My senior year, 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 their 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?” That hit me like a shot through the heart. I’m not racist, I responded. I am liberal. Many of my friends were not white; I had even dated non-white men. “I am not racist; I’m colorblind!” I objected.
Another friend, with tears in his eyes, said, “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 of that I interpret the world differently then you and I am interpreted by the world differently than you.
As we moved into prayer, I begged God to vindicate me and show my friends that I wasn’t Racist and to show them that colorblind was the direction that we were moving.
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 the prayer meeting to invite me into 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. As I began to explore the beauty of God’s diverse family, I began to understand that I was white.
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 ourselves as ethnic.
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 of American that our culture had created, 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 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.”
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 begged God’s forgiveness that my people had stolen African people from their land, bringing them here to America, forcing them to work a land that wasn’t theirs. 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 of 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.
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 offering my own racial identity reconciliation with 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,
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 strength to join God in seeing his reconciled Kingdom 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.
As I look at the blessing of God’s multi-ethnic family; I have realized that my white brothers and sisters are missing. We aren’t in God’s racial reconciliation, not because we aren’t invited, but because we have chosen not to engage in bringing God’s kingdom here.
God also has shown me that he made me white, so that I can speak to his white children. I’ve had the privilege of directing Greek InterVarsity at UGA over the past 11 years, which is made up of predominately white fraternity and sorority men and women. Most of the students I’ve met did not realize that they were white or that God wanted them to pursue his multi-ethnic family. As I’ve walked with students and helped them to hear God’s call into this multi-ethnic community, I’ve seen the chains of racism fall. God has used this to show me that my people, even with our past, are loved by God and wanted in the kingdom of Heaven.
God has shown me that he made me white, not by accident but because I am part of his multi-ethnic family. By understanding my own ethnicity and how God has redeemed me, I have been able to be a part of God’s kingdom.