1. How does your race affect your daily experience?
My race has affected my daily experience for as long as I can remember. I am approaching 50 years of age and I remember when I was probably 12 or 13, my parents sitting me down and explaining that because we were Black, I would have to work twice as hard as my white counterparts; I would have to be aware of my surroundings at all times, especially when I navigated suburban areas; if I were to be pulled over when driving, they taught me “how to act”(or I should say respond).
Even though I have three university degrees, EVERY single time a police car pulls up behind me when I drive, my heart skips a beat. I know it sounds crazy; I guess I have been psychologically impacted by the images of Rodney King and others throughout the years to know that anything is possible. To my knowledge, I have been stopped for DWB(driving while black) twice…once I was in the neighboring “white” community of the “white” community where I was living. I had yet to change my license from our Madison address to our Menomonee Falls address….so the officer found it necessary to let me know I was driving in the wrong direction of going to Madison……
The other time I was stopped for dwb, I was in “white folks bay”…aka Whitefish Bay for those who have never heard the reference. It was nighttime and the president of the National Honor Society had just completed a successful admissions interview into Duke University. This interview had taken place in the WFB home of a Duke alum, who gave me amazing feedback on my interview and said she would highly recommend me for acceptance into Duke. Five minutes later, the local police department gave me some feedback too: that I was speeding in their neighborhood; Since I had been taught how to act in this situation (keep in mind this was WAY before cell phones), I handed the officer my license and I waited for his return to my vehicle. When he did return, he told me I needed to wait for awhile while his department did further investigating into who I was because my name was coming up with an arrest warranty. ????? I am no choir boy, but I can in good faith say that I have never done anything to warrant an arrest.
- African-American. Male. Sitting in a car, without a cell phone in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin. Waiting for the officer to return to my car, because there was an arrest warrant out of me. I think I may have actually peed on myself that night.
I have also found myself traveling with my multi-racial family in the deep south and finding myself smack dab in the middle of a white supremacy rally. My bi-racial children were asleep and never had to see the images that I saw that day. I am also acutely aware of the concept of “sun down towns” in America. EVERY time I travel south to visit my relatives in the southern states, my site-seeing and my business is completed by sunset. If this doesn’t make sense to the reader, look up the events of Jasper, Texas…in the mid 1990s! Not 1890…1990!
Perkins restaurant. Denny’s restaurant. School Board meeting parking lots. The list could go on that as shown me that my race has affected my daily experiences.
2. How do you think the gospel should impact our understanding of race?
You know, this is a damn good question! The gospel should DIRECTLY impact our understanding of race. Ironically, one of the first places I experienced prejudice was in the predominately African-American church I grew up in….a place where there were pictures of a White Jesus on the walls, but the words coming out of this one particular Sunday school teacher’s mouth were anything but Christian as it pertains to race. Jesus lived his life amongst the least of us and no person was beneath his touch. The gospel has a lot to say about how we should treat one another. Why is 11:00 am on a Sunday morning still one of the most segregated places in America? If we are all opening up the same Bible on Sunday mornings, then what is the problem????
3. How can the church engage in racial reconciliation?
It has got to be an INTENTIONAL effort on the part of pastors and parishioners. We have to want to do this..we have to want to have courageous conversations..we have to want to know about those who are different than ourselves…we have to want to grow and be in the minority and be afraid and be vulnerable and ask questions and pray together and pray for one another and pick up together the baton of social justice and carry it until the end of the race.
We have to seek first to understand, then be understood.
We have to pick up our cross daily.
we simply have to become good listeners.
A few weeks ago, I was in Imago Dei church and a very simple yet powerful thing happened. I was visiting that day by myself and I was talking to my brother and his African-American family at the end of the service. A young Caucasian woman came over to where we were and simply said “Hi, my name is Amy and I don’t know you all and I want to….” She extended her hand to shake ours, we exchanged names, talked for a bit, she repeated all of our names back to us correctly and then we all went about our day.
I am convinced that WHEN I return to Imago Dei, I will remember Amy and I will feel as if I can have any type of conversation with her, will be able to pray with her, pray for her and count her as my sister in racial reconciliation. The journey of a thousand miles begins with taking that first step. The church should take the first INTENTIONAL step towards engaging our world in racial reconciliation; but, make no mistake about it: engaging people to work towards racial reconciliation should be done through prayer and people, not programs.