It would be cool for someone to do a documentary called “Being Black In Evangelicalism” the sub-title would be “The Only Black Person In The Room” (or vice-versa). Evangelicals, as members of the dominant culture, have no idea what it’s like for a black person (esp. a black female) to be the only black dude in a room full of whites. It’s hard to describe unless you’ve been in that position but it’s always a bit uncomfortable no matter how nice and welcoming people are. I’ve been at evangelical stuff where the room had a few hundred whites and I’m the only black guy. And no one ever really seems to notice.
In light of the Jim Crow still being alive poolside incident, I’ve been thinking about race and wondering if things are any better in the church. With some of the talk about the new post-racial era that we’re entering, the question has come up about whether the church can become post-racial. That’s the hope, but I’ve been coming to terms with church being as fallen as the people who make it up.
Too many about race inside and outside of the church begin (and end) with “I don’t see race” as if that’s a triumph of societal acceptance. While I understand what the sentiment attempts to get at, what my ears often hear and how my heart reacts is “No, you see people (culturally) like you.” The bulk of our interchange of life, most of our interactions, is largely within the same race of people. So of course there’s no need to talk about race. You don’t see race if you’re fully emerged in one story. And we’ve lived with our comfortable situations for so long we’ve become inured to it and don’t want to change things. We’re content with life as it is and don’t want to do or say anything which may make waves in our lives.
Color blindness is not a virtue, it’s a disservice. Color effects how I experience the world. Color effects how I’m perceived by the world. So your “color blindness” negates my identity. I look back on my history whenever I have attended a majority white church. Most times, me and my family were the entire black experience for a lot of folks. And we made it easy for “them” to get to know us because we go to “them”. Here’s what I mean: we grew up in mostly the white/dominant culture. It’s where we went to school, it’s where we went to church, it’s where we go to work. Minorities in the dominant culture have swum in those waters all of our lives, so it’s easy for us to be “safe” because we’re used to adapting to that culture.
I can always tell when friendships with me reach a new level of depth. Those friends come to me. They go where we go, do what we do, be it Black Expo, step shows, or Kwanzaa festivals. They take an interest in us and our culture, wanting to get to know us and understand us better. Without wanting to co-opt it. Without condescension of “wanting to relate” or “have a black experience.” Without the denigration of calling it “weird”. (I’m reminded of when a group of “friends” asked me to take them to a rough area of the city. They were thrill seeking and wanted a ghetto tour guide. I took them to Carmel, a suburb north of me. I told them that me driving through there at night was all the thrill I needed.)
So no, white church, you don’t know me. You haven’t taken the time to get to know me. You’ve invited me in with your “Negroes Wanted” signs and hoped that I wasn’t too different from you so that I wouldn’t make you uncomfortable. So that you wouldn’t have to come face-to-face with the everyday consequences of a history of humiliation suffered by a black male, the powerlessness–without even the power to keep our own names, being exploited, the dreams shattered, the justice denied, and of being dehumanized.
So the anger builds. I’ve absorbed the humiliations as part of the cost of the “privilege” of being with whites. And the hatred builds. The hatred of myself. The hate I’ve been taught, the hate I’ve learned, the hate I’ve internalized. We all have walls and race and culture is simply another wall we have to navigate. So I guess we’re wondering what can we do?