let’s talk about race – part I

Several years ago, I walked into a slightly-populated, small hospital waiting room in need of a break and a bite. I was the only woman. I was also the only white person. Already gathered were five or six, African-American men.

The men were engaged in conversation. I sat by myself at the only table in the room, eating my dinner. On the wall most prominent in the room, hung a TV tuned in to ESPN. The men actively bantered about the sports news of the day… that is, until a particular story came on…

A white basketball coach made a racially-insensitive comment — a comment that could easily be construed as offensive to all others in the room. The men stopped talking; they became immediately sullen and silent. I realized in that moment that if I was silent, too, it would be noticed. And not only would it be noticed, but no one would know how I felt about the incident — that I found it foolish and insensitive, too. Hence, it was not them that needed to speak up; it was me.

Breaking the awkward silence, I spoke my first words to these then strangers. Pretty much out of nowhere, I strongly offered, “You know why a coach says something like that?”

Each man turned straight to me, gazing intently, no doubt waiting and wanting to hear how the only person present who was not a person of color would chime in.

I boldly asserted, “Because his team’s not winning. What an awful thing to say!”

The “amens” and high-fives were immediate… “Exactly!”… “No doubt!”… We all spent the next 30 minutes or so interacting, sharing our preferences and perspectives, talking about our mutual love for the Lakers, but mostly sharing true fellowship. Before my exit, we each shook hands and acknowledged a sweet time together.

I’ve thought of that moment many days… What if I had remained quiet? What would the men in the room have believed about me? What would they have projected on all persons of majority color? That I/we supported such an offense? That this was acceptable and ok? That racism is ok?

Let’s be clear. “Racism” and “race” are two different things. Race is a system society has long used to categorize people. “Racism” is a system that prioritizes and benefits only certain groups of people.

I had a fantastic conversation about this with my wise and witty friend, Collin, last week. While reminding me of the above definitions, he also inspired me in the week we honored Dr. King, challenging me as to what we can each do next.

Hence, allow me to ponder further in this, “Part I” on the Intramuralist — as no doubt racial reconciliation is one of the most challenging issues of our time.

We remember Martin Luther King Jr. with sincere reverence. It was he, no doubt, who dramatically changed the trajectory of our country’s conversation, exhorting the resolute truth that people should be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Dr. King consistently and loudly proclaimed that all men are created equal. Remember the end of his iconic “I Have a Dream” address… 

“… when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”

Yes. We are all equal. As Dr. King repeatedly, boldly shared, we are all equally created by God.

That was the message from Dr. King. However — and this is key — some people miss the “created equal” part — other people miss the “by God” part. People too often omit one or the other. Therein lies one of the biggest challenges to the issue of racial reconciliation — and such leads to the primary point of Part I.

God created all men, women, children, black, white, Latino, etc. as equal. It is man who has divided them. But too often we omit God from the conversation, even though he is the Creator of the equal status.

We instead allow others to craft the conversation — other news outlets, media, etc. which have political and profit agendas that cloud the objectivity and accuracy of their reporting. They often intentionally omit God’s role and the need to seek his way and wisdom first — as Dr. King consistently encouraged. Precisely because of their agenda and omission — and because they then present opinion as news — they have become one of the biggest fuelers of division plaguing the planet today. 

If we are going to make progress in the area of racial reconciliation — and encourage each of us to take the next step — it’s time we stop letting political agendas, social media, and news outlets divide us.

Respectfully… but only Part I…