Final incomplete thoughts on race
To conclude this little series of incomplete thoughts, I would like to comment on my personal experience with race and culture. As I’ve mentioned, my background is anthropology and I have always loved and been curious about people and especially when they are different than me. As I am trying to grow and increase my own cultural intelligence and capacity, I notice there are a few places where I am still very uncomfortable. I have been drilling into the “why?” I wonder what hinders me? I think fear and ignorance typically are the basis of division. So, I must confront this in my own life and try to work through it as best I can. Of course, there are a few points of prudence, in that fear can protect us from harm. It’s not always a bad emotion and in fact, I really think God built it in to keep us alert that all is not yet well. However, fear and ignorance together keep us in the dark and keep us separated from each other. This is true on a macro and micro scale.
We once took one side trip to South Africa and I immediately was back in familiar territory with tension between whites and blacks. I could only guess that is because we have a similar history of racist laws. Imperialism is still the spector of evil that overshadowed our parallel histories with the main difference being Africans were by and large brought to the U.S. as slaves and South Africans were enslaved and then oppressed by foreign, white colonizers. Something innately evil occurs when racism is legalized and it takes a long, if not an eternal amount of time, to heal and recover as a society. What society has truly overcome it’s colonial past? That was an evil and nasty series of centuries. My friend Debbie, recently told me about a woman who is a powerful speaker on race as she is multi racial. Coletta Rhoads has an authoritative story on race. She is multi racial. She is considered physically an African American from the South, but tells the story of how she went to South Africa and the blacks there considered her white. Powerful thoughts and stories found here.
I have noticed over the years, the two most uncomfortable places for me are at opposite ends of a societal continuum. I feel very uncomfortable in circumstances where I find myself with the uber rich. America is not supposed to have classes but we do and I have noticed over the years, there are some places that have rules, collective history and experiences, as well a language and dress where I will never fit in. I find my stress level rises in these situations and I actually get sweaty and anxious. Usually I am like a golden retriever in social situations! The same can be true in poor, urban settings where I am the only white person. I have the same fear and reaction. I feel these are red flags and show me that I have more internal work to do. I have to continue to push past these feelings to freedom because we are all part of the human race and everyone deserves to be heard and loved. I want to be free and I must be intentional about applying my values and cultural training in these situations, too. I just forget EVERY time and have the same reaction. Oh well, try, try again, right?
In contrast, when I have been the only white person on our trips to South America or Africa, I NEVER experienced that type of fear. I never felt fear because of my social status or the color of my skin. That is curious to me. We lived in rural Uganda for three years and we stood out to say the least. But, I never felt awkward because of my race. Now, I did experience fear with driving on rural, hairpin turn mountain roads or driving in Kampala. I also experienced fear when we had various water or electricity shortages, but never because of ethnicity or culture.
I also enjoyed the freedom of talking about race in Uganda, although granted, because I was white, there was a whole lot of historical colonial baggage that came with that. Ugandans and white Americans don’t have the same tension that whites and blacks in the U.S. potentially have, so there was much more freedom to notice differences in culture, behavior, and even freedom to joke that I never have experienced in the U.S. This also is a red flag for me. In my home culture, I have a fear of saying the wrong thing or being perceived as being racist, so my stress level and walls go up. I need to work on applying my curiosity and cultural training in my home culture. Sometimes this means having an internal dialogue, because white people can be very annoying in over-relating, of which I have also been guilty. See this video here if you need help.
The place where I connect the most with people from different races is in my shared faith in Jesus. It doesn’t matter where I am on the planet or in my city, I always have an immediate connection with people who have faith in Jesus that surpasses class, race and gender. He taught that all barriers drop with him. We all can unite in a common goal and security of being made in the image of God and with the purpose to love each other. It is the most freeing experience. They say that Sunday is the most segregated hour during the week due to churches being white, black, Hispanic or a variety of Asian cultures. I really don’t see this as a result of fear or segregation. For example, African and Caribbean cultures have an oral tradition and this speaker/audience back and forth speaking pattern. It very much reminds me of some African American churches and I am sure that is the root. Culture. In the Christian church there are a myriad of cultures for songs and worship styles and so much variety that is absolutely cultural. That is true in the U.S. and worldwide. What about you? How do you experience culture and race and religion? Feel free to comment or email me your thoughts and experiences.