunities but still they were brief and superficial encounters. Over the years, I’ve noticed an absence of friendships of diversity, unintentional on my part, but perhaps that’s the point. It’s so easy to dwell among those who are like you.
With all the conflict and violence of late, I’ve been trying to read and learn about racial reconciliation. I vacillate between horrible grief over the atrocities, and annoyance over accusations of universal bigotry that I’m unaware of within my heart. Many would say that while I may bear no personal prejudice, my “white privilege” perspective limits my vision for what exists culturally. The very phrase floods me with guilt and shame. But it also makes me feel helpless. I had no control over the family I was born into, the affluence in which I was raised or the education offered me. Yet I understand that with privilege comes responsibility. And maybe this is the nudge that I feel.
Recently when in public, I’ve experienced an increased eye contact with other races and ethnicities. The exchange, though limited, has been sweet. Do they feel as I do? Are they saying with their eyes, “I do not represent the current hostility and misunderstanding. I long for more. Do you?” Never have I had so many strangers in the course of my day ask how I’m doing, smile my direction, or make casual conversation in line. I suspect there are many of us, who though silent on the spectrum of protests and hate filled articles, have a message of peace, longing and friendship pulsating within our hearts. This is what I want to be attuned to. Not the drumbeat of division as proclaimed by the media, but the reverberations of human connection.
So how do we close the existing gap? How do we start the conversation? Or better yet, how do we stop talking and start listening so that we can cross these unholy borders? I wish I had easy answers. It may begin with an acceptance that a problem exists. And if our neighborhoods and local churches do not create a natural flow, then we, ourselves, must discover spaces that nurture this relational component.
In college, I read the book “Black Like Me”. The author, John Howard Griffin, underwent a dramatic physical and medical treatment to temporarily change his white appearance to that of a black man. He recognized that he would have to get behind the black man’s skin in order to see through his eyes. His experience, though published in 1961, was insight into the misunderstanding between races that still persists today.
Jesus also took on a skin not his own when he came to dwell among us. But it wasn’t for lack of understanding of us, but that so we could see God in Him. Maybe that alone is enough reason for us to reach out – to let others see Jesus in us.
In a world rife with discord, our efforts can reflect our Savior to a watching world and that might be the most important step anyone can take.
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