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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PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

15 ways I experience white privilege

White privilege: Maybe you’ve heard of it and can identify. Maybe you don’t see how it impacts your life. Regardless, I’ve made a list of just fifteen ways I experience white privilege on a regular basis. It has taken time to reach this point of realizing the ways I benefit from my whiteness since it can be difficult to identify something unless you feel the lack. But when we realize our privilege, we can be better allies to those who don’t experience the same privileges.

These are not in order of significance but rather in the order that they came to mind from my experiences. I encourage you to read to the end and consider what ones resonate or what I may have missed!

  1. Band aids match my skin almost perfectly and can be found at any corner store. In fact, that’s what inspired this blog. I cut my toe, put on a band aid, and could barely detect it through a camera. Go ahead, try to find it:

    Comment if you find the band aid. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

    Comment if you find the band aid. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Brands like TruColour are trying to change this, but what if mainstream band aid brands took on the task as well?

  1. I am not followed or questioned when I shop, even though I wander back and forth quite a bit at grocery stores these days since I always go to a different one and do not know the layout. I have heard that others are watched more closely, however.
  2. Not being called racist slurs, ever. In all my 21 years, I cannot recall having ever experienced anyone degrading my humanity by calling me a derogatory, race-related term.
  3. I have a President (#NotMyPresident) who is my race and loves my race and prefers it over others, as do most other people in power in my country. This sounds like Nazi Germany now that I write it out, and it has a name: White Supremacy. This leads to a lot of policies in “my” favor, even though I desperately crave equity instead.
  4. Dolls with my skin color are the norm. I see a lot of young black girls in my city playing with white dolls, braiding their straight brown or blonde hair, but these children themselves are highly underrepresented. And although I have seen one or two black baby dolls in my time (eek, compared to hundreds or thousands of white ones!), I have never seen an Asian doll.
  5. White people are seen as the good ones in movies. They are generally the only ones in movies, to be honest, but when there is a person of color, s/he is usually stereotyped and put in an unflattering light. Even in Barbie movies, those with light features are the good ones who save the day and become princess, while the dark haired person or people are the villains. (Raquelle, anyone?)

    Raquelle from Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse. Credit to DraikJack, who added it to the bio I linked above.

    Raquelle from Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse. Credit to DraikJack, who added it to the bio I linked above.

  6. English, my first language, is the standard language that everyone else in must use to get by in the United States. Important documents are in English. Job applications and interviews are in English. Spanish is a common second language in certain neighborhoods of certain cities, but it is not accepted the way English is, and African American Vernacular English (AAVE) or Ebonics is not considered acceptable in formal environments. Moreover, immigrant languages like Swahili and Burmese are unrecognizable by most Americans, and Arabic could even cause alarm. But English, the language I was born speaking, is accepted in every American setting, and others are expected to learn my language instead of me stepping into theirs.
  7. Makeup in my color is easy to find. In my wealthy, white college town, it’s next to impossible (or actually impossible?) to find makeup if you are black or brown. Even in the city where I live now, it may depend on the neighborhood. But I have light skin and can always find foundation or powder to match my face.
  8. I have never been questioned or talked to by police. I have never been in trouble by them, and they have never had their cautious eyes on me. But I have witnessed this happen to one of my Afro-Latino friends while we walked together downtown.
  9. Barring the recent natural disasters, I can ignore most news with no consequence to my racial community, and many people would say that it is okay to do so. This attitude of “take a mental break and focus on something ‘positive’” demonstrates potential apathy towards the stories of others whose live experiences are different than my white peers, and regardless of either genuine or apathetic intent, it always demonstrates the privilege we have to step away without being directly affected by that action.
  10. “Skin color” crayons mean peach or apricot (which, oddly enough, are yellow fruits but white-skin-colored crayons) instead of brown. I have had both a white peer and a young brown, Latina friend refer to crayons in this way and have spoken up to say, “Which skin color?”

