The message written below is a response I wrote to someone with whom I was engaged in a dialogue after we both read the same blog post where pastor, John Pavlovitz, made distinctions between white Christians who say they were “embarrassed” by President Obama, those who simply disagreed with him, and those who basically are conscious or unconscious racists who just had problems with a black POTUS.
In his response to this post, the person expressed that they were indeed embarrassed by President Obama and the way he ran the country, but that they “never noticed he was black”. To which I responded that perhaps he may have missed the point of the article and suggested that race and party allegiance was very likely a factor for many people–many who I know personally. I even went so far to suggest that if Presidents Obama and Trump were to do a Freaky Friday and switch places, many of their constituents would still feel the same way about them solely based on race. Perhaps that was a little negative on my part but I have spent a lot of time in the trenches in this space.
In short, his response was that he hoped I was wrong and that he chooses to believe that the country as a whole has moved on from that kind of silliness where race factors into so much of their decision making. For a moment, I thought of ending our exchange there. I have met many white people with his same–possibly well-meaning–worldview. But, I decided to go forward under the assumption that he likely does not know very many people who experience the world in a way contrary to his own. I am sharing what I wrote to foster dialogue.
I don’t know where you live. And I am not qualified to speak for the whole country. Because you do not know me, I do not expect my word to weigh too heavily with you. So, I will just say that our current situation indicates people’s capacity to “believe what they want to believe”. What I can tell you is that I have literally had conversations with a professed white supremacist, served a declared racist in the hospital when a chaplain, had a woman come to my job to harass me wearing a “Happy Nigger Day” shirt on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and to a person each of them was a poor white Republican who likely had no idea what that means from a historical or political perspective. And yet, one of my closest friends from the military is a white Republican because he actually understood where his “values” emerged from and when presented with actual experience of others, he would listen and evaluate it.
He and I applied for the same company after separating from the service. I was interviewed in front of what was essentially a committee and was told I did one of the best interviews the recruiter had ever seen. My friend met with one person. He was undoubtedly impressive because he is a very intelligent person. He was made an offer. I was not. Before he even started there this guy actually told the company that they made a mistake in not hiring me and asked what it would take for them to consider me. They did not give him an answer that made any sense to him. So he decided not to work there either. Why? Because of his values that he believes and tries to live. I respect this man. He doesn’t say things like he doesn’t see color because he knows that would not be congruent with his experience. He just has a different idea about what the country needs to do to live into its highest potential. He’s accurately “embarrassed” by actions that run contrary to the professed values of his party.
I have been privileged–because I choose to listen to thought out points of view from people from a diversity of backgrounds–to know a few other people who live into their professed values. But, it is far too rare. I think this is largely because most people tend to live, move, and have their being in communities of severe homogeneity. And so they imagine they are having nearly universal experiences of the world, simply because they are basing their worldview on the limits of their exposure.
Since I don’t know how exposed you are to a variety of perspectives, the degree to which you give space for the thoughts of those with whom you disagree, or your capacity for cognitive dissonance, I am not qualified to determine how you came to your point of view that most of the country has moved on from the behavior you and I both agree is silliness. But I can say that two Christmases ago, a white woman harassed my daughter and I in a Target for no reason asking me if I was shopping and said she needed to get away from “these people” and that while I was on the Pearl Street Mall, I was followed by the police–again for no reason–as I followed my daughter to the splash pad. The officer just stood around me until he realized I was there with my daughter. All I did was “black” (v. to offend others by existing). I also have been stopped by the police at a STOP sign at night because he said if someone were in the crosswalk I may have been too far forward for the imaginary person. I can only imagine he let me go with a warning because my daughter was crying and saying, “Please don’t arrest me daddy.”
So while I agree that the behavior is silly, I can’t say that it is my experience that the country as a whole has moved on. And that to me is embarrassing.
Now Dear Reader,
What do you have to say?