God sat across from me on the bus today but I didn’t trust God….
The young man walked to the back of the bus and sat across from me. He carried a large, loosely-packed gym bag. He wore crisp black jeans, a hoody, athletic shoes, and an Oakland Raiders cap. I bristled making sure I had my bag over my shoulder, with my fingers looped tightly around the handle.
What was it that caused me to respond to this young man with mistrust? He was clean, well-groomed. The style of his clothing was similar to that which my nephew Jacob wears routinely. I’m never disturbed by Jacob’s attire. The young man did nothing threatening. He simply walked to the back of the bus and took an open seat. He looked tired. If that’s threatening, the bus was full of threats as it moved through the pre-dawn darkness.
I perceived a threat even when God’s arms were open….
A short while later the bus stopped and another similarly-dressed young man joined us at the back of the bus. I did not respond to him in the same way that I responded to the first young man. I don’t like to admit to why I felt threatened by the first young man but not the second. I am ashamed of the characteristic that triggered my automatic threat response.
I prayed but didn’t trust God to heal….
My culturally-entrenched biases were triggered by the the color of the first young man’s skin. Disappointed in my response, and in myself, I prayed. Even in my prayer seeking to overcome my bigotry–my racist feelings–I doubted that God could lessen them. You see, I’ve bumped up against these learned responses to young African American men in myself before. I’ve even used them as an example when teaching the Anti-Bias Curriculum to those preparing to be teachers. I’ve talked about the importance of self-reflection as a tool to avoid acting in a bigoted way. As I did this morning, I force myself to look at the situation objectively when my racism rears its ugly head.
God kept working on me….
Though, I did nothing overt, talking myself down is not enough. For one thing, subtlety is in the eyes of the beholder. The young man may not have noticed my “subtle” actions–but he may have. If he noticed them, he is aware of my sin against him. If he didn’t, I still sinned.
Self-reflection and talking ourselves down may be a good first step. Still, if we are to combat racism each of us must not only be honest with ourselves, we must confess (i.e.; be honest with) to others.
- We can start by being honest with God. This morning as I prayed to God to open my heart, my fingers remained wrapped around the handle of my bag. It’s not that God doesn’t know of my sins but until I lay them down before God, it is very unlikely that I will be open enough to let go of them.
- We also need to admit publicly that we are imperfect, that we have racist feelings and thoughts. Though, unlike many European Americans, many of my childhood years were spent in mixed-race settings. Yet, my youngest years, when racism is first learned, were spent in all-white settings. The churches, schools, and neighborhoods in which I lived were nearly or all white until I moved to St. Louis at the age of eight. To pretend that I don’t have racist feelings is to give them free rein.
God sat across from me on the bus today but I didn’t trust God. I perceived a threat even when God’s arms were open. I prayed but didn’t trust God to heal. God kept working on me encouraging me to confess the sin of racism.
Even as I write this, I am doubting whether I want to post it to my blog. I am embarrassed. I don’t want to admit that as an American man of European descent, I have any racist tendencies. If my embarrassment at my subconscious racism prevents me from admitting to them, can I truly overcome them?
So, today I confess publicly that I have racist thoughts and feelings. I am not proud of them. I try not to act upon them but I’m sure at times I do without being aware of them.
God of Grace and Transformation:
Forgive my sin of racist thought.
Forgive my failure to loosen my grip on my bag,
even as I am in communion with You.
Keep my eyes and heart open that,
I might seek your strength and healing power,
to overcome hatred.
Transform me that I might sow love,
even when hatred, racism, and bigotry rests within me.
Cause me to perceive the Divine,
cause me to see You in all whom I meet.
You are the One who includes and loves all.
Guide me to reveal more of You in me,
so that Your inclusive Kin_dom comes to all of Creation.
[…] Racism is insidious. It is systemic in our nation. As a white man I am privy to privileges that I often don’t even notice. I am not intentionally racist but I do benefit from racism. I also have unconscious racist attitudes simply because of the culture in which we live. To pretend otherwise is to increase the likelihood that I will take overtly racist actions. (I wrote about a recent encounter with my own subtle racism here.) […]