Beauty and Race

I talked with some beautiful people last week.

The Northwest Church has a history of doing special events on MLK Sunday, having long been interested in racial reconciliation. This year, I invited five panelists (two black men, two black women, and one white woman) to participate in a half-hour conversation about the current status of racism as they experienced it or viewed it. I had met with each of them individually the previous week, asking them a basic question and then just listening. My question was this: if you had to advise a preacher what he should speak on this weekend as it relates to racism and racial reconciliation, what would you advise him to say?

I got an education.

From a man who works with kids in the juvenile detention systems in Seattle, I learned that racism is a smaller slice of the larger pie of injustice and that we must stand in the gap and fight injustice wherever we find it. From a elementary school principle, I learned that we must become more aware of “white privilege” not as a matter of personal guilt, but as a matter of responsibility, “white privilege” not being a function of any one person’s acting as if it were there, but rather an overall lens through which minority races must view the world because history and those who have come before us have painted the world with that particular brush. From a real estate agent who has been in sales for twenty years, I learned that we must be vigilant in battling actions based on stereotypes, that relational shorthand that is so damaging to understanding, and that even if whites start on “3rd base” and other races on 1st or 2nd, that we all want to get home, and that an individual’s attitude toward getting home is far more important that than the base we start on. Yet I also learned–from a social justice advocate who volunteers the great majority of her time–that we must be constantly on the march to make sure the rules of the game become more and more equitable with each passing day, so that one day we truly will be judged not on the color of our skin, but on the quality of our character. And there was the biologist and mother who taught me that people are people wherever you go, and that racism depends on its survival not only on the unjust actions of those who hate, but also on the reactions and attitudes of those being hated.

And you’ll notice I didn’t specify the race of each of the above.  Does it matter which race said what? Perhaps it does, but truth is, everything asserted in the paragraph above applies to all of us. Relationship based on equity and fairness, listening through a lens other than what history wants to force on us, a lens colored by reality and not by stereotype, a lens that follows the teachings of Jesus and refuses to judge and condemn, a lens that acknowledges that the interplay between those “acting” and those “acted upon” has responsibility attached to both ends of the exchange.

I’ve been using “beauty is…” statements. How about:

Beauty is newness. Beauty is fear pushed aside. Beauty is trust replacing distrust. Beauty is approach and welcome. Beauty is hospitality. Beauty is acknowledging ignorance (on my part). Beauty is the face of forgiveness. Beauty is chosen relationship. Beauty is shared laughter and vision about what might be, the dream of Dr. King come true, the kingdom of God lived out in small pockets of experience between people who see each other as human beings, image carriers of the Divine.


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