The only people of another race that I know are people I am helping.
That almost sounds like a good statement. It almost sounds like something positive. Shouldn’t we be helping out others. Shouldn’t we all be building each other up. But in the wake of the renewed race discussion over Ferguson*, and my failing attempt to explain aspects of race in America to the teenage Ethiopian guy who has been living with us for a year or so now I have discovered that I may or may not be a racist, but I sure do act like one.
Let me explain.
I spend lots of time with people from another race. Like I said, I have an Ethiopian teenager who lives with me who I love like my own son. But every one of my interactions is with someone I am trying to help. Whether it is helping him by giving him a place to stay, working with African-American kids on mission trips, or interacting with the few other race students who come to my church in all cases I am the “white guy” trying to make their world better.
I’m not saying that I shouldn’t be trying to make their world better (even though I may not be doing it the best way). I am just saying that if those types of relationships are the only ones that I have with people outside of my race then all I am doing in reinforcing my own person narrative that I am better than they are. I would like to think that I don’t feel that way about all people who look different than me. I would like to think that I would be accepting of any race as a friend. I think that would be the case.
But if you judge me by my actions and not my words it isn’t the case.
Now here is where I put my commonly spouted line when it comes to these discussions that for me it is much more about culture than skin color. I don’t run around with many poor people other than when I am going in to try to help them. So I’m not just acting like a racist, but also a classist too if you wanted to be honest.
So right now I am wrestling with how to fix this, and even more importantly how do I teach this to my kids and the students I work with. It is sort of hard to walk up to an African-American guy and say, “Hey! I need some black friends will you be my friend?” That isn’t going to work and it puts the same power structure into place.
But I work in a white church, my kids go to a mostly, and I mean mostly white school and play on sports teams with mostly white kids. How do I start to fix this issue without it being just a stunt and a project?
*my catalyst for writing this was Ed Stetzer’s posts over at http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/august/its-time-to-listen.html