Wednesday, November 26, 2014

An Open Letter to Those Who Have Said "It Isn't About Race/Racism"


A lot of things have been said already about Ferguson.  I have friends who say they are already tired of hearing about it.

But I'd ask that you bear with me here, because I don't think transformations of heart and mindset and soul happen at our convenience.

I'm not black.  I identify as white.  But I'm also ambiguously ethnic enough that most people can guess that I'm not a WASP but don't know what my ancestry (Armenian) actually is.

Here's the deal.  I have also experienced racism.  Not towards my own race, mind you.  But towards whatever people thought my race was.

When I was in the fifth grade, I got called a "Chinese ****" by one boy during a basketball tryout.

In the third grade (just a couple of years after Desert Storm), I had a soccer coach who had us play a pretend "World Cup" drill with one another in practice.  We each got assigned different nations.  My teammates mostly got standard-issue European nations.  I got Iraq.

When I was a junior in high school (only a year after 9/11), a TSA agent saw the cross I wear around my neck and asked me, "Why would you wear that?"

When I was home from college one winter break and out driving around, a man who took the same exit off the highway as me sped up, looked over at me, and hurled an anti-Semitic slur as he passed.

When I was a senior in college, had rather shaggy facial hair, and was traveling with my debate team, a ticket agent at the airport saw my name on my driver's license, bugged her eyes, and asked, "Is that really your name?"

If you don't think racism is an issue today, let me repeat this: I'm WHITE.  I'm a white, straight, Christian man in America.  I hit the privilege jackpot.  And even I have experienced racism solely because I don't look like what most white people look like.

Just imagine what people of color experience on a regular basis.

Imagine those people of color being told by white people like you and me that they're just "making that up" or "that can't have really happened," like they're children who claim to see monsters under the bed.

Can you understand, even a little, why they might be upset and hurting and mourning at what has happened this week in Ferguson?

Look--tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  And that day, we usually remember the pilgrims and their funny-looking hats.  But the first-ever Thanksgiving holiday was instituted by President Lincoln in 1863, at the height of the Civil War, when a lot of people probably didn't feel like they had a lot to be thankful for.

Yet when our nation was at its most divided, someone still saw fit to set aside and proclaim a day of Thanksgiving.  And ever since then, that day has been, if not about empathy, at least about hearing people out, because we have to sit around the table and listen to our oddball family members with the crazy political opinions we don't agree with as we stuff our faces full of turkey before retiring to the couch to vegetate, watch football, and daydream of how we are going to trample one another on Black Friday.

So this Thanksgiving, please reach for empathy.  Reach for empathy for your brothers and sisters who don't look like you, whose lives are still affected all the time solely because they don't look like you.  Reach for empathy across this divide that still exists between our experiences.  Reach for empathy outside of the bubble of your own privilege and place in society.  And reach for empathy enough to listen to other peoples' stories and experiences rather than try to drown them out or immediately try to discredit them as outliers or "not what must have really happened."

Do that, and I promise you, the seeds for a transformation into a better, more loving world and nation will have been planted.

Thanks for reading.  Have a safe and blessed Thanksgiving.

Yours in Christ,

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