A few weeks ago I spent a couple of heartbreaking hours with a non-white friend who was moving from Long Island. During our conversation, I, and a handful of others, listened to stories of racial slights—intentional and unintentional—that she and her family experienced while living here. I was confronted with how privileged I am as a white woman. It’s been awhile since I arranged playdates for my kids, but when I did, it never crossed my mind that the parents of my kids’ friends might not approve of the color of my skin. To hear my friend share about the painful moments of trying to explain to her kids that “Johnny” or “Susie” won’t be coming over to play anymore because of the color of Daddy’s skin made my skin crawl.
I learned more about privilege this year as a result of a designated week at The Stony Brook School devoted to diversity issues. The theme was “Building up Community: Understanding Privilege, Relating with Empathy, and Acting on Justice.” One of the examples shared during a chapel talk by a white colleague to illustrate how he has come to see privilege stuck with me. He asked the students to imagine a baseball game. One team gets 50 outs per inning and their choice of 20 players, and the other team gets 3 outs and only 9 players without gloves. In the eighth inning, with the score 100 to 3, someone suddenly says, “Hey, this is unequal.” So they play with 9 players each and three outs each, but it’s still not equal because the score is 100 to 3. That’s privilege. For myself, I don’t even realize how my status as a white woman affords me opportunities and benefits. I blithely live as if everyone else has the same opportunities as me.
I’m jumping into this conversation perhaps a bit late. But I also realize that just because a horrific event is over and the news coverage moves on to the next piece, the pain and grief the victims experience doesn’t end so tidily. I’m referring to the Charleston shooting.
As a result of some reading, some listening, and the above-mentioned conversation, I wanted to share a few of my reflections here at Always Orange as they relate to matters of race and justice. The pieces I have read confirm that thoughtful, caring Christians want to see racial reconciliation. They take seriously Paul’s command to spread “the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19) and their writing and research affirm this. The pieces I have listened to confirm how much I still have to learn about racial inequality. And the conversations I have been part of confirm how important it is to listen to the stories of others.
To be honest, I didn’t hear about the Charleston shooting until the day after it occurred. I was happily picking up my husband and son from the airport after they returned from an overseas trip. The airport run also overlapped with our family vacation so I wasn’t as focused on the news cycle.
Appropriately so, many have written and spoken about Charleston. A colleague and friend wrote a piece that wound up on the front page of the Huffington Post, which resulted in thousands of hits on her blog. She writes honestly and openly about her experience of growing up as a white woman in the South. Her desire to be a part of the conversation, to do something, even if it means feeling uncomfortable at times, inspires me.
A few weeks ago, the latest issue of Christianity Today arrived in my mailbox. I read it almost cover to cover in one setting. One of the pieces that caught my attention was the lead article on implicit racial bias. I cringed several times as I read the article because I wondered how I would react if standing in the foyer of my church was a hispanic family and a white family. Which one would I greet first? I’m afraid if I dig too hard, I will find more racial bias in my life than I care to own. Bradley Wright’s article forces me to face the truth about myself and the Church that I love. On a positive note, the article cited some beautiful examples of churches and church members reaching out to others, seemingly blind to issues of race. This gives me hope.
Lately, while in the car running errands, I have listened to a number of NPR pieces. Like many news organizations, they have been airing features on issues of race. One report that caught my attention was the story of Kenny Fomby, J.R. In 2006, despite fingerprint evidence to prove his innocence, he spent six months in jail waiting for DNA results to confirm this. I wondered, “how could this be?” Indignation rose inside me as I listened to the piece, forcing me to realize that I never worry about being charged for a crime I didn’t commit.
As a believer, I long for the redemption of this broken world. I know it will come. But in the meantime, I have a responsibility, a growing responsibility as I’m increasingly aware, to do more than read and listen. My sphere of influence may be small, but when I have opportunities to write or speak about issues of race I must take them, recognizing “[I] am Christ’s ambassador” (2 Cor. 5:19).