I learned an important lesson about race in the United States from an African-American classmate in seminary.
He seemed to always be around the offices. I don’t know what year he was in our school of more than 300. I believe he had a part time job with the seminary, or like me my senior year, had an independent study with a professor.
I knew he already had one advanced degree and had deferred his admission to a Doctoral program at Princeton to attend seminary, first.
I wanted his opinion on a question of race. I pointed out that Martin Luther King, Jr. had worked for civil rights for years but it was only after he began talking about economic rights, that he was assassinated.
I questioned prioritizing racial justice over economic justice. Black people had achieved basic civil rights, but the harder and more pressing fight was for living wages, greater economic opportunities, and helping more people out of poverty.
My classmate disagreed and then patiently went on to explain.
His mother had a Ph.D. and his father was a medical doctor, he said. His family prioritized education and his family was wealthy. I knew from his clothes that he had more money than I did.
“Let’s say you and I go into a store together,” he said. “You walk around the store with your white skin, and no one will pay attention to you. I have enough money to buy everything in that store, and I’ll be watched from the second I walk in, until I leave.”
He’s absolutely right.
It’s time for racism to stop.