    This is what I call a queen. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

    This is what I call a queen. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

  11. Shampoos and conditioners for my hair type are cheaper than those suited for Afro-textured hair. I need something to lock in the moisture for my combination of soft and course 3A curls, but the Aussie brand does this well while being about two-thirds the price of hair products for more textured hair at Walgreens.
  12. I am not questioned if I belong anywhere I go. I have multicultural, multiracial friend circles that are welcoming. People in my African church thank me for coming as the only white person because they see it is rare and potentially difficult due to language barriers. (It’s my pleasure, honestly; it’s my church.) And in public, one of the most white settings I experience these days, I am seen as harmless. I can come and go as I please (refer to #2).
  13. My name is easy for Americans to pronounce correctly, and because my family name sounds European, I have statistically higher chances at hearing back from jobs (Bertrand and Mullainathan 2003; Pager et al 2009). Yes, I experience privilege simply because of my white-sounding name.
  14. Others want to look like me. I am reminded of this every day when I wake up to see my roommate’s lightening cream sitting on her bed. White European beauty standards reign not only in this country but around the world. I am of White European descent, so my light skin tone and my sister’s silky straight hair are traits that many others seek to attain, even if their bodies are naturally darker or their hair kinkier. (Don’t try to be me. Be you. You’re gorgeous as is.)

    My roommate's lightening cream. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

    My roommate’s lightening cream. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

 

Most of the things on this list may seem small, but they add up. This post does not delve deep into systemic issues but scrapes the surface of privilege. Once you grasp this, however, you can dig deeper to see the ways these examples form patterns that affect every aspect of a person’s life, both for white people and people of color. As white people, we just receive unearned benefits, hence the term privilege.

What are some ways YOU have experienced white privilege or seen it play out in the lives of others? Comment below, and let’s keep learning together!

How to be a peacemaker in a war-torn world, Part 1

To be a peacemaker is to fight.

When multiple races, tribes or countries have conflict or war with each other, peace may seem unattainable. (Re)conciliation requires faithful, patient effort and continual hope. After all, people and groups disagree with each other and are often engrained in their opinions. One side has hurt the other in a significant way that needs to be repented from before any true change can be made. In return, that hurt side may be retaliating to this injustice. Even when two parties come to the table to reconcile, it’s not easy to rebuild trust.

The battle for peace is hard-won, but it’s worth the effort. It’s worth the energy. It’s worth the pain.

Here are some tips to bring two or more parties together for peace:

Listen.

Don’t assume. Speak respectfully and demonstrate humility. Even if you disagree (and have history and statistics to prove why), when you show you care about one party’s opinion, they are more likely to engage in conversation with you. So, be respectful as you listen to another human or mediate between two parties. Given some time, this can lead to positive social change.

Be faithful.

Change probably won’t be immediate, and you may be persecuted for your efforts – even by those you thought you agreed with, since you are trying to bring them into harmony with an opposing group that they think could harm them! Recognize the fear there and don’t take it personally; keep fighting.

The fight for peace may be mundane at times. It may seem hopeless. It may exhaust you, but remember why you are fighting. Look to the peace heroes who have fought the battle before you. Their examples offer great wisdom and inspiration as you press onward.

Keep hope!

We are not fighting flesh and blood but are battling spiritual powers. These spiritual powers work through the corrupt societal structures we see, and we need to remember that prayer is effective. Yes, stand with the oppressed; in fact, God commands this. Yes, work in tangible ways for harmony and unity, shalom and reconciliation. But also pray.

Without God’s strength and his promise to make all things new, we have no hope or power to bring peace.

Gain encouragement by look at the small examples of success. Record and retell the inspiring testimonies demonstrating the fruit of your labor. Keep hope, my friends; keep hope.

 

As you labor for (re)conciliation, ask yourself why you are fighting for peace. How much are you willing to sacrifice for this battle?

It’s not easily won, but it’s worth the fight.

PC: KSB

The Bus Fight

Denver,
Summer 2014.

White man on a bus.
Black youth—my age—as well.

Fight.
Words, words of hate.
“N*****,” they both called each other.

I’d never seen anything like it;
I’d never seen such hate.

The white man wouldn’t listen,
Wouldn’t heed a word.
I wanted to tell the black man that he wouldn’t make any progress,
But I held back
>out of fear of the fight
>and because I didn’t want the man to have to be submitted to a white voice
>again.

Help doesn’t always mean stepping in for others.

They wanted to take it on to the street.
“Colfax and—” what crossroad?
Broadway was my stop.

They wanted to fight out of rage
(the white man had started it over literally nothing),
But they were both scared.
I think one got off a stop before me, one after.

I hurried away for fear that I’d be caught in a brawl.

