Recently, at school, one of my daughters has experienced constant verbal attacks on her ethnicity. A teacher, of the young man in question, even told him in a private conversation, that he later told my daughter and her friends, that “blacks cannot be racist.” Essentially giving him the green light to be as racist as he wants, to whomever he wants. Among the constant barrage of insults are names such as “white scum”, “racist”, and “privileged”. Now, they are friends, and the young man is obviously overtaken by passion, media influences, and teachers like the one mentioned above, so I set out to invite him to our house for dinner. I wanted him to hear all about my privilege. After all, I have a great job doing what I love, live in a pretty good neighborhood, have some great kids, and a few other things that make life easier. I am obviously privileged.
My privilege started at a very young age. I had my own room, as an only child I suppose that isn’t too difficult to pull off. While I loved it, some people around us didn’t think too highly of the long, seemingly tin, trailer home in the back woods of North Carolina. It wasn’t too long after mom and my step dad were divorced that mom and I found ourselves living in subsidized apartments a little closer to the nearby small town. I was one of the only ‘privileged’ kid living there. I remember several apartments in those days, one of which had a large closet. It was a one bedroom, so the closet doubled as the second bedroom for me. We were even privileged to have a phone that didn’t ring. You literally had to just pick it up ever so often to see if someone was calling. We were finally privileged enough to move into a little nicer apartment that was a little closer to the center of town. It was such a privilege to be able to see and talk to my mom when she wasn’t working one of her two jobs so that we could live in our new apartment.
I was fifteen when my privilege really kicked in. I had a few friends over, planning our day, when mom comes in with the greatest present of privilege I have probably ever received. She had gotten me a job. Wow! That’s just what I wanted at the ripe old age of fifteen. I worked 20 to 30 hours all through high school. What a privilege!! Some years later, I met my wife. As we expected our first child, I was privileged to be able to go in a 4am until 8am to stock at the local Sam’s Club and then go in from 9am until 5pm at the local Old Navy just to make ends meet. My wife worked too until she gave birth, and we were both privileged to work different shifts, so she had to sleep in the car in the morning and I had to sleep in the car at night as we waited for each other. It was too far just to go home in those days, besides, we couldn’t afford gas. I managed to work my way up to a store management and regional management position with Sam’s Club. I was privileged to miss most of my first daughters life during those days.
I thought it was time to finish school, so I had the great privilege of working, fathering, and being a student for almost a decade as I finished my bachelors and two masters degrees. I had the great privilege of waking up at 4am most days and not seeing my pillow until nearly midnight. It was great!! I shifted to LifeWay Christian stores, and had the privilege of driving nearly an hour and a half one way during my training. After seven great years with LifeWay, I had the privilege of moving to Minnesota as a “church planter”. The privilege at this point was so overwhelming that I could barely stand it. I worked Saturdays for the USPS. I worked at a local water distribution warehouse. I substitute taught to fill the gaps, and I commuted an hour and a half to the Twin Cities to begin establishing our ministry there. We eventually moved to the city, where my children were privileged to enjoy free lunch in the public schools. Who can forget the privilege of food stamps in the early days of our ministry, and how well they treat you in the stores when you choose the wrong items.
How could I forget the privilege of my daughter who spends at least two hours a night on school to maintain her straight A’s, and is now privileged to work about 15 hours a week at the local Old Navy, so that she can prepare for college. We’re so privileged it’s difficult to recount. In fact, this is only scratching the surface. We’ve yet to have dinner with this young man, but I do look forward to that day when he can hear just how privileged we are. I’m almost certain that he will agree that he is nowhere near as privileged as we are.
Race reconciliation cannot be settled via posts, quips, haiku, riots, or the like. Race relations are reconciled around the dinner table. No doubt this young man has seen and likely experienced unfair situations. No doubt, at times, it has been because of his race. I fought through life not to sit back and post or blog about it, rather to have dinner and do life with young men like this one. No politician, policy, or social program can get at the heart of race reconciliation. I’ve heard with my own ears and seen with my own eyes true and real life racism, and I guarantee those in others races and cultures have too.
How should we approach race relations?
1- Honest – Conflict is normal and necessary, combat is what we hope to avoid. Conflict is good. Combat is bad.
We can and will conflict, but when we see conflict as bad and avoid it, we are bound to be in combat.
We have to accept this with honesty. We are different. I hear from well-meaning people that they “don’t see color.” I understand what they mean, but that is only perpetuating the issue. We must see color. We must love color. Only when we see each other for who we are, can we truly begin to reconcile. We have to be honest about the issues that plague us.
2- Objective – Our honesty allows us to focus on our own position or reality, but we must be able to be objective as well. We must be able to rise above the situation and place ourselves in other’s shoes. We have to ask, what am I missing. We have to ask is there possible validity to the other’s feelings, even if I cannot initially see them. Can we recognize historical, societal, and familial contributors to our difference that we may not understand.
3- Patient – Change rarely happens overnight. We must be patient in the face of those who are hurting. “Hurting people hurt people and are easily hurt by them”, as one Christina leader wrote. I had a young Slavic gentlemen exclaim in a meeting regarding his surrounding neighborhood of predominately white middle-class Americans as “fake smiling Americans”. We have to be patient with each other as we discover that we have much more in common than we realize. We are going to hear things that are contrary to our own experience. We are going to hear things flow from passion that do not seem logical or real. We must be patient with each other.
4- Enduring – Diversity will always exist, so we must always endure to reconcile. This isn’t something that will just not be an issue worth our investing in. It will always require our investment. We must endure in honest, objective, and patient interactions, where we are not afraid to ask question and give honest feedback. Unfortunately, society has almost made honesty illegal, but we must endure to have honest and patiently objective conversation in life together with each other because we will always be in life with one another.
Diversity will always exist, so we must always endure to reconcile.
We have many on a variety of platforms who express a wide range of opinions on issues of race. The reality is, race relations are primarily dealt with at street level from normal everyday people, not from atop soap boxes and platforms exclusively.
BY JOSHUA WHETSTINE – NORTH AMERICAN MISSION BOARD CITY MISSIONARY FOR MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL.