Fresh tortilla chips at a Mexican restaurant are glorious! I was enjoying a particularly lovely basket with my brother and his girlfriend, when we noticed on the TV screen that the verdict had come in for the George Zimmerman trial. Not guilty. What has emerged in the days since is a cacophony of opinions, and somewhere in the midst of these varying thoughts, I find myself wondering where I stand. Do I believe justice was done? Was this racially charged? Does my faith in Christ have anything to do with this case?
At the very least, this trial has grown my desire to enter into conversations, especially with those in the church, over ideas of race, justice, and privilege. Yet, I’ve noticed within the church some resistance to engage in a talk on these issues. Cases like this bring up an ugliness that I think we’re scared to examine. It’s easy to see racism as a thing that we conquered in the 60’s and 70’s. I mean, we even have an African American president. Yet, I think we can use our own experiences, especially those coming from privilege, as a defense, a way to assuage the fear in our own hearts. “I’ve never experienced or done this to another, thus it must not be happening.”
I think what has opened my eyes, ever so slightly, has been reflecting on my experience of being a woman who feels called to work in full-time paid ministry. There can be subtle snubs and assumptions that I experience regularly. It has been and continues to be heartbreakingly painful. Sometimes I feel like less than, because I am a woman. Especially being a woman who has a heart to do more than administrative work. I don’t have the privilege of being in on the conversation where decisions are made. Men have discounted my experience of being overlooked or condescended upon. I am not in a place of privilege in this context. I realize that my experience in no way compares to that of many of my brothers and sisters who have daily experienced the impact of racism and bias. I do think it has given me the tiniest glimpse of what it is to be in a place without privilege.
It is easy for me to make assumptions based on my own experiences. I have never been accused of trespassing. I have never been pulled over because “I fit the description…” I have my own narrative playing as I walk through life. The older I get, the more that I realize others have a differing narrative. This narrative was named by President Obama last Friday, as he shared pieces of his experience being African American in America:
“I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away.”
We’re so ready to judge another’s experience, to discount it. But I wonder if these experiences bring up fears and insecurities in our own hearts. It reveals our utter sin and depravation. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have been quick to talk, but not quick to listen. What would it look to for the church to engage in the conversations on race and privilege. I can almost guarantee that it would be messy and even unwieldy. Even within myself, there’s a fear in stepping into the messiness. Do I want to enter into that conversation? If I’m honest, I’m scared to join the conversation. I’m afraid of what I might find inside me. Do I believe that we need to step into this conversation? Absolutely.
The articles that have been the most helpful for me have been those that do not claim to have an answer. I don’t think there is an easy answer. The history of racism in our country runs deep. It will not be fixed easily or quickly. Yet, I do not believe that is an excuse to avoid the conversation. Jesus met with and lived with some of the messiest people around. He stepped into a politically charged environment, where a displaced people were ruled by an authoritative empire.
I step into this conversation through this piece, but I must begin with the truth:
I am privileged.