Denver,
Summer 2014.

I witnessed the results
Of a racist history, alive today.

I hadn’t known the divide was so real, still real,
And while I never saw another bus fight, I saw
>discriminatory housing laws causing segregation
>gentrification of the remaining black neighborhoods
>homelessness in men now out of the (broken) criminal justice system
>fear of poor, minority males
>poverty mere yards from wealth.

White man on a bus.
Black youth—my age—as well.
Hate and fear.

Do you see what I see?

Perception is a funny thing. We all have perceptions of people and things, but our perceptions can be slanted or incomplete based on our contexts and how well we know a person.

For example, tonight I was hanging out doing dumb but fun online quizzes with the middle schooler with whose family I live. We looked up how romantic we were, what color our brains were and so on. On one of these quizzes, we had to pick an occupation out of a limited list. Since the quiz offered nothing journalism related, I chose the most preferable option on the short list: realtor. After I clicked the box, my friend Hannah referred to the options and said, “Really? I would’ve chosen military for you.”

What?! Anyone who knows me well will know I hate war and am not athletic. As a creative person who has never fit in with any one group, I also prefer to work outside the established boundaries, unlike the strict and formal military culture where, to my knowledge, orders are always followed as given.

I expressed why I would not work in the military, and Hannah admitted that she probably thought that because of my hair. (Half of it is shaved.) Because we’re still getting to know each other, Hannah supposed that out of my limited occupation options, I’d choose the military. She perceived this based this on my appearance. It’s understandable but also inaccurate.

I think it’s safe to say that we should hold off making judgments based on our initial perceptions of people! Let’s explore this a bit more now—let’s look into contexts.

After we had satisfied our slap-happiness with online quizzes, I went on Facebook to show Hannah a picture, and as I scrolled to find it, she saw a picture of me from the Office of Multicultural Development’s spring banquet. I was wearing a pale rose colored dress and playing an inflatable guitar next to one of my best friends in his snazzy suit and shades. Hannah was surprised to see me in a pink dress and said she couldn’t picture it.

“What do you picture me wearing?” I queried. I love dresses! The picture seemed natural to me.

“Sweats. Jeans maybe,” she replied.

I realized that whenever I see Hannah, I’m at home, and when I’m at home, I crash and am comfortable bumming out. I don’t have to perform like I do at my internship; at home I can wear my ugly sweater, and nobody will care. While I enjoy dressing up, I also enjoy dressing down afterwards, and since Hannah and I only interact in the latter context, her perception of me was slanted.

Let me be clear: Hannah’s a dear. She’s amazing, funny and smart. Together we laughed till she cried. We “died” by laughter at least five times in the space of a few hours.

But as I reflected on the night, I realized her perceptions about me were incomplete and rather one-sided—through no fault of her own but because we’re still new friends and only operate in the context of her house after I’m off work.

Perceptions can be slanted based on our context and based on appearances. People may perceive someone with arched eyebrows as judgmental. In reality, the woman may simply not be aware of the attitude her plucking job conveys. Hair color, attire, makeup, and an assortment of other physical characteristics cause us to perceive people in certain ways, some positive and others negative. I won’t break them down here, but I will add that our most obvious perceptions or judgments may be based on skin color, since that’s probably the first attribute we notice about a person, whether we can verbalize that or not.

To see is to perceive something with our eyes. Judgments follow soon thereafter. We would be wise to hold off these judgments until we know people better since first and even second impressions are never complete.

What do you see when you look at a person?

Connecting people across racial lines

According to Gallup Strengths Finder, my number one strength is connectedness. Months after taking the Strengths test, I am beginning to realize how true that is. I love connecting people to each other!

For example, I found joy in introducing my friends Sarah Han and Sara Hahne to each other and seeing their reactions as they finally met the other girl on their campus for whom they are always confused. When my Honduran-American friend visited me at Wheaton, I introduced her to my friend who was a missionary kid in Honduras for most of her life, and they conversed in Spanish while I stood back and watched, glad they could speak their home languages together.

Throughout my life, I have felt like a mediator. I was never part of the “in” crowd, but I had good relationships with adults, and I could reach out to the new kids at school. I connected with the outcasts and the lonely. In my freshman year of college, one friend described the main group on my dorm floor as being a pack of wolves. She called herself a lone wolf. I was in between, connecting with both sides, she said. I was pleased at this and thought of myself as a mediator because I do not like to leave out anyone.

