Posts Tagged ‘systemic

29
Jun
20

Child of Privilege

Shaking hands across a deskI remember the interview very well, even though it happened more than 30 years ago.

It was an excellent job and I really wanted it. I had some of the necessary qualifications, but certainly not all.

And yet, at the conclusion of the interview I was rewarded with a smile, a firm handshake and that truly delightful question, “So, Russell… when can you start?”

I also remember that time a few years later when I stopped to fill my gas tank. This was back in the dark ages before the invention of credit card scanners on gas pumps… if you can imagine such a medieval thing.

I pulled up to the bank of pumps furthest from the cashier’s office. There I saw a hand-lettered cardboard sign that read, “Please pay before pumping.” I shrugged and began walking toward the main building. No biggie.

Right at that moment, the cashier – a white man about my age – turned and saw me through the window. He immediately offered a dismissive wave of the hand as if to say, “Hey, buddy… that’s OK. Go ahead and pump your gas.”

I finished filling my tank and went inside to pay. “Hey, thanks for letting me go ahead and pump my gas first,” I said to the man as I fished out my wallet.

Yeah, sure,” he replied. “We’ve had a bunch of ‘drive-offs’ here lately, so we had to start asking people to pre-pay.”

And then he added, “But you looked OK.”

What he really meant to say was, “You looked white.”

These are two of the more glaring examples of times in my life when I have been on the receiving end of white privilege.

They are troubling, to say the least. What should be even more troubling are the countless times I have received unmerited privilege and been utterly oblivious.

For example…

… all the times I have not been pulled over by the police because I “fit a description.”

… all the times I have not been closely watched as I browsed among the clothes in a suburban department store.

… all the times I have not seen another person cross the street or clutch their purse tightly when I approach them.

… all the times I have been able to make a major purchase with nothing more than a cursory credit and employment check.

… all the times I have not been amazed and delighted to finally see someone on TV who looked like me.

… all the times I have been in a classroom led by a teacher and surrounded by classmates who looked like me.

… all the history lessons I have learned that were filled with people who share my skin tone.

…  the multiple talks my father did not have to give me about the extreme caution I must exercise when driving in a different part of town.

… all the stories I have not heard about how people who look like me are more inclined toward criminal behavior.

… the tendencies toward diabetes and high blood pressure and other ailments that I did not inherit simply because of my race.

The list literally goes on and on.

I will readily confess: turning down an offer of unmerited favor is hard. In fact, I am not sure I have ever done it. If someone wants to grant ME a privilege they might withhold from someone else, my inclination is to receive it, say, “Thank you very much,” and walk on.

In the same way, folks like me who compete on a playing field tilted wildly in our favor rarely speak up to challenge the justice of that field.

But we should. Especially if we take the sentiments of Dr. King seriously in his letter from the Birmingham jail. Seeking to incite the consciences of well-meaning, well-mannered white clergymen, King wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

The Good News of Jesus Christ was never intended to function strictly as a tool of individual sanctification. Yes, it begins its work deep in the heart of one person, but it was always our Savior’s intention that that individual spark of saving grace would spread a flame of mercy and justice and peace over the face of the earth.

Now is the time.

We are the people.

Let the hard work commence.

So be it.

02
Jun
20

The Magic Bullet

Wheat germEarlier today, I was busy in the kitchen, whipping up a new batch of my famous homemade granola. Before you get too excited about my domestic skills, it is literally one of four things I know how to make… and then only by carefully following directions.

As I carefully measured out the ¾ cup of Kretschmer’s Wheat Germ, I suddenly flashed back to my childhood. I remembered when my father proudly brought home our first vacuum-sealed jar of Kretschmer’s Wheat Germ. He announced that it was an amazing superfood, packed with all manner of vitamins and nutrients and – no doubt – secret superpowers, too.

Dad told us that the way to eat it was to just sprinkle it on our breakfast cereal, ice cream, waffles, or anything else we might eat. And then, as I imagined it, we would just stand back and let the magic happen.

 

I am sure I was daydreaming about the incredible biceps I would soon sprout and the amazing strength and endurance I would be blessed with in a day or two.

Three weeks and MANY sprinkles of wheat germ later, nothing.

Bupkis.

Nada.

I was sorely disappointed with wheat germ and – to be honest – a little dismayed with my dad for promoting such a worthless product. I was still too young to realize there were little things like sleep, exercise, and a balanced diet that were all critical elements in my quest to be a 10-year-old he-man.

I wish I could say that this was the last time in my life that I have caught myself believing there must be some kind of quick fix, magic bullet solution to life’s challenges.

Take this present moment, for example; I want a COVID-19 vaccine tomorrow.

I want an effective economic fix right NOW.

And maybe more than anything else, I want a Harry Potter-style wand to wave at the pernicious evil of systemic racism to make it vanish completely FOREVER.

As a privileged white male, I have to confess that I have been walking around with my head in the clouds. Until this nightmarish year began unleashing its fury on us, I had convinced myself that, in the area of racial justice, things in this country were vastly improved compared to the world of my 10-year-old, wheat-germ-eating self.

“Guess again, paleface,” scream today’s headlines.

It is unthinkable that we still live in a place where a person cannot jog, go to school, shop in a clothing store, play on a playground, walk in a neighborhood, or wear a particular kind of clothing without a legitimate fear of being killed because of the color of their skin.

It is horrifying to think that the scales of justice are STILL being tipped unequally by presence of something as benign as melanin.

This week, I have had my nose rubbed in a reality that my African American brothers and sisters face 24 hours of every day of their lives. The difference is that I can turn away from it and think about something else any time I choose to.

They can’t.

This whole situation just really sucks, and I want it to go away… NOW! SHAZAM!

But see, as long as I keep seeing the problem as existing somewhere OUT THERE, it’s not going to go away. Not now. Not ever. It is exactly like the quote (mistakenly) attributed to Benjamin Franklin says; “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

I am complicit. I am part of the problem. As long as I relish my white privilege and passively cluck my tongue at the “bad people” out there, I help perpetuate the nightmare.

I cry out with King David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10 NRSV).

And then I pray, “Show me, Lord. Show me how you are calling me to stand up and act on your behalf in the pursuit of justice.”

 

But today, I weep.




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