Matthew 28:16-20 The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Reflection A voice with an accent foreign to us responds to our call for tech support and the thought that accompanies our rising impatience is, “Oh no.” It is evening and we cross the street to avoid walking past a couple of dark skinned men. A man of color asks a white woman to leash her dog. Instead she calls 911 and accuses him of violating her. A police officer shoots an unarmed person of color because the officer believes this person threatens his life.
When biases and beliefs are translated into action, racism happens. In spite of our best intentions, regardless of our desire to be broadminded and open hearted, we stumble over unconscious biases or beliefs that people who do not look, talk, pray, eat or vote like us are more likely to be dangerous or a threat to us. Though we do not want to, we feel anxious around them and before we know it our unconscious beliefs or biases are translated into action and racism happens.
A heart rending conversation with a parishioner this week makes the point. I will call him James. James and his wife Sophia are white. They have two biological daughters and an adopted son whom I will call William. William is biracial, clearly of black heritage. Between semesters during his junior year in college William was home and asked his parents if he could drive their new Acura downtown to meet friends. James shuddered at the thought and proceeded to warn William. “If you are stopped by the police who are likely to wonder why a black skinned kid is driving such a nice car, keep your hands on the steering wheel. Do not move quickly. Do not act smart. Be careful.” Here is the thing, James never felt fear when his white skinned daughters drove his Acura downtown and found no need to give them similar warnings.
Racism happens not because we are bad but because throughout history (the telling and retelling of our human story from a particular perspective) we have grouped people according to perceived differences. These groupings support practices like colonialism, slavery, segregation, genocide, racial profiling and voter suppression. Each of these expressions of racism is based on deep seated and destructive bias or beliefs that certain groups of people are fundamentally different than others, not only different but in some sense inferior or with particular behavioral tendencies.
It is hard to admit our biases and beliefs about groups of people. This not only applies to issues of race and ethnicity. Republicans, Democrats, Greens and Rainbows harbor disparaging beliefs about one another while maintaining a sense of their own moral or intellectual superiority. Let us be honest with ourselves. We are imprisoned by our biases and beliefs and when they are translated into action, as we see across our country today, all hell breaks loose.
What are we to do if blaming is not the answer? I must confess I have spent all week asking myself and consulting mentors. This is what I hear. Stop. Stop thinking you can fix it. Start listening. Listen to peoples experiences of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability and class discrimination. Allow yourself to be touched by their stories. Participate in honest discussions of these difficult topics. No need to be defensive. Admit you do not know.
Today I stand in utter unknowing. I have no idea how to lead through this violent wilderness. What I cling to is Jesus’ final promise to the disciples and us, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” God is with us so let us have the courage to listen, to learn, to be touched and transformed into people who act consciously and conscientiously for the dignity and care of every single person.
I just received an invitation from Bp Reddall for this evening. Please consider joining me tonight attending the bishop’s online Vigil for the Dignity of Black Lives at 6:00 p.m.
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