We went to Imago this morning to catch the Holla if You Hear Me Tour, a panel of some amazing minds talking about justice and mercy and the American Black Male. It was waaaay too short (25 min), and it stirred up so many questions I felt dizzy.
Here is where I want to be honest: in the past, I thought racism was simply not a thing. That is wasn’t around anymore. That we had solved the problem many years ago. Now, the light is slowly dawning that things are not right. In fact, something is horribly wrong.
I struggle with this hidden racism, the tendency to only draw towards people who are just like me. Living in low-income housing has shone a spotlight on this unlovely part of myself, my complicitness in a culture that only glorifies the majority (which happens to be white, educated males).
Where we live, you can classify residents in two ways: refugees and immigrants, and (mostly) single-parent families of a lower socio-economic status. Many of the latter are African-American, although there are plenty of Caucasian families as well.
They are divided into tribes, of sorts. The refugees and immigrants have racist undercurrents all their own, but they are bonded by the commonalities of their experiences–past horrors, present confusions with American culture. I have cheerfully flung myself into this tribe, immersing myself into whatever the culture is of whatever apartment I am visiting: drinking chai and playing with babies with the Bhutanese, watching terrible TV and having loud conversations with Somalis. I love them, know most of them from years spent doing homework clubs, art classes, English classes. They know me, know my husband, know my baby. We chat on the elevators, on the playground, at the mailboxes.
The other tribe scares the hell out of me. I don’t get their cultural experiences or their expectations of me. They all seem to be bonded together as well: sharing cars, watching each others children, lending toilet paper and cooking supplies when needed. I hear them, engaged in loud and bitter arguments in the parking lot, but back to being best friends by the next day. They smoke, they swear, they scream at their children. They blow up, forgive quickly, laugh and commiserate together. They never talk to me. I have made it clear which tribe I am in.
I don’t know how to change this. The neighbors who surround me are strangers. They speak the same language as me but for some reason this makes it all the more difficult. I am not good at loving these people. It has been easier to stereotype them, to “tut, tut” under my breath, to walk quickly into the apartment and not engage in what is taking place in the doorways around me.
But something has to change. Sunday mornings are still the most segregated hours in America. We can’t even pray together with people who are different from us, much less be good neighbors. And I have it easier than most: they are my literal neighbors. Most of us have taken life paths that have led us to places where our neighbors tend to look exactly like us. But proximity isn’t everything, of course. Moving in does nothing, if you have not love.
I want to grow in love. I want to walk slowly down the hallways with my baby, and engage (the slow-baby-walking actually has down wonders for getting to know people. I can’t rush around to more “important” things, plus babies are the best ice breakers in the world. Period). I think about trying to not glorify whiteness, about shifting my perspectives. I think about learning how to laugh and commiserate, to lend food, to appreciate new thoughts and new music and new styles. Sometimes I think stupid things like “what if I got my ears pierced and then wore big hoops?” or “what if there was like this awesome lady-rapper who threw down beats about social justice?” or “what if I am supposed to be a rapper?” And it is ridiculous. And I laugh, instead of cry, which is what I really want to do when I sit down and stare all this sin in the face.
But mostly, I want to stop thinking about things in terms of tribes. Instead, I want to think about opening wide my doors. To whatever makes me love Jesus more.