In last night’s Ethics/Cross Cultural Counseling class we had a phone interview with Edward Gilbreath, author of Reconciliation Blues. I heartily recommend his book. See my side bar for a link to his blog. Here’s a couple of my personal take-aways:
1. There are two common reactions to the relentless issues of racial inequality: (a) Tired, defensiveness, and (b) story telling. By story telling I mean that everyone has a race conflict story. Ed related how everywhere he goes people have stories for him to hear. Their stories. I wonder how these stories impact us, how they shape our sense of a national reality. Do they burden us into paralysis or do we see hope even in stories of pain. It is important to pray for people like Ed who must hear thousands of stories and not grow numb.
2. It is easy to point out the bad news of how far we haven’t come in race relations. It is harder to point out the good because single events can show us how bad it is but single events rarely show how positive it is. Ed used the image of marriage. You can celebrate milestones and have good feelings but the health of the marriage is in the day to day dealings. The health of the marriage is taken in the trenches, in the mundane.
3. Here are some significant barriers.
–Do we have real contact with those different at the mundane level?
–Do we have a unifying greater good that surpasses differences?
–Can we surpass the differences in how we view time/responsibility. On this last one, consider this problem. While racial and cultural generalizations are always wrong at some level, they do provide some truths as well. White Americans tend to be present/future focused and individual in responsibility. Many minority groups are much more past/present focused and collectivist in responsibility. Admittedly, I often think I am responsible and culpable for only me. I cannot undo what has already been done, either by me or others. To hold me responsible ongoing for others or even my own sin would be unfair and mean. So, when someone talks of past racism, we may tend to say, “Well, I didn’t do that to you. Why do I have to pay for someone else’s sin?” Or, “Well, I may have done that to you, but that was awhile ago, why can’t you forgive me yet?”
These differences were made much more salient to me by two things. First, I’m reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book, Infidel. She is Somali. She tells her story of her life in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and her flight from Islam to fighting injustice to women under the name of religion. A must read! Anyway, she recounts, at age five, her needing to be able to answer the question, “Who are you?” with a recitation of the names of her forefathers back 800 years. Her grandmother says, “Get it right. The names will make you strong. They are your bloodline. If you honor them they will keep you alive. If you dishonor them you will be forsaken. You will be nothing…” A bit extreme in the example, but in that culture, your identity was only as good as your past but you could destroy it in the present. You could not make it better. Second, I re-read two letters published in Christianity Today in the early 1970s. These consecutive letters were entitled Dear White Person and Dear Black Person. The Black writer thinks collectively about people groups. The White person thinks individually about wrongs and righteousness. If we are to be successful in racial reconciliation we will have to bridge these gaps.