It is with fear and trepidation that I write. Fear that I will be criticized and judged for what I will say. Fear that I will offend someone, anyone, everyone. I can barely begin a discussion on race because I’m so afraid. And therein lies the problem.
I loved the intent behind Starbucks effort to start conversations about race in their “Race Together” campaign. But I agree that it’s a tough venue to get a serious dialog started when it’s the barista’s job to crank out lattes and frappuccinos at lightening speed.
But conversation and connection is just what we need to make a change for the better.
One of the voices I have found compelling is Julia Blount, a Princeton-educated middle school teacher. She wrote a piece for Salon.com directed to white people. She addresses two groups. The first group is those who are voicing disdain for the riots in Baltimore. She asks them to please stop and listen before they say any more.
“If you are not listening, not exposing yourself to unfamiliar perspectives, not watching videos, not engaging in conversation, then you are perpetuating white privilege and white supremacy. It is exactly your ability to not hear, to ignore the situation, that is a mark of your privilege. People of color cannot turn away. Race affects our lives every day. We must consider it all the time, not just when it is convenient.”
The second group is those who remain silent on the issue of race. I fall in that group.
I am white. I grew up middle class in the Midwest. I worked hard to put myself through three degrees. And now I am upper-middle class, living in the Bay Area. One of the main reasons I love living here is the mixture of races. I want my children to experience different cultures, languages, and colors of skin. I want them to be so exposed to different skin colors, that they don’t notice the difference between them.
I have been silent on the issue of race because I don’t know what to say. I feel like my words are not worthy because my life experience is on the privileged side. I will never fully know what it feels like to be a different race. I will never fully know the pain of the engrained stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination that persist despite improvements in the past. I feel like I don’t have a valid voice because I haven’t experienced it.
I’m also ashamed of past mistakes I’ve made. Ashamed when I’ve stumbled over words that came out wrong and were harmful. Ashamed when I’ve participated in stereotyping. Ashamed when I am fearful.
But that does not mean I don’t have heartbreak, anguish, and confusion over each racial incident. I wish I could change it all, mending each wrong, past and present. But instead, I step out now with one small, inexperienced voice to let my friends of all colors know that I am watching, I am reading, I am listening, and I am praying.
I will make mistakes and I will learn from them. I will not let my fear and shame keep me silent.
“… black community, I stand in solidarity with you, … as a human being. I hear you, and I believe you.” Jen Hatmaker
“Life begins to end when we stop speaking up about things that matter!” MLK Jr.
To learn more, Hearts & Minds has a list of recommended books on multi-cultural reconciliation, racial justice, and multi-ethnic ministry.