I’m a racist.
I tried beginning this conversation differently; for instance, by talking about how incredibly difficult hearing about the events unfolding in Ferguson has been, but that route’s been mired in political and rhetorical polarization with each side mustering proof texts and arrest records and gas station theft footage to bolster pre-existing opinions about race and ethnicity in America.
So, as a way of burning away all the unnecessary pretense, posturing and defensive cries of “but that joke wasn’t racist because everyone is laughing” I thought I’d begin by removing a speck in order to start helping extract a log a bit later.
So, once again, and this time with feeling: I’m a racist.
I’m not colorblind.
I’ve identified certain parts of town as desirable or undesirable based upon who lives there.
I’ve scapegoated other people and groups of people in order to justify the guilt my privileged position in society affords me.
I’ve sat silently while friends and loved ones have uttered hate speech and Darwinian explanations for the segregation of “the races.”
I’ve locked my door or quickened my step to avoid people I deem inherently “dangerous,” and often, these people look a great deal unlike me.
For a time, I allowed the percentage of an individual’s exposed underwear to determine the trustworthiness, safety and worth of someone I’d never met.
Now, it would be entirely unhelpful to use this moment to appeal to you, the Internet, as a way of washing my hands of my confessed failures to understand and live in solidarity with people on the underside of my white privilege.
To be clear: I’m not fishing for absolution or indulgence or cries of innocence to remind me that I’m not all that bad. Mainly because it is my very inability to sit with my mistakes when it comes to race and ethnicity that removes the opportunity for not only repentance, but also reconciliation and, if you’re the praying type, resurrection even.
As I’ve said, perhaps ad nauseam, for something to come back from the dead, it must first die. Or, in my case, admit that it died a long time ago despite my crippling dependency to a Weekend at Bernie’s-like-effort in keeping alive the charade that most of my decisions, understandings, expectations and beliefs about race have not been colored by years and years of systemic and institutional racism.
Put another way, the speck is also the log.
My confession is your confession.
My racism is your racism.
My hatred and fear and misunderstanding and self-imposed segregation is yours as well.
Our country and our communities and our houses of worship are fundamentally broken, and if you don’t believe me, perhaps you haven’t been paying attention to the fact that a once quiet street in a St. Louis suburb is filled with tanks, tear gas and terror, but, soberingly, this time there are no “others” to scapegoat or blame or point out as the source of our national unrest.
These violent actions on both sides of the argument cannot be attributed to the maniacal, tyrannical or fanatical activities of fundamentalists misguidedly attempting to throw themselves on the great wheel of American progress.
Nope, we’re the ones killing one another in the streets. And I do mean “we” in the deepest sense of the word.
However, for many of us, Sunday morning was eerily silent on these developments. There were no prayers or confessions or laments or sermons or songs forcing our gaze back onto the worst parts of our collective and individual selves.
Mark Twain was maybe the greatest satirist of his generation, but if you were compiling a list of the top 10 satirists of his time, Josh Billings would probably be number 2 (which I realize, is a ringing endorsement from an author who’s never been paid for his work).
Famously, Billings quipped: “The trouble ain’t that people are ignorant, it’s that they know so much that ain’t so.”
Our trouble isn’t that we’re ignorant of the issues besieging our world; it’s that many of us attribute them to the color of someone’s skin. Not to mention that those of us who used to attempt to do so no longer can muster the courage to say what we do know out loud, for fear of the authorities or the backlash or the cries of “Too political, get back to the gospel” or even because what we’ve discovered is that we all have darkness inside of us.
And, yes, I do mean “we” in the deepest sense of the word.
So may you, with open hands and arms and hearts and minds, approach a world gasping and crying out under a cloud of tear gas filling the McDonald’s parking lot near their house, confess (without defensiveness) your complicity in the degradation of another human being with your words, your beliefs, your ideas, your silence and your power. And may you also receive forgiveness, solidarity, love, hope, faith and reconciliation in the words and eyes and hearts of a group of people you always prefaced with the word “those.”
Because, friends, the speck is also the log.
And if we can remove enough specks, we might finally be able to make out something which the first people to happen upon that empty tomb some 2,000 years ago thought impossible.