Somebody insinuated I was racist once. I was livid. This is my story. I offer it; let it fall from my open hands.
In that memory I am enraged. Anger, that surprising product of sadness and fear, like opposing fluids in a jar, whirl into a cloudy suspension. Sadness and fear whip together into a frothy blend, generating some new agitated entity. This unexpected sum of things anger renders its added parts unrecognizable. I find understanding of my own ire when I deconstruct it into its sad and fearful pieces.
I am sad because this insinuation smacks against my genuine convictions in an affronting contradiction. My heart is misunderstood. My care about the struggles of people of color around me, left unspoken and unconsidered. This insinuation denies my will for some way to prove my goodwill, my admiration, even, for people of color. It is anguish for someone draw out my best intention, and call it liar. I am afraid, honestly, because this perception of me could spread. It is unbearable to consider that the racism problem is my problem. How could it be, what with the authentic goodwill and appreciation inside?
This word racism, it stings like a surge of icy salt waves, crashing on the shore, on the face. Even the insinuation of racist tendencies stings too bitterly. That label threatens to equate me, one and all, with the most violent of hate. Brutality and horror and myself, leveled together. Too much is at stake. People thinking I am an accepting person; that is at stake. My self-concept as a loving and accepting person- deep, deep down, this meticulously secured foundation is at risk of demise. Thus, defenses on the topic are hair-trigger. Like abrupt coastal cliffs, defenses rise to guard against the stinging fluid edge of the racist label. The bitter, brutal salt wave is repulsed by the barricade of defenses I have erected. For too long, racism is too devastating, too cruel, too dangerous to face. All chances for communication are shut out.
Flash me back to childhood. I’m facing nuances of racial issues and I am not equipped to do so. I admire students of color in my diverse primary school. I remember seeing their broad smiles, the confident and joyful personalities. As I watch them play that group of kids seems to enjoy a special zest for life. It is appealing to me. I would like to befriend my classmates of color. We are separated though. I contribute to this separation. Partly because I am shy. And partly from the anxiety that I might symbolize any number of terrible historical images. I am a kid feeling I have no way into their world. I am too afraid to try. Too afraid to ask questions about their lives. Afraid I might say something wrong. I am afraid I could not belong.
It all seemed like such dangerous territory. It still does.
I always felt the call to do something. Called upon not to discriminate, of course. Called upon to do something else as well, but I didn’t know what. I still don’t. But the undeniable truth hits me often broadside nowadays; God sees people still hurting. And God is prodding me forward. What do I have to offer? What is my voice in this painful problem? There is nothing, really, I can do. So I question, why the prod?
Like many Christians facing uncertain times, I wish to invoke the voice of Jesus. I ponder what he would say to repair us all. I grope for some kind of model to follow. A clear message to send, or a definitive course of action. I see the persona of Christ-like perfection that I feel pressured to convey. It is an impossible standard. That is why I’m failing. Considering what Jesus might have said in this day, an error of approach occurs to me. Unlike me, Jesus would have no cause to confront personal imperfections. Confession and repentance do not apply to him. I shake off this ideal supposed-image of the perfect Christian. What are Christians if not confessors? What are Christians if not repentant?
I dare to sound the depths of these dangerous and risky waters. I consider my approach as I would a relationship problem. Healing starts with the inward look. I wonder about these nuances that chill me with fear. Perhaps the fear is telling. Perhaps there is something I am not seeing. I genuinely care about people of color. Yet I’m beginning to see that maybe love is not enough. It often isn’t.
What next, when love is not enough? Doesn’t the process ring true, as in relationships? Self-examination, communication, accountability, confession, repentance. Confession and repentance; those stiff and stodgy terms are woefully outmoded. Nevertheless they are necessary terms to negotiate these choppy waters.
Confession. I confess to every time I let pride and fear of rejection deter me from reaching out. I confess to every time I was afraid to ask questions that might give me answers I do not like. I regret my defensiveness most deeply. I confess to every time my defensiveness blocked out honest self-examination and shut down dialogue. I confess them. I repent of them all.
This pride and this need to protect my amicable image, my fear of the truth, my denial, they are not as strong as the sea cliffs, after all. More truthfully, I’ve worn my defenses like the protection of a rain slick on the seacoast. Guarding me from the salt and ice-searing fingers of seawater; of “racism,” a term I can’t even look at, let alone touch. Wearing my rain slick of defensiveness I hope incrimination slides off. I thought the rain slick covered me. Perhaps it hid me. But now I can see I don’t need the rain slick anymore. This pride and image are not important anymore. I shed the rain slick and invite exposure to truth and healing.
I’ve had all sorts of good intentions. Yet I realize there is a subtlety of the racism issue I have never had the courage to face or probe. I’m sounding repentance. With a tremulous breath I plunge exposed into the depths of these troubled waters. I repent so I might gain the bravery to face these nuanced hurts. I will face the anger and the hurt so that I can hear what is said beyond these expressions of injustice. I repent so that I can hope to overcome the fear of rejection. I repent to boldly forge friendships and bridge the barriers that separate. I repent to connect with those whose stories ought to be heard. I repent to let go of the fear and the defenses and to listen, to invite the stories. I’m sounding repentance. Join me. God grant us the courage, all, to sound repentance.
I am grateful to Cara Meredith for a pivotal conversation that led me to probe the question; “What is my voice on topics of color?” Cara Meredith is a speaker and writer. Check out her publications at https://carameredith.com/ !