While others in the blogosphere have weighed in on Ferguson and the mounting race crisis in America, I’ve stayed pretty quiet on those matters here at Centering Down. Let me be clear, it is not because I have not been thinking about it. It is not because I don’t care. It is certainly not because I think some lives matter more than any other.
Honestly my silence was primarily based on this, I was not quite sure yet what to say.
Being a quiet type who likes to think things over carefully before she speaks, I needed some time to make sense of it all. Then I was in the middle of this Advent series and I wasn’t sure if race relations in America and Advent went together in any coherent way. And then I read Mary’s Magnificat again from Luke 1.
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor upon the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who hear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.
Then I thought about this Savior who was born to a woman of color and how he was raised in poverty. How he spent his life hanging out with the people who didn’t have any kind of privileged be it white or otherwise. I thought about how this Savior spent every day showing in word and action how all lives matter. Even the lives that the society at the time was throwing to the side of the road to suffer and die. I thought about this Savior who gathered the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor around his cradle to worship him, together. And I knew I had to say something.
And I am still not really sure what to say, so I will just tell a story.
A couple of weeks ago this thing happened. A church I go to was delivering food baskets to children who get free lunch at a low income elementary school in town. The church gives food to these children every weekend, usually sending it home with them from school on Friday afternoon. Since the kids were out for a week, this time we were driving the extra full food baskets to their homes.
When the call went out to help deliver, I immediately went up to grab a bag. Not only because I believe in feeding hungry kids, but because this elementary school happens to be the very same school I went to as a kid. It was not a low income school back in the day, but I still consider it my school. When picking which bag to deliver I zeroed in on the one with the address I knew best. It was in a neighborhood that sits in the shadow of my old high school, now considered the inner city school in town. It was two streets over from my sister-in-law’s old house where I used to play when I was a child. I knew I would not get lost getting there as these are streets I know like the back of my hand, or at least I thought I did.
I remember being concerned that all we had on the bags was a name and address. I wished for a phone number so I could arrange a mutually convenient time to drop off the food. But since that was not available I waited until almost lunch when I knew even kids on break should be awake and headed over.
As we pulled up to the house, I noticed a group of African-American kids playing in the yard. Me and my two children got out, said Hi and asked if this was the “Smith” house as we simultaneously rifled through the trunk to collect the food. Some of the kids who were looking at us with great curiosity said “yeah, this is their house, that’s a guy who lives here” and pointed to an older boy who once identified immediately ran into the house.
Thinking maybe he was just shy, we proceeded up the the door and knocked. I remember thinking how different the houses looked now, twenty years after my days of playing in these same front yards. They were clearly worn by time and stress and some bore bars on the doors.
When the Mom came to the door the only way I can explain her reaction is that her eyes got wide and her face had “who is this white woman on my door?” written all over it. It took me a few minutes to actually explain who I was and what I was doing, she was so freaked out by me.
Once she got that we were bringing her food, she sent the same kid who had ran from me out to collect the bags, apologizing that she would invite us in but her house was a mess. I replied that mine was a mess too, so it was okay.
As the still scared looking boy came out to collect the bags, we wished them well and a Happy Thanksgiving and began to walk off.
Instead of saying “thank you” or “Happy Thanksgiving” the mom said, “I’m sorry you had to come all the way out here.” As if we had traveled from some far away foreign land to bring her the food.
It has taken me two weeks to even speak about this exchange it upset me so much. I don’t know what I had imagined, some bonding experience about the good old days at our common alma maters? I certainly did not expect that people would be afraid of me or ashamed to have me see them and their house.
Me, who drives a modest four year old car. Me, who never has her hair or nails done and wears clothes from Goodwill. Me who drives around with one kid in tow who isn’t even white (though being Asian in America is very different from being African-American).
I had so assumed I lived a life where I tried to fight against racism, to befriend people of all backgrounds, that it erased my white privilege (which apparently is a fear inducing thing). After all, we live in a very multi-race neighborhood. One in which our kids play with the African-American kids who live behind us so much that we built a ladder so they could climb straight from our yard to theirs. Living in this neighborhood has our daughter zoned for a Title 1 Middle School where over 50% of the students are African-American, a good 10% are Latino or Asian and only 40% of the kids are white.
A school where the kids have told her to get over trying to be politically correct by calling them African American and just go with Black. A statement which totally confused her since we’ve spent her whole life telling her not to call anyone black because she wouldn’t want to be called yellow, would she?
Honestly, these days I’m about as confused as she is. For I don’t know what is right any more. What makes me being white in America okay?
Because obviously this little ladder is not enough to bridge today’s race issues.
What will it take for me to go into a low income neighborhood in my own hometown and find common ground with a family there instead of fear?
I had hoped to be a part of the solution, but obviously the problem is much bigger than I thought.
I do not know exactly what will break down all these walls between races so we can stand on common ground, but I’ve got to believe it is possible.
For our Savior came to draw all people together. To make all people matter.
My slow brain is still sorting all this out. I’d love to hear your good ideas on the next right thing in America and our local communities in particular.