I’m a lower middle class white male. I always have been. When we talk about “privilege,” we are not referring to wealth. The privilege is that I have always been able to cross the street, take a walk, marry a white woman, and vote — all of which I can do without worrying for my life.
Another jewel in my non-racist crown is that I have as many black friends as white — maybe more. I love them all equally, no one more than the other. My favorite TV shows growing up were Sanford & Son, Good Times, The Jeffersons, What’s Happening, Different Strokes, The Cosby Show, and A Different World. All my life, I have prided myself for being a friend to all regardless of color.
When I was a pastor, I had my life threatened twice for welcoming people of color into the church. I once invited a famous Promise Keeper’s speaker to speak at my church. When he took the podium, over half the church walked out. Until that moment, it had not even occurred to me that he was black. He was my friend, and he graciously came to our church at his own expense. Those of us who stayed had a great time! I, myself, have preached in black churches several times. I was treated like a king.
Here is my piéce de resistance! I have been in two countries where my life was threatened by locals because of my color…or, rather, my lack of color. I have stared down the barrel of an M-16 and an AK-47 just because I was white.
I have shared that story a number of times to PROVE that I understand the plight of black people in America. I have experienced what it feels like to be a minority and to fear for my life because of my race. If anyone understands black people, it’s yours truly.
I have been doing an awful lot of soul searching watching the murder trial for George Floyd. My heart hurts for his family and friends. My heart hurts for yet another young black man killed for being black. My lifetime of being a non-racist came to a screeching halt the other day.
I don’t know anything about being a minority. I have no idea what it’s like to be afraid for my life because of my race. I am bullsh*t.
Unlike my friends of color, I got to leave those places. I came home to America, where I am once again safe from prejudice and threats. I remember a movie from the 80s, Soul Man, starring C. Thomas Howell. His character was a guy who took some pigmentation pills to darken his skin so he could qualify for an African-American scholarship. His being white was the only thing that kept him from winning.
Fast forward to the end. James Earl Jones, the amazing actor who played the school president, says to Howell, “So, you have learned what it means to be black.” To which he replied, “No sir. If I didn’t like it, I could always get out.”
White people, it’s time we admitted a serious truth. We have no idea what it means to be black. It’s so easy for us to criticize rioters, and declare that ALL lives matter. We are so full of ourselves. Even when we mean well, we are still racist. I am still racist. It was a hard truth for me to accept. I am racist in that I really don’t understand what the black community goes through. I see it, but I don’t get it. Not really. I swear that I want to understand, though.
I will keep trying, though! I promise you that!
Dr. King referred to a world of equality as the mountaintop. He said he had been to that mountaintop and saw a vision of what it would look like in a world where all humans are equal, and black people need not be afraid of being black. It was his dream and he died for having it.
Now, more than ever, we need to start climbing that mountain again. We are yet so far from the mountaintop that Dr. King dreamed of. But I am crazy and foolish enough to believe we can make it…together.
I will go first.