A conversation a couple of years ago with a white friend and a black friend turned to the topic of books. I was in the midst of an Anne Lamott book at the time and mentioned that I would soon be attending her book reading in Kansas City. My white friend echoed her mutual admiration for Lamott and rattled off her favorite titles. My black friend, a quizzical look on her face, said, “Who is Anne Lamott?”
“You don’t know Anne Lamott?” I responded. “She’s one of my favorite authors. I’m surprised you’ve never heard of her.”
My friend replied with fire in her voice: “Well, Christy, how many black authors do you know?”
“It’s time to check our blind spots and change lanes.”
In that moment, my friend gave me a great gift. She illuminated a blind spot in my life. I had spent the previous year in intentional conversation with African American friends, Latinx friends and Asian friends, absorbing all I could about race and the unique gifts and challenges they each faced, but I had not noticed that my bookshelves were void of color.
The answer to my friend’s question was “zero.” At that time, my library list included only authors who looked like me. In my efforts to learn more about racism I had read Robin DiAngelo’s article, “White Fragility,” which highlighted the truth about white people’s response to racism, penned by her white hand. I had listened to sermons about race – preached from white, male pastors – and paid attention to my white supervisors at work who spoke of racism.
Don’t get me wrong. These conversations were helpful, and much of what was spoken was truthful; but reading and listening and learning about racism from white people is not the same as hearing black people speak for themselves.
The same can be said for gender. When BNG recently reported its top 25 news and opinion articles from the past decade, I eagerly scanned the list and was delighted to find several opinion articles written by my friend and mentor, Mark Wingfield. I also nodded in appreciation at recognizing other articles that had left an impression on me. I made a mental note to return to the list when I had time to read articles I had missed.
Then it struck me: It wasn’t about who was on the list, but who wasn’t. Of the 19 opinion articles that made the list, only 3 of the 12 authors of those commentaries were women. One in four.
This list was not based on writing quality or relevant topics (although I found each column well written and interesting). It was based solely on Google’s analytics that measure audience engagement, in this case the number of “pageviews” for each article published on BNG’s website. Although the “top 25” is but a fraction of thousands of articles, my assumption is that commentaries written by women were not read to the degree of those written by men.
In both its news and opinion content, BNG offers ample opportunities to read about issues such as women in ministry, gender and sexuality, racial justice, poverty, immigration and clergy sexual abuse, and it has made progress in enlisting women and persons of color as opinion contributors. But, again, these columns don’t seem to be read as much as those written by white men.
This past year I have filled my bookshelves with authors of color and can attest that reading about race, life, culture and faith from a white person is not the same as reading the story from the perspective of a person of color. The lens just isn’t the same. And, if you are a male pastor who esteems himself as inclusive of women, yet read mainly or solely male authors, then perhaps you – like me – have discovered your blind spot.
It’s tempting, human even, to feel defensive when one first shines a light on the blind spots in our lives. It’s how we respond after that initial illumination that can alter our course.
“Pull out your phone or planner and jot down a book title, a song, a podcast, an article created by someone who hasn’t always been welcome at the table.”
Recently, my Bible study teacher led our class in a series about current music and faith. Each week he paired a song with a scripture passage and led us in a discussion. Seven weeks into the series, we were listening to a Kanye West song, and the teacher asked us about ways our church keeps people down without realizing it. I said, “Well, how many songs in this series have been sung by women?” The answer was none.
This wasn’t an intentional slight. The teacher, the best Bible study teacher I’ve ever had, is an advocate for gender equality. He just didn’t notice. We had a meaningful conversation, and when I told him my thoughts about writing this column, he encouraged me to include this story. An oversight in his song choices created an opportunity for our class to have a conversation about the importance of listening, watching and reading voices different from our own.
This message that men are the ones we should listen to is deeply embedded within the church. The ironic thing is that many men do not believe this message, but it is such a normative part of our culture that it takes intentionality to notice.
Take a look at the stack of books you intend to read. How many authors are women? Jot down the titles of the last 10 recent books you have read. How many were written by a woman?
Take note of your podcast queue. Of the voices and words that are informing you, how many are from people who look just like you?
If you preach on a regular basis, how many women do you quote in your sermons? How many Sundays do you welcome a woman to your pulpit?
The saying is true, you know. Birds of a feather really do flock together. But we aren’t birds. We are people, each of us created in the image of God. To limit our intake of books, podcasts, movies, TV shows, sermons and articles to those produced by white men is the equivalent of limiting our understanding of God.
When I’m driving and need to change lanes, sometimes it’s tempting not to look over my shoulder because I’m lost in my own world and don’t want to be disturbed. I’m comfortable right where I am. The thing is, when we don’t check our blind spots, sooner or later someone is bound to get hurt.
February is both Black History Month in America and, mostly in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship world, Martha Stearns Marshall Month, a time when women are often invited to preach. My hope for all of us is that we will wake up and use this focused time to set the course for change this year. Pull out your phone or planner and jot down a book title, a song, a podcast, an article created by someone who hasn’t always been welcome at the table. Try each day to pay more attention to who you are listening to and watching.
There’s a whole world out there filled with the image of God. It’s time to check our blind spots and change lanes.
Christy Edwards | Don’t strip our voices from the Baptist pulpit
Brett Younger | The many things I do not know about racism