When I was born:
- The Watts Riots were less than 5 years old.
- The Voting Rights Act was less than 5 years old.
- MLK and RFK assissnations were less than 2 years old.
- Racial tension was high
- "Jesus loves the little children" was a big hit in Vacation Bible Schools
- "Red and Yellow, Black and White, they are precious in His sight."
Growing up in suburban, white Minnesota, however, I was buffered from so much of the racial turmoil. Suburban life provided a sort of privilege that kept me located in a place that did not have racial tension, but not because people of different races got along so well. Instead there was no racial tension because there was so little observed racial diversity in Bloomington and Apple Valley, Minnesota - at least not observed by me.
I had no idea the social, cultural, and political context of the cute little VBS song. I recall my mother making the point, too strongly it seemed at the time, that all people are equal no matter the color of their skin. I also knew jokes about race were not acceptable.
My childhood years took place in the lingering hangover of the racial violence of the 1960's, but I was not aware of it.
When I was a teenager in the 1980's, I recall President Reagan aspire to a color-blind approach to race relations. To me, it seemed progressive and fair. And it was, compared to how I understood racism - a collection of offensive jokes and things that happened in history "a long time ago." However, I was not attuned well enough to observe the stark contrast between "red, and yellow, black and white" and being color blind. Frankly, the same people in my life were saying both messages.
So I was left in a swirl of mixed messages of which I was unaware.
- I was unaware that one message highlighted difference while the other message dismissed difference - both messages intended to resolve the huge problem that difference was something people had divided on.
- I was unaware that difference was used to rank people. I couldn't see it because social structures such as housing, economics, churches and the social networks within them kept me deeply buffered into my own kind.
- I was unaware that history is not static, but sets trajetories. I knew some bad stuff happened once upon a time, but I was unaware of
- how moments in history, ranging from individual behaviors to massive societal systemic processes, served to create the framework for the future,
- how moments in history gave us the vocabulary for very current conversations,
- how moments in history caused wounds that were slow to heal
- how moments in history highlighted and obscured what seemed availabe to grasp as reality.
Many of these processes have come to light to me - the older I get the more of them I see. I am certain there are more to come. It is unnerving seeing the processes set in place that keep people ranking each other's value, that keep people objectifying each other based on arbitrary criteria, that keep people living their lives by perceived threats that perpetuate strategies of threat management. For example, the accumulation of aggressive and violent means of eliminating threat and keeping these mean in reserve just in case - resulting in a silent arms race that seeks to resolve our fear by show of force.
I think we can agree that skin color is not the problem.
I think we can all agree skin color differences do not deserve violence.
I think we can all agree skin color should not change a person's risk of being killed.
Where people diverge is how meaning has been and is currently being assigned to skin color. From assigned meaning flows how much people will tolerate someone being treated badly. The paradoxical and problematic process in place is that the people most invested in articulating a message of "race doesn't matter" are the very same people for whom race has served very well - and mattered quite a lot in their favor. Admittedly, it is much easier to notice suffering due to race when you are the one suffering than it is to notice privileges and opportunties due to race when you are the one experienceing the privileges and opportunities. Suffering is seen as unjust while privileges and opportunities experienced long enough simply register as normal - like "what have you done wrong NOT to be getting these privileges and opportunities? Look at me - I did it."
I see color now. I see "Red and Yellow Black and White" and Brown and Olive and... I see how the distribution of justice is skewed one way and distribution of privilege is skewed the in the opposite way. I still believe skin color does not cause problems. At the same time, I do believe that the assigned meaning to skin color by humans has gotten us to where we are right now. And where we are today needs improvement.
I see color. I see color and I think everyone should see color as well. But when we see color,
- I want to see color redemptively, not by some ranking system.
- I want to see color and have all manner of positive assumptions be the first thoughts I have.
- I want to see color as God's imagination.
- I want see color as an indicator that I have something to learn.
- I want to see color and wonder what special thing God has hidden within that culture He has not hidden within mine.
- I want to see color and feel relieved that there are more people than people just like me.
- I want to see color and wonder what great strength has emerged within the cutlure that has arisen around that color.
- I want to see color.
- I want to see color.
- I want to see color.
What do you want to see when you see color?
What do you want to look for when you see color?
What will you need to get over in order to see color redemptively?
We can do this.