Friday, July 15, 2016

Facing My Racism: A Testimony of Grace

As a child, I was criticized for having black friends and was called "n - lover." In high school, I won Best of Category at the Indiana State Media fair for a project on the Levi Coffin house, a house that was part of the Underground Railroad that helped slaves to freedom in Canada. After winning my prize, I donated my project to the school library, so other young people could learn about slavery and the Underground Railroad. As an adult, I have had many black friends, not to mention a black boss, a black lawyer, even a black surgeon who delivered my daughter by C-section.

When I wanted a man to have lunch with me and one of my black girlfriends, afterward, this man said to me, "You didn't tell me she was BLACK!" It never occurred to me that I should. I was "color blind," and happy to be so. There have actually been times I have mistaken black people for white and vice-versa. Someone told me once that my color blindness was racism in and of itself. I laughed and said something clever to put the intellectually challenged, "sensitive new age guy" in his place.

Fast-forward to July 2016, just days after Philando Castile was killed. I'm looking at my news feed and I see an article about why it's so hard to talk to white people about racism. Several times, I see this article and blow it off. Of course I don't need to learn anything about that. I've been a HUGE advocate for black people all my life. Finally, something stirs in me a desire to know the truth (if there was any truth I was missing) and I read the article. One article leads to another and before I know it, I feel a layer of hardened scales being lifted from my eyes. I begin to see how racist our culture really is - toward black people in particular, and I begin to face how I've contributed to this culture of racism in so many small but hurtful and destructive ways.

I bring this before God, sorrowful, pained, and broken. How could this be? How could someone as accepting of racial differences as myself - be racist? But now, the biases in myself and the world around me were becoming glaring. I could see it. I could see that God could see it too, and I could see that it broke His heart. Indeed, even my color blindness was saying, "Your blackness isn't important. Let's forget about it," even though, for many, that forgetting is not an option. Internally, I had proudly praised myself for forgetting something that is an unforgettable burden to others. How wrong I was. I could no longer live with that.

God showed me what to do - to educate myself, to listen and learn, and to really open my heart to the personal, daily, harsh reality of many people - a reality that I had been shutting out all my life. The love that began to flood my heart was exhilarating. So, this is what He meant by bearing one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2). This is what He meant by bearing your cross (Luke 14:27). Opening to the possibility of being wrong, repenting of that wrongness, picking up however much of that burden you can carry, and carrying it. Funny how the weight of it doesn't seem to weigh me down, but somehow seems to lift me up - lifts my spirit and fills me with indescribable joy.

My prayer is that others - even if only a few - will begin that journey as well. I know how confusing and painful it can be at first, but I have found it to be oh-so worth it to push through and learn how wrong you've been, to face it, to bring it to God, to be relieved of the burden of it, and to be filled with a new, deeper, more genuine kind of love. It's part of what Jesus died for. 

Copyright © 2016 Pennie Reese. All Rights Reserved