Many years ago, a friend and I were talking about how we identify people in conversation. Steve said, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said ‘So, I was with my friend Tim—he’s a black guy’…I’ve never said ‘So, I was with my friend Bob, he’s a white guy…’ Why is that? Why do we feel the need to identify anyone who isn’t white?”
That conversation has stuck with me over the years and to this day, I am conscious of when I offer that extra description and when I don’t. My ruminations resonated with the words Debby Irving offers in the Introduction of Waking Up White. She writes:
“For years I struggled silently to understand race and racism. I had no way to make sense of debates in the media about whether the white guy was ‘begin a racist’ or the black guy was ‘playing the race card.’ I wanted close friends of color but kept ending up with white people as my closet friends. When I was with a person of color, I felt an inexplicable tension and a fear that I might say or do something offensive or embarrassing. When white people made blatant racist jokes or remarks, I felt upset but had no idea what to do or say. I didn’t understand why, if laws supporting slavery, segregation, and discrimination had been abolished, lifestyles still looked so different across color lines. Most confusing were unwanted racist thoughts that made me feel like a jerk. I felt too embarrassed to admit any of this, which prevented me from going in search of answers. It turns out, stumbling block number 1 was that I didn’t think I had a race, so I never thought to look within myself for answers.”
CA-CHING! It’s that last sentence that got me. As one in the majority race, I tended to think of race as something everyone else had—Asian, African American, Indian, Latino—you get the idea. “White” or “Anglo” really wasn’t “race.”
Now, I am aware some of you may be beyond this thinking—and I am glad for that! You can help those of us who need to catch up. I am looking forward to reading Waking Up White. For me, it is going to be challenging and eye opening. A number of you have already expressed interest in this and here’s my suggestion of how we’ll gather around it. Add Waking Up White to your summer reading list. Let me know if you need help buying the book and let me know you’re reading it. In September, we’ll begin conversation groups around our reading.
Irving’s book is a compliment to the Belhar Confession, the most recent Confession in our Book of Confession. The mental image that keeps running through my mind is from Sunday—Elizabeth Bull holding up the printed copy as she’s offering witness to what our future ministry should be. Racial reconciliation, inclusion and equality, speaking truth to power—it’s all there. How does this new confession frame and guide our conversation about future ministry? Should it frame and guide our conversation? Intentionally digging into the confession is the only way to find out!
This study will also begin in September. A copy of the confession can be found here. Add this to your summer reading list as well. And let me know if you’re reading this too.
So, what’s the discernment about here? For me, it has to do with that edgy, uncomfortable feeling—I’m being invited to consider something new, to change my outlook or behavior. From my perspective so much of what is happening in our country and in the church has to do with our inability, unwillingness to address the issue of race. I, for one, am tired of feeling inadequate and apprehensive about participating in that conversation and working to bring about change. A first step for me is to educate myself and work to understand my own thoughts and reactions. I invite you to join me.