I have never experienced racism. I’m as white as a hotel sheet. But I have seen and heard racism. Observation tells me that it comes in various forms that range from quiet avoidance to murder and ethnic cleansing.
One would hope that after more than 2,000 years of Christianity, racism would refer to a manic need for speed on a racetrack, and not systemic assault on those different from others. Sadly, there seems to be a vocal group of alleged Christians that favor those as white as a hotel sheet over any skin color with darker pigmentation.
I hardly throw all the racism blame on white Christians. Racism lives within many factions of skin pigmentation. Look at today’s Middle East. Racism blended with religious zealotry is too painful to watch.
About eighty-percent of my youth included tolerance and acceptance education. But that didn’t deafen me from the comments I heard by adults around me during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Fortunately, I didn’t hear superiority—except from one distant cousin from Mississippi. What I heard was fear. It was fear of the unknown. Fear of difference.
I watched one kind white woman react in absolute fear when a single mother of two, a RN, and black, bought the house next to this white woman (WW). WW nearly lost her mind in fear. You see, she never really knew a black person in her 70+ years of life. She didn’t know what to expect. So she hired a mason to add two-feet to the block wall between her and the RN’s property, plus run a brick wall down what was once a shared driveway. WW added bolts to all of her doors.
Her actions horrified me. A nasty argument ensued between her and I as I questioned her devout religiosity and this blatant fence that she built between the black and the white.
But to my pleasure, WW redeemed herself. The RN reached out to her and offered her help should the older white woman neighbor ever need it. “Just give me a call, hon. That’s what neighbors are for. You can call me anytime,” RN offered.
The two single women neighbors became friends once WW learned that she had nothing to fear. The fence remains. The current property owners extended the fence to create a safer yard for their kids and dogs and errant soccer balls rolling into the street.
I’ve addressed my concerns in several previous posts on this website. Clearly, my thoughts have changed little in the world of race relations. And, in fact, I sense a pushback by other privileged white folks who mock what has grown into a conservative vs. liberal point of view. And that sends chills down my spine.
I see the colors of race from my brown eyes embedded in pale skin. I have not been denied work, the ability to rent in clean neighborhoods, been looked upon with suspicion, had women clutch their purse a little tighter when I walk by, or pulled over by the police because I’m driving through an all-white neighborhood.
I don’t believe in the phrase “color blindness.” To imagine my life without the colors of my friends and associates, without other venues of religious faith, without other world visions, without other cultural behaviors, would make my world so absolutely beige. I don’t like beige. It would be like eating plain mashed potatoes every night. Blech! I want yuzu sauces, curry, smoked paprika, and chili peppers with my parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
And I don’t believe that I suffer from white guilt. I didn’t commit the sins of my proverbial fathers and mothers.
Yet, I still spin and sulk. It’s not just an American issue. People of darker skin pigmentation reside throughout Europe—the homeland of light pigmented skin. Religious views compounded with likely racial pocketing, threatens everyone. I’m talking not just about Africans immigrating into Europe, but I include European Jews who fear for their lives; Muslims facing religious and tribal tyranny from fellow Muslims; Christians threatened in the Middle East; and mosques in Africa destroyed by Christians. And finally, when I searched for racial incidents from around the world, it took 10 seconds to learn that no matter from where, we humans like to think we are more superior to others.
And this is where Martin Luther King, Jr. returns into my focus.
“All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” he said in his sermon, “The man who was a fool.”
And much like the fence that WW built between her and her new black neighbor, King spoke of being a good neighbor.
“The real tragedy of…narrow provincialism is that we see people as entities or merely as things. Too seldom do we see people in their true humanness. A spiritual myopia limits our vision to external accidents. We see men as Jews or Gentiles, Catholics or Protestants, Chinese or American, Negroes or whites. We fail to think of them as fellow human beings made from the same basic stuff as we, molded in the same divine image.”
But once WW lost her fear of the unknown about this Negro woman, her attitude changed.
She found the “Strength to Love” (the title of one of my favorite books by King) her new neighbor. King writes, “Hate is rooted in fear, and the only cure for fear-hate is love.”
This sounds simplistic. But it isn’t. Next to greed-power, I know of no demon more challenging to overcome than fear-hate.
Thugs frighten one. Psychopaths reek danger. And so on. I surely would not put myself into the path of either. But what we can tackle is the fear-hate of the different, the new, and the seemingly odd. Perhaps it begins with developed empathy followed by communication. And we certainly will not fall in love with each new experience/person. There may be fundamental differences of the heart that you nor I can change. This is when we separate our personal vision, bless the differing vision before us, and move forward without animosity.
Accepting our commonalities, be it faith, the love or strife of family, and the most basic needs of every single person, drives our empathy and we develop compassion. Compassion can spread like a matured dandelion in its fragile white blossom sensitive to the breeze.
The late Martin Luther King, Jr. not only went to the mountaintop, but he firmly believed that with the strength to love we can have “…the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, and equality, and freedom for their spirits.”
That moment will signal racism’s death.