Sometime about 15 years into my career, I was talking with a participant who had just finished a workshop that I facilitated. He was a professional in a pharmaceutical company and he was a Black man. He told me that he could tell that I was a person for whom it didn’t matter that he was Black.
I was surprised by his statement. Not that he noticed that about me, but rather that he even thought about it. My perception was that we were a color-blind society, that racism was rare and existed only in a few straggling remnants of the Ku Klux Klan. I asked him to say more, and he explained that every time he met someone he tried to discern if they were going to hold his skin color against him, and that he had many experiences where they did. I was shocked and saddened. Racism was much more prevalent than I had realized. I thought that the best thing I could do was to be intentionally committed to being that person who didn’t judge others by their skin color and that my options for creating a world without racism were limited to that.
Fast forward to 2018. We hired a new employee to our small consulting firm. She brought with her a depth of knowledge and skill on racial equity from studying and teaching in this area, and she brought her identity as a Latina. As I worked with her I learned and saw first hand how racism impacted her. I watched people dismiss her, speak differently to her than to me, not remember her name, but remember mine, or mix her up with the other Latina woman in the meeting. I cringed as I recognized things that I had done to others. Of course, without intention to harm, but harm they did, nevertheless. I began to understand how these daily experiences wear away at a person’s confidence, energy and ability to put their talents to work. I learned that I could use my whiteness and place of privilege to be an ally for her and others and I was committed to learning how to do this.
The murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests this past summer deepened my resolve. I had a chance to do a racial justice book study with others in my faith community. I was eager to explore and learn about racism in this context. During this study I understood the deep and unavoidable connection of this work to my Christian faith. Racism is based on a belief that some people are inferior to others because of the color of their skin. Black people and people of color are telling us that it still exists in pervasive ways that impact their lives significantly. Many systems and policies in our country were shaped over the years by this belief, and continue to perpetuate the impact. What is settling into my bones is that this is absolutely at odds with my fundamental Christian belief that we are all children of God and all of equal value. And if I really believe that, I need to listen to these calls for change.
And thus my Christian faith compels me into action. I am still learning what this action looks like, but I am committed to figuring this out. I look to my faith to sustain my commitment past the current surge of energy in our culture that will likely wane until the next terrible incident and life lost. I need to do personal work to identify what is inside me that causes me to be silent, and build the muscle to speak up. I need to learn how I can be a voice for change for all the systems in our culture built on racist beliefs and that treat non-white people differently.
My dream is to do this work alongside others who share my beliefs and values, so we can encourage each other, support each other, challenge each other – and create a world where we treat every person with dignity and love.