I wondered, yesterday, about posting a few sentences about my discomfort in speaking in a varied racial context. It’s a difficult topic, one with which I have become less, rather than more, comfortable over the years. As with pretty much everything, the more you learn, the less you know.
I grew up in a family (in a rural, all white, Midwestern community) in which overt bigotry and discrimination were not tolerated. I remember well the shock I felt when I discovered in junior high that my maternal grandmother was vocally and unrepentantly racist. My mother was long gone by that point, so I couldn’t ask her about it; all I could manage at that juncture was to absorb that my extended family and my immediate family were two distinct entities with respect to questions of race.
But the lack of overt racism in my family concealed something just as insidious — an unarticulated attitude that “there are no differences among us,” which disguises, at least for white people when in the majority, a belief that “everyone is the same to the extent that everyone is like us.”
As the decades passed, I learned differently. Even in our universal longings ~ for love, for kindness, for peace, for justice ~ we differ in that we hope and speak and act from different experiences and different perspectives. My own dream is always to celebrate our distinctiveness while growing in relationship, but I am finding it harder to know how to do that in honest and generous ways.
My own primary experience of having been the “outsider” was my six years of teaching in an Orthodox Jewish school, in which I was one of about five Christian teachers in a faculty of about 50, and in which every student was either a Conservative or Orthodox Jew. It was a period of learning to listen and hear differently, and learning to understand in my bones and heart rather than merely in my intellect that my community and individual perspectives were not family rooms in which to lounge with the relaxed confidence of being a member of the dominant culture, but posed significant challenges to all of us in this world.
When I served a church in the same neighborhood as the one in which I participated yesterday, our congregation was joyfully diverse ~ but we only had two years before we closed, and had only just begun to explore our back stories together. My last and present churches are nearly 100% white in communities similarly constituted, and questions of race barely ripple the surface.
The more we learn, the less we know.