I think we all are racist. In this world we cannot help but be influenced by the color of our skin. Much as I love my brothers and sisters at Solid Word Bible Church where we worshipped when we lived in Indianapolis, my white skin has given me different life experiences than their black skin. I cannot help but view the world from inside my white body.
In my years as a missionary librarian in Africa, cultural differences were obvious. I hoped that my feeble attempts to participate in the culture—studying Shangana, singing with the women’s choir, learning to cook pumpkin greens in peanut sauce—would hint at the love of Jesus that I wanted to communicate, but those things could never make me an insider. I abhor the forced labor, purloined resources, and personal indignities that often accompanied colonialism, but I tend to assume that the “blessings” of modern medicine, education and world economics make it all worthwhile. Not really, to hear one of my more outspoken African friends talk.
I recently read Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehis Coates. In it the American author essentially explains the facts of life in a white-dominated world to his son. I found that after fifteen years in Africa I resented being lumped with “those who think they are white,” but that resentment pales beside those who are arrested for DWB (driving while black) and have to swallow their resentment just to stay alive.
Coates’ parents rejected the gospel that led to a non-violent Civil Rights movement, and so did he at an early age, leaving him with nothing to believe in except that “We are our bodies.” The book is a call to respect those bodies. For me, a chronological account would have more effectively shown the inevitability of the author’s feelings. This book is not that. Nor is it a tightly constructed argument. It’s more of an essay—a rambling rant without even chapters—but it demonstrates the deep pain of American people of color in an age of one police killing after another. My responsibility as one of “those who think they are white” is to listen with an open heart to this expression of what the world looks like from within a black body and hopefully gain some small portion of understanding to soften my inherent racism.