During my senior year of college, I realized I was racist.
That year, the different campus ministries at Emory had decided to bring their leaders together once a week to pray. Before the meeting, a group of my friends, all of whom were not white, were talking about their experiences at Emory and how, because of my friends' skin color, they were treated differently.
I added, “That can’t be the case. You must have misunderstood. This is Emory; there are no racist people at Emory.”
An African American friend asked, “How can you be so racist? How can you sit here, pray with us, claim you love us, and still be so racist?”
His words destroyed me. I’m not racist, I responded. I am liberal. Many of my friends were not white; I had dated non-white men. “I am not racist; I’m colorblind!”
Crying, another friend objected, “You aren’t colorblind, we all know you can see color. You are choosing not to see us. I am Asian. I want you to see that I’m Chinese American. I want you to see that because I’m Asian, I interpret the world differently than you, and I am interpreted by the world differently than you.
In prayer, I begged God to vindicate me and show my friends that I wasn’t racist. I wanted God to prove that colorblind was the direction that we were moving.
I couldn't hear my friend's pain, because I was so wrapped up in my need to be vindicated.
God responded, “No. I made all ethnicities, races, and colors in my image. And I want you to see the beauty of the diversity of my kingdom.” In Revelation 7, it says, “that a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne.” God used that conversation to invite me to a deeper understanding of his multi-ethnic kingdom.
Colorblindness could not be the answer, because God made us beautifully diverse, and our ethnicities and races bear his image.
Seeing the Beauty of Diversity
As I began to explore the beauty of God’s diverse family, I began to understand my identity as a white woman.
That might sound stupid to some because my skin is so white, it burns in under a minute of direct sunlight. But for many of us who are white, we have never had to come to terms with the fact that we have an ethnicity. And because of that, we’ve never explored our own culture or considered how we allow our culture to trump others' cultures and ethnicities.
The more I fell in love with God’s diverse, beautiful family, the more I realized that I had excused my racism with colorblindness.
Like so many of us, I had been taught that we were beyond racism. We were now all one people; we were all “American.” Except “American” was defined by white culture. When people didn’t fit into the narrow box that majority culture defines as "American," they were considered bad or wrong. This is the definition of white supremacy – where white culture and the white race is considered superior. Through the lens of colorblindness, white supremacy was allowed to creep into polite society.
When I realized this, I cried out to God, “Why did you make me white? Why am I part of this evil legacy? Make me not white!”
His response, “Who would it help if I made your skin another color?” Echoing Paul’s words, “You are my handiwork, made to do the good works I prepared in advance for you.”
The Freedom of Lament
As a kid, I was told that I shouldn't apologize for colonization, slavery, the trail of tears, internment camps, segregation or Jim Crow because I was born in 1985. I could not be responsible for all of that, so I should let the past die. However, ignoring the past only gave the past the power to enslave me.
Instead of ignoring the past, I followed God on a journey of lament. I asked for forgiveness that my ancestors had stolen African people from their land, bringing them here to America, forcing them to work a land that wasn’t theirs. And that I had benefitted from the economic riches of slavery. I asked God’s forgiveness for stealing Native and Indigenous people’s land and for the unjust laws that have continued to perpetuate the systematic injustice that plagues people of color. I begged for forgiveness for my people for the way we have used things like redlining, school choice, and other policies to continue to oppress people of color. And I asked for forgiveness for the fact that black men are murdered, shot down and their murders walk free. I also asked for forgiveness, where I perpetuated and benefitted from all of these systems.
And as my tears, hit the floor, I saw God’s own tears. And I realized that God is big enough to hear both my praises and my pain. His tears cut through the chains of my racist past, freeing me and reconciling me to him.
God invited me to follow his son, who left a position of power and privilege in heaven, to come and reconcile us to himself. He invited me to step away from the power and privilege that my white skin unjustly gave me; so that I could experience God’s love and grace.
When my black sisters were silenced by the accusation of the angry black woman, I began to learn how to use my voice to empower them. When my Arab brothers and sisters were marginalized by the accusation of terrorism, I learned to speak the truth that white people have killed more people through domestic terrorism than any other people group in this country. When my indigenous neighbors have their land, heritage, and culture repeatedly stolen from them, I have been challenged to offer my land and space. And when my Hispanic neighbor is further marginalized, by being told, “You live in America, speak English.” I have learned to sing,
Continuing on the Journey
I want to be clear; I am still on a journey. Every day, I see how white supremacy has stained every aspect of our world. Daily, I cry out for forgiveness for the racist things that I say, do or think. Daily, I ask for God's reconciled Kingdom to come here.
But with every step I take towards God’s reconciled kingdom, I get to see more of God, and I am blessed by God’s multi-ethnic and multi-racial family.
By understanding my own ethnicity and how God has redeemed me, I have been able to be a part of the diverse Kingdom of God.