Lawson field, PC: KSB

Confessions of a formerly racist woman

A busload of college students preparing for summer ministries filed into the open room that evening, abandoning the Midwestern winter air. We were entering a space of lament that MLK weekend. Mostly we sat, stood, or bowed in silence, allowing God to heal us from ways we had been sinned against throughout our lives. We let ourselves grieve.

But as we did this, the Holy Spirit showed me something ugly within myself, a way I had sinned against others. It was disgusting and shameful.

I knew God could and had forgiven me, but that didn’t stop my heart from pounding and burning with a pressure that only comes when the Holy Spirit is compelling me to do something. That night as I kneeled on the carpet, God was telling me to publically confess my sin.

I stood up in the silence, shaking.

The roomful of students preparing to share the Gospel in cities across the US, hostels throughout Europe, and countries in the Global South listened as I confessed my sin aloud. I had failed to understand the Gospel I proclaimed, though I did not realize that yet.

I told them I was harboring racial prejudice.

Though not intentional and not directed towards people I knew personally, because I was able see my friends as full humans, I was prejudiced towards black people. I had internalized the belief that they were less intelligent than me, a white person. I was racist.

Four years ago last night, in the dim room at that retreat center, God turned my life around again. I’d been “born again” at age five, when God rescued me from a life stuck in sin and welcomed me into his Kingdom; baptized at ten, which was a marker in my life though not particularly life-changing; and now God was saving me again from a life of racism.

Instead of rejecting me, my peers listened with respect. Some thanked me. And when I returned to campus a few days later, I jumped into a life pursuing racial conciliation.

Through sociological education, relationships with gracious people of color, the love and conversations of the Office of Multicultural Development, events put on by Solidarity, I began to fight my ignorance and racism in order to love others better.

Where I had once been afraid of protests, I joined campus demonstrations combatting racial injustice. I began to use my writing and social influence to teach other white folks about racism, however subtle, unintentional, “innocent,” systemic, or blatant it may have been.

The focus of my life had shifted completely, all thanks to God. He helped me to love my black brothers and sisters. He saved me from the miry bog of ignorance, prejudice, racism and gave me a new song.

As a white person, I still benefit from the systems of racism in the United States. That means I am still racist in a sense. Moreover, I am still ignorant: I have years of racial understanding and conversation to catch up on, and there are things I may never fully understand because I do not experience them.

But that doesn’t stop me from striving to see things from other people’s perspectives, listen to and believe their experiences, research racial justice in order to share knowledge and support communities of color, and generally live my life in a way that esteems my friends and fellow Americans who are a different race or ethnicity than me – and not out of guilt but out of love and a sense of what is right or just.

I say none of this to glorify myself but to celebrate the way God transformed my life, saving me anew, in the hopes that he might open your eyes as well, if they are closed in the way mine were. I am forever grateful to God for this.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend.

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If I’m not Italian, what am I?

During my freshman year, my college’s group for racial (re)conciliation held an event in combination with the theater group in which we used our bodies to explore the concept of home. Through a Never-Have-I-Ever type of exercise, I discovered I was the only person out of approximately 40 in the room who had grown up surrounded by Italian Americans. At this point, I began to realize how important that is to my cultural identity.

There was only one problem: I am not Italian.

I grew up knowing this. Multiple teachers, from my kindergarten teacher through a high school Bible teacher, were Italian American. My classmate Sarah was Italian, Jordan was half Italian, Niko was fully Italian – most of my class had Italian in them, but I had none. Later on, my church was majority Italian, and I gleaned pieces of what it meant to be Italian from church family picnics, big meals together and fresh basil in the garden.

The list goes on: My neighbor Nick was Italian, the neighbors behind us were and the neighbor girls I babysat when we moved across town were also Italian. We lived in North Haven, after all. The owners of the local music store where I took lessons were Italian. My “second family” the Vecchios and half their church — many of the people I loved there, at least — were Italian as well. Again, we lived in the Havens, a very Italian area of  Connecticut. I was not bothered by being non-Italian, but I was aware of it.

I discovered I was the only person in the room who had grown up surrounded by Italian Americans.

Recently I have realized that I always study that which I am not. I think about race daily, read and speak about issues black Americans face. Most of my friends are either racial or ethnic minorities in the United States or people of any color from other countries. Yet, despite my interests and passions, I am white and American. There is value in being able to connect across racial boundaries and bring a voice to those who are not heard, but I am still conflicted about my own racial identity.

Likewise, I am conflicted about my ethnic identity. In studying Italian Americans in Connecticut for a class this past semester, I intended to study my home, my history. Yet as I study Italian Americans more and more, I realize how un-Italian I am. This culture that surrounded me and reminds me of home is not my ethnic heritage. Just as I am not black, so too I am not Italian.

What am I?

My parents did not celebrate family history, heritage and culture. I am a sixth generation American from England, Scotland, France, Ireland and (by way of probably one ancestor) Germany. I know I am white by race. I know I am American by nationality. I was born into these identities. Yet, despite knowing all this nominally, I still struggle with racial and ethnic identity.

Perhaps I am conflicted and confused because my immediate family does not find culture and heritage very significant. As an assimilated white American, I also do not feel attached to my heritage. Furthermore, my family is Christian, which means I have been socialized under the true yet often blanketing language of finding my “identity in Christ.”

While I am realizing that I might feel more stable if I secured my identity in Christ alone, I do not want to ignore the other aspects of my identity in the process. Evangelical Christian rhetoric tends to obscure or neglect the social markers that impact our lives, but I know as an evangelical Christian that my race, gender, class, sexuality and so on are too important to gloss over. I am a human being with a body and a history that impact my life — and those around me. Thus, I want to understand myself and how I fit into this country and this world.

I am a human being with a body and a history that impact my life — and those around me.

As I prepare to leave the United States for the summer, my queries take a new form: What does it mean to be a white American female in the Democratic Republic of Congo? I have yet to discover the privileges and hardships of this, and I am still working on understanding my identity appropriately in the States.

I am beginning to understand my identity more, yet as I do so, I am faced with how complex it is. I seek to understand it rightly, not only to understand myself but also to use the privileges society grants me in the best ways possible to pursue justice and mercy. Jesus Christ’s place in my life inspires this. Constantly surrounded by newfound knowledge and questions, I still ask, What or who am I, and what are the implications of that?

 

THANKS FOR VISITING KATELYNSKYEBENNETT.COM! COMMENT BELOW ABOUT YOUR RACIAL AND ETHNIC IDENTITY. HOW DID YOU COME TO UNDERSTAND IT? WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU?