- Posted August 12, 2014 by
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'Black lives matter' protests
A White Man's Response to Ferguson
“I’m white and of the majority culture. I don't personally experience racism, but I observe it as I mentor young men and women who are affected by it,” he said. Fast is the director of Rebirth: East St. Louis, a faith-based organization whose mission it is to equip and “empower youth to transform the city of East St. Louis.”
What's your take on his essay? Share your views in the comments below, or upload your own video or text commentary to CNN iReport.
- zdan, CNN iReport producer
Although I grew up visiting the Atlantic Ocean, I recently traveled to the Gulf of Mexico with my family and recognized an interesting illustration of our society’s view of racism. There is a striking difference between these two bodies of water: clarity. The Atlantic is darker and you can’t see your feet once you’re 12 inches in the water. The Gulf, however, is clear and provides a great view of the ocean floor, even at depth.
While there we heard a common phrase: “I see a sting ray! Be careful, move toward the beach!” My wife and I had different reactions to this. I laughed. She, as a loving mother should, took it more seriously. I explained my reaction: “Kristin, there are also many sting rays in the Atlantic. In fact, we’ve caught them surf fishing, near the shore. It’s a reality that they’re present, but you can’t see them, so you don’t think about them.”
In recent interviews with a writer interested in publishing a story about Rebirth: East St. Louis and the local high school football team, one theme has come up almost each time: my passion for racial reconciliation, and my willingness to confront my own racial biases. One question asked of me was, “Were you nervous to say before a church congregation (in a message posted on You Tube)—that you’re not immune to racial biases and prejudices?”
It was a great question, and extremely valid. Taken out of context, that statement could ruin me, negate over 6 years of efforts in East St. Louis, and potentially end Rebirth.
But there is a reality I cannot avoid: I’m a broken person living in a broken world. Things aren’t what they’re supposed to be and I’m a part of it. Political and economic systems, family structures, and individual self-concepts are all broken, and this brokenness is not without its repercussions.
So, what was my answer? In every corner of our world, racism is present. Perhaps that sounds bold, but if racism is the presence of prejudice and biases—even those fleeting, reactive, racially rooted thoughts all of us have had—then it would be hard to contend that any man has lived his entire life free from any form of racism. It might not be on the surface, but it’s there. In mindsets passed down from generation to generation, in experiences that form a worldview, and in countless other ways, racism is present, and as humans we cannot be unaffected by the culture we live in. It rubs off on us, and in our most honest and transparent moments, we can dig deep into the ways our hearts are tragically wicked.
What’s more, I told the writer, much racism is still present within our society, but it’s more disguised than it has been historically. It’s there, but often you can’t see it, so you don’t think about it.
And by “you”, I generally mean people of the majority culture. The majority culture rarely experiences racism, since it’s driving and dictating the culture. In our nation, the dominant culture is Anglo, or white.
If you’re white (as I am), or you’re of a minority who has largely assimilated into the dominant culture, you understand most of how our society operates. Yes, within the dominant culture there are various subcultures. But, generally speaking, if you’re a part of the majority, you know how to interact in most of the situations you’ll face in your educational and career pursuits.
And because you’re in the dominant culture, doors open for you that you don’t even realize. Many of us reject this idea of white privilege, but it does exist, I promise you. And often those of us who benefit from it don’t even know it exists until someone calls it out.
Now, don’t hear that and think, “Is he saying I’m racist because I’m white?” No! I am certainly not. But there has been error in the majority culture, especially historically, and because humans are still not without fault, errors will continue to be made, but I’m not pointing a finger at anyone in particular.
What I do want to point out, however, is that, unfortunately for the majority of us, it takes an event like this—a teenager’s tragic death, a community’s passionate response, and a nation’s eyes on a suburb of St. Louis called Ferguson—to expose the reality of our world: Racism is not a dead issue.
As I’ve written before (http://rebirthesl.org/2014/03/04/racial-reconciliation-not-simply-apologizing/), I have great concern that much of our nation views racism as a thing of the past. We frame it in disturbingly realistic movies such as “12 Years a Slave” or “Crash”, we acknowledge its wickedness, and we tragically praise ourselves that we don’t take part in such racism.
And then we marvel that the events taking place in Ferguson are still possible. Sadly, it takes a tragic death, protests, and a riot to force us to confront the reality that racial tensions are alive and well.
I mourn, reaching my capacity for news coverage. I’ve seen firsthand the anguish of mothers whose sons were killed in their teenage years, and I sympathize with the mother of Michael Brown as she voices her pain and the struggles of raising her son to complete high school and pursue college.
But I also want to scream, “Wake up people, why is this so surprising?! We live in one of the most racially divided and charged areas in our nation!” If you don’t believe me, just look at this demographic map of our region (Green dots represent Black residents; Blue dots represent White residents).
The St. Louis Metro area is indeed racially divided, as if there are boundary lines segregating communities. It’s almost surreal, and it will continue to have devastating consequences until residents pursue an alternative: reconciliation.
I love talking about racial reconciliation. Unfortunately, it’s an uncommon concept, although it lies at the core of our God-designed humanity. And until men, women, and children realize that we are made in the image of God, and that all human beings— from every tribe, language, people, and nation—share this same dignity and design, then division will reign, and unity will be tragically absent.
By definition, reconciliation includes “the restoration of friendly relations.” Thus, there is an intentional pursuit of a future where men, women, and children of various races and cultures are in genuine relationship with one another. And their interactions take place in non-obligatory settings and at spontaneous times, just as one would do with a longtime friend.
It’s not easy to cross racial and cultural lines in this way. If someone says it is, they’re lying to themselves and to you. There are countless obstacles, many of which have existed for generations. But there is hope, and there is an unmistakable beauty that’s visible when I and a brother or sister of another color or culture recognizes our own brokenness and the baggage we carry and, rather than burning bridges, we choose to enter into a redemptive friendship.
Racism isn’t something to be dismissed and swept under the rug. It’s something to be brought into the light and be healed by God himself. Jesus died to unite men to God and men to one another (Ephesians 3:14-16). For the sake of our true humanity, may we all be willing to be exposed. This is my hope for myself, my family, and our world.
The picture above is from a project by the University of Virginia (http://demographics.coopercenter.org/DotMap/)