Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Racism in America 2: Privilege

Lately, I've been studying the geographic design of my local community. I dig into the public archives about the plats, surveys, and historical maps pertaining to my town. It feels like a type of forensic archaeology. It's exciting! Once I've learned about an area, I take a walk through the area to see it for myself.

Ahmaud Arbery was a man who liked to stay fit by going jogging. As most of you know, he was murdered by two white men who thought he "looked suspicious."

I was strolling through a neighborhood, legally on the public sidewalks and roadways of course, wondering if anybody might think I looked suspicious. I know I just look like any person taking a walk (which I actually am). That's when the realization hit me; it left me enlightened and disgusted.

I don't look suspicious, because I am white. If I were black, somebody might call the cops.

For the first time in my life, I actually understood the reality of what is called "privilege": I am exempt from something, or am not likely to be thought of as something, because of a characteristic of myself. In this case, because I am white.

Obviously, it is not my fault that I am white, nor am I ashamed of being white. It is simply the results of genetics which dictate how much melanin my skin contains. Likewise, it is also no one's fault that they are black, nor is it anything to be ashamed of. But for some reason, they are not afforded the same benefits as I am in some situations.

If you are white and wear a hoodie, people may think you don't want your hair wet. If you are black and wear a hoodie, people may think you might steal something.

If you are white and are homeless, people may think you are down on your luck. If you are black and are homeless, people may think you didn't try hard enough, or weren't smart enough.

If you are white, people might expect you to speak proper English. If you are black, people might be surprised if you speak proper English.

If you are white and own a gun, people may think you are trying to protect your family or your property. If you are black and own a gun, people may think you could be a liability to the safety of the community.

All of these are absurd logic. Yet, our society has perpetuated these ideas, sometimes passed down inadvertently from generation to generation. Most of us would never say we thought these things. But the reason I used these examples is because I hear people infer them all the time, not blatantly hating the black person, but showing echoes of the prejudices of the past which fail to die.

Maybe we white people have thought one of these once in awhile. Hopefully, we have caught ourselves and tried to re-think the situation. But a thought here and a thought there, mixed with the other feelings of the other people around us, snowballs along until the black community is trapped by the grapevines of our unintentional, unconscious, and unnoticed prejudiced thoughts which never seem to go away.

Now, some have said that a human's natural tendency is to distrust something that looks different than they do. Maybe there's some validity to that from a scientific perspective, but I doubt that it is true in reality. Think about this: Have you ever seen a racist baby? You put a white baby with a black baby, what will happen? The children will barely notice that they are different. Obviously they see that their skin is a different color, but they don't see themselves as "different." To them, they are both babies.

The point is that racist tendencies are taught more than they are natural. I believe that the amount of racism has declined every generation. Yet, 155 years after slavery ended and 55 years after formalized segregation ended, we still have these racist tendencies permeating our society.

Why is this? Why didn't the problem get fixed so many years ago? Because though the law changed, the hearts didn't change with it. Pride causes people to be unwilling to look inside themselves and see whether their hearts are living with the virtues they profess. And real change can't happen until the problems are acknowledged.

I wanted to write this post right up front because I recognized that this lack of introspection is a root cause of this racism pandemic that has lasted for as long as this earth has existed. So many of us have always thought that we truly love all people, which we probably do, but there may be those programmed thoughts and tendencies still in our minds, which we may not realize are there until we look. I know I didn't use to consciously analyze these things in myself. Over the last several years, I have been more intentional about looking for these tendencies in myself and knocking them down, and since Ahmaud was killed on his jog, it's been on the forefront of my mind.

So my encouragement is this: If you have thought these things, you don't need to wallow in shame about it. Instead, acknowledge it to yourself, and then be intentional about not letting yourself fall into that trap again. Remember, the brain is a computer. It can be programmed, and it can also be reprogrammed.

If you haven't thought about this before, then now is the time to start. And this spreads way beyond just racist thoughts. Maybe you are dealing with pride, selfishness, lust, or any of those common human issues. It's okay to acknowledge it, as we all struggle with such things. That is part of our human condition.

But there is a God who created all people (of all races) with the original intention of us being perfect. We chose to fall from that perfection, but He wants to bring us back to that. We just have to acknowledge our failings to Him, and ask Him to change our hearts. He will be faithful to help reprogram our minds as only He can do. The key is we need to both admit our need for it, and let Him do the work.

So when you see someone of a different skin color tomorrow, look into their eyes and try to imagine how they see the world. Try to imagine the things they might have to fight against in order to have what you haven't had to fight for. In your mind, extend them the same privileges you've been given, since they are a person made in the image of God, as you are.

And just remember: by sharing that privilege with others, no one is taking it away from you. It's just being given to all people equally, as it should have always been.

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