Walter Brueggemann argues that Abraham entered a new history. And ditto for me. The new history is without link to the old. The new history begins with a call for me to repent (of prejudice) and a summons to leave old comfort zones and to go somewhere I am not to become someone who I once was not. In my life this new call was a second call. A new birth. For most white people overcoming prejudice can hardly be anything else.
God called me to an alternative life, a life that is the antithesis to the cold, barren one based on hatred and mistrust. My first destination was the wilderness. The wilderness is a place of diminished resources and manna but it offers greater possibilities than the comforts and the garlic of Egypt. We who live Ur and seek the Promised Land will–as I have found–experience some obstacles. We too will have our faith tested, our memory of God’s deeds questioned. Racial reconciliation to thousands of white Americans is that new, unexplored, but most assuredly promised land!
Racial Reconciliation to many of us is unexplored territory. It demands a profound faith with more than a modicum of risk. . .
I reached. And as I held my new daughter, I hummed Mammy’s old tune . . .”Hush little Rachel, don’t you cry. Daddy’s going to love you til’ I die. All yo’ troubles is gonna soon be over. Will soon be over . . .” As Rachel prepares for college this year I thank God that He brought our lives together. She is my first born, Godâ€™s invitation to be to move toward racial reconciliation.
This book is for and to white people who are willing to reach. For white people who are willing to take chances. To have their views of race and racism challenged. This book is really narrative history for I have lived much of the history I describe in this book.
I ask that people of color be patient with me. As I watch my African American daughters grow I love them so much more each day! I feel more comfortable, in a way, with children of color because my Rachel, Jessica, and Timothy are partly African American. But, God knows, I am not black; I shall never be black and I cannot never know the challenges that racism will bring them. I must be content to tell my own story and encourage people like me to listen to our brothers and sisters of color.
I know that here and there my own prejudice will rear its head. I do not wish it to be so. But I know that my past and my present white privilege are too indelibly a part of my ethos to be removed in a lifetime–much less my short forty-five years! After it is all said and done, I do not think I am being falsely modest to say that I am still at heart an Arkansas white boy!
A friend, Tobin Miller-Shearer reminded me recently that when white people talk about racism they define it in personal terms – individual attitudes, actions, perceptions, stereotypes, relationships. He is right. I know that if that is the only way that we define the problem, according to personal actions then the solution is defined solely in terms of changing the individual.
A second pattern Tobin observed is that, by and large, when people of color talk about racism they define it in systemic terms–how the systems of police, education, health care, business, church, etc. respond to people of color as a whole. If that is how one defines the problem, then the solution is defined completely in terms of changing the system.
Tobin and the staff at the Damascus Road Experience, Mennonite Church, and I are convinced that we have work in both arenas. In fact, to ignore either one is a betrayal of the biblical model (using Tobinâ€™s words). Jesus healed the individual and consistently called people to right relationship. Jesus also challenged the systems of his day and consistently modeled an approach that acknowledge the powers and principalities.
Tobin concludes, and I concur, racism is a cunning, demonic force that knows how constantly to reinvent itself. The one consistent thing we know about it is that it serves the primary purpose of giving power and privilege to white people and, through the forces of history, has established systems (even inthe church) that serve white people. The damage that racism wrecks upon People of Color is incredibly destructive.
Racism is like a holding a rattlesnake by its tail– it bites both ways. I think that the damage it has brought on white people is terrible too. Not anything like what has happened to the victim, to be sure. We who have been part of the problem are now reaping Godâ€™s judgment.