In the past week I've posted two different articles regarding what it means to be a black man in the United States. It's something that's been heavy on my heart and mind lately, especially in light of the Zimmerman-Martin verdict.
I grew up in a predominantly white town. We had one or two token black kids in our school, so while race wasn't so much of an in-your-face ordeal, I was raised to recognize that all people are created equally. Red, yellow, black or white, they are precious in His sight. In fact, I actually had an infatuation with black men. My Mom thought sure I was going to marry a black man and would jokingly recall my two year old self, giddy with excitement when our black mail man dropped by our house.
While in college I had a handful of black friends. That's the wonderful thing about college- you're introduced to all kinds of new and wonderful people. I had privileged, white, suburban friends, and more urban, black friends. And I loved each of them.
Perhaps, my most eye-opening experience while in college was my semester in Uganda. Being a white woman in the context of the United States? Not such a big deal. Being a white woman in the context of an African country? Much bigger deal. For the first time ever in my life, I was the minority. When I walked into town to pick up some snacks at the local store, virtually every eye was on me. I was an outsider, someone strange and foreign. Children who had never laid eyes on a white person before would legitimately burst into tears at the sight of me, running into their mother's embrace while I stupidly and helplessly tried to console them. Believe me when I say, being a minority was awful.
And so, after returning to the States I was left with a brand new perspective on what it means to be black, Hispanic or Native American in this country. What it means to be a Jew or a Muslim in a sea of Bible-thumpers. What it means to be different, and even to be discriminated against.
Then we moved to Pittsburgh. To give you a better idea of our first home in the Steel City, I should let you know, we did not live in a nice part of town. In fact, you could describe our neighborhood as "the ghetto." The Church catty corner from our apartment posted signs in its lawn about gun violence. Gun shots were heard on occasion. When I would walk to the grocery store or library by myself, black men would eye me up and down and holler at me. When I was stopped at a traffic light, a black man would stare me down, completely intimidating me and leaving me with the chills. One night, I lay in bed next to Chuck and heard shouting outside our window. In our backyard, which formerly served as an alleyway, were about 5-6 black men, baseball bats in hand, rottweilers in tow, screaming some of the most angry words I've ever heard. As they drew closer to the backdoor that led right into our bedroom, I was paralyzed with fear.
They eventually retreated and nothing happened that night. But steadily over the year of living in that apartment, something happened to me. I became prejudiced.
Today, I sat in a parked car on a busy street in the middle of the day while I waited for Chuck to pick up our pizza. As a black man crossed the street in the direction of our vehicle, I instinctively reached for the car door lock. Before I got there, however, I abruptly stopped as the reality of my action hit me like a sucker punch to the stomach. I'm a racist.
Me, the girl who studied abroad in Uganda, whose entire family thought she'd marry a black man, whose biggest goal in life is to adopt little African babies, is a racist.
And so, I think my interest in this essay from a young man guest posting on what it means to be a young black man in America and this article detailing President Obama's recent comments on the black reaction to the Zimmerman-Martin verdict have particularly spoken to me as I seek to assuage my guilt from these thoughts I've developed. As I seek to fix this brokenness inside me. As I try to find a way to truly love people the way God loves them and celebrate our differences.
Please pray for me friends as I ask God to cleanse this ugliness from my soul.