With all of the talk about racism at present, I have to ask, as should you, “Am I racist?” I don’t think it’s helpful to ask myself if I actually am I a racist because being a racist implies that it is what I am in an all encompassing way. I know for sure that I am not of the opinion that being a white caucasian of European dissent translates into my superiority as a human being. That said, being white from birth on I find that whether intended or not, I want to believe that my race is the superior race. It’s not a conscious desire, in fact I am very intentional in my actions and way of life to make sure that anyone different from myself knows that I accept that first and foremost they are human beings of value.
In the 60’s, I grew up as a white child in a low income and very diverse community in the Midwest. I have come to understand that the time I spent living there shaped my worldview in ways that many growing up in predominantly all white European communities honestly don’t understand. The interesting thing is that a large part of the minority group in my life at that time where the Sioux Native Americans – Native…meaning they were the first ones on the ground I walked on everyday. I didn’t know them as natives then, they were just Indians. Indians with lice and alcoholic parents at home where the floors were dirt (literally). And every Saturday morning Bugs Bunny and other cartoons reinforced the prevailing worldview that Indians were once the enemies of Americans (aka white people) and killing them was just part of our Nebraska history. It was what had to be done because they were dangerous with their bows, arrows and tomahawks. It was an interesting childhood because at school and in my neighborhood Native American children were my peers but in the world at large they were definitely in a different place though I didn’t really understand that place at all.
This summer several new homes went up in our development on the north edge of the Twin Cities. Three different black families purchased homes among them. Dean and I eagerly went over and met each one. Among them we met some who were born here and some who were not. One of the Cameroon who moved here as a child whose spouse is from Kenya. They met in college in Mankato. Intelligent professionals with a lovely son. Another family moved in from St. Paul. We were just so happy to find diversity moving into our neighborhood. At the same time, on one random day I was driving home and as I drove down our street, a thought came into my mind, saying, “I wonder if our home value will go down now that we have more black people in the neighborhood.” It stopped me cold. “Where the hell did THAT come from?” was my next thought! It really unsettled me for awhile. It’s even difficult now to actually see it on the screen in front of me.
If you know me well, you know that I have been always been a passionate advocate for racial justice. My book shelves in the family room are lined with books full of stories from around the globe of injustice implemented simply because someone’s skin was black. I’m a global citizen and have been since being exposed to foreign missions in college. Then the impetus was to reach the world for Jesus and as I sought to do that, met dozens of people from all over the place. I taught students, the children of visiting missionaries, from several other countries and I specifically taught that just as there is one God, even though expressed in the Trinity for us Christians, there is one thing that makes us God’s children, being human. So, again, in my mortified state, I continued to ask myself “Where the hell did I get the thought that these all black families who moved into my neighborhood could bring our property value down?” It wasn’t long before I had an answer.
I believe this thought came from a place in myself that I was completely unaware of. I now understand it to be a message recorded so firmly into my subconscious that when circumstances aligned the way they did, there it was. In every way I don’t feel that this is actually true, and if it were, then so be it! These dear people are equal to me and deserve to live wherever they want to. I truly believe that.
Today I am so grateful for the lesson that came to me in this weird experience. I always knew roots of white supremacy were imbedded in my genetic history. As a result, I have purposely challenged myself on multiple occasions to seek to understand what it is my darker-skinned fellow humans are saying. Clearly, it is going to be a lifetime pursuit but one that I plan to continue to embrace.