Perhaps there is a difference between mediating and connecting, but we can consider that another time. For now, I want to share who I would most love to connect.

Most of my friends now are from the Office of Multicultural Development, a hub and “home” for minority and third culture kids at Wheaton College, IL. Everyone is welcome, regardless of race or culture, which is why I hang out there all the time despite being a White American.

Since I am a White person involved with minority issues, I hope I am in a position to mediate between the majority and the minorities. Perhaps White people will listen to me when I say that #blacklivesmatter because they may be more comfortable around me. Once this trust is established and conversations on race have begun, I can urge them to talk to minorities about minority issues since I am not one myself and have not had the same experiences. I can connect the two parties and help integrate our school into a more harmonious place for the glory of God.

As time passes, I increasingly realize how much joy I find in connecting two people or parties. I love when they are delighted to know each other. I love seeing people make their own connections, and I am glad when they become acquaintances or friends. Something clicks, and I am thrilled.

Why am I writing this today? For one, I did not want to study for finals. Secondly, I was reflecting on the joy of connectedness. Thirdly, as I wrote, I realized that I long for unity and harmony in the world.

Because of Christ Jesus, Christians of all cultures and races can attain this. He has made us one in Him. I especially long to see people of differing cultures and races connect and unite, whether they be East Asians and New Englanders, Blacks and Whites in the States, Puerto Ricans and African Americans, or people of the same race but differing socializations or cultures. We all have some form of common ground, and this commonality is what connects us. When people connect, opportunity abounds for Jesus to be shared and glorified. After all, He is the great Mediator connecting the world to God!

Today I write because am happy and because I hope someone will read this and consider branching out of his or her comfort zone and to make new friends of a different race, culture or background who can challenge and love him or her well.

People have so much to give.

Not all Americans are White

When I was talking about an acoustic Kinyarwanda song I had heard, acoustic being the style in which I write as a musician, my dad asked if the singer was Rwandan (as opposed to American).

“I believe so. He didn’t look American,” I replied, adding, “Or sound American.”

In that moment, I realized I had thought and voiced a horrible stereotype: that American equals White. I did not address it then but moved on to address some other aspect of the song. However, I was convicted and later felt ashamed, especially because I had voiced this in the presence of my black American friend.

I know that Americans are composed of people from all different races and ethnicities: African Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and of course Native Americans; Blacks, Browns and Whites; citizens originally from India, Lithuania, Nigeria and Paraguay — the list goes on. They are all American.

It sounds obvious when I say it, but do we think that way? Obviously something in me did not. Why was that?

Only 62.6 to 77.7% of American citizens are White, with 17.1% being Hispanic or Latino and Blacks and African Americans rank next highest at 13.2%. The rest of the population is composed of Asians, American Indians and Alaskan Natives, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders and people of two or more races.

In 2013, at the time of these statistics, 41,777, 674 Americans were Black or African American. Let me spell that out, literally, so it sinks in: Forty-one million, seven hundred and seventy-seven thousand and six hundred and seventy-four Americans are Black. Not White.

I know that conviction from the Holy Spirit is good but that guilt and shame comes from the devil. Thus, now that I recognize how I was wrong, I know I should not dwell on what I so unthinkingly said. My thinking was wrong. Now that I’m aware that I have sometimes equated American to White, I must humble myself before God and humankind and pray that God will work to break the incorrect stereotypes I’ve internalized throughout my life. I pray He will fulfill them with something more complete.

 

~~~

 

As an aside to answer my father’s question, the man in the music video was indeed Rwandan. His name is Luc Buntu, and he’s from Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. According to his Twitter, he’s a worship leader, song writer and recording artist. The specific song to which I listened is titled “Ntutinye,” found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZwmC4a8KRE.

~~~

Map found at “Most common ancestries in the United States” by Applysense – Map from Blank USA by Lokal Profil.Information and colors from USMapCommonAncestry2000.PNG by Porsche997SBS, who sourced the info from Census-2000-Data-Top-US-Ancestries-by-County.svg.Combined by Applysense.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Most_common_ancestries_in_the_United_States.svg#/media/File:Most_common_ancestries_in_the_United_States.svg