It’s day four of riots and protest over the death of George Floyd. Watching the protest and the violence has sparked some introspection on my part.
In the United States, institutional racism is the norm. Institutional racism for those unfamiliar with the term is racism that is communicated and practiced in our social institutions. This is racism that is practiced and expressed in our political, religious, and social institutions. Racism has always been and continues to be an issue in the United States.
Because it is Institutional (AKA systematic) every human being in the United States from the time they are born until their adulthood and beyond is infected with racism. Racism is communicated both overtly and covertly through our social institutions, and it is impossible to avoid catching it. Racism in the United States is like catching chickenpox; you just pick it up.
There are a lot of white people, myself included, who would like to believe that we are “Woke” or that we “Don’t have a racist bone in our body,” but unfortunately, that’s not true. If you grew up in the United States, you were infected, and you carry that infection in your very psyche. It’s a sickness that manifests blatantly in some people and covertly in others. However, it’s there whether it is visible or dormant.
I’ve watched white people get upset when they are called out on their racism. They protest that they aren’t racist, they have black friends, they advocate for social justice, they are allies, so how can they possibly be racist? The answer is simple: you are racist because you are human.
The above paragraph applies to me. I’d like to believe I’m not racist. I do have black friends. I preach social justice. I try to be an ally to all oppressed minorities. However, I’m a human being. If I’m walking down the street in Los Angeles, and I see a group of Black men, my first reaction is fear; unless they are dressed in suits and ties. I don’t have that same reaction with a group of White men. I’ve confidently walked past groups of rough-looking White bikers. White people don’t need to dress up to show me they are harmless. I’m a human being who caught the infection of racism through contact with American culture and society.
It still hurts to be called out on my personal racism. I’d like to believe that I have grown past it. I’d like to think that I have transcended my training. Being able to admit racism is being able to admit you are human. It is acknowledging that you need Jesus.
I love my church. I love the people in it. I’m fortunate to have some Black congregants that are willing to show patience with me and still hold on to the hope that I can listen and learn. It stings when they call me out on some casual racism that is in my blind spot. I can feel defensiveness, hurt, and anger rise in my body. The Holy Spirit has often intervened in those moments and helped me re-frame the situation. I have come to understand that being called out on racism is a gift. It is a gift of patience, hope, and love from one human being to another. It is a gift from God who uses the church (That’s people, not buildings) as His voice in the world today. When my friends call me out, they are being used by God to train me up in righteousness. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs doesn’t say it feels good. It says that it sharpens us. Believe me, there are a lot of us White folk who are pretty dull.
In the stage play Avenue Q there is a song called “Everyone is a Little Bit Racist” one particular lyric stands out for me,
If we all could just admit
That we are racist a little bit,
Even though we all know
That it’s wrong,
Maybe it would help us
Thank you to my church members who haven’t given up hope on me and continue to call me out when I need it.