On Being White and Southern
“I’m not going to talk,” I’d contend.
Early in Chris’ career, he often entertained and hosted educational programs for physicians in the swankiest of restaurants. Anytime I accompanied him, I vowed silence.
I grew up in a charming, tiny town on a tobacco farm. There was no swank and not many physicians either.
These dinners, wholly of my own creation, made me feel inadequate and inferior. I feared I would appear foolish and simple.
“No. I’m really not talking this time,” I’d insist.
Because, without fail, each time I would discover I could navigate all the pieces of silverware and enjoy engaging conversation with his guests. I’d tentatively gain ground on my fear and allow a bit of me to come out to play.
I have also experienced a parallel timidity about visiting other countries. Each of the times I’ve boarded flights to the UK, Germany, Kenya, and Israel, I’ve been afraid of the differences in culture and perceptions and language.
Fear certainly hindered me from becoming involved in jail ministry before now. I was frightened by the place and the people; the trappings of incarceration were foreign to me.
This cowardice towards difference stretched so far as a new home we purchased a decade ago. By all accounts, it should have been our dream home. It was twice the size of our previous house, possessed upgrades we could only afford because the house had been on the market a loooooong time, and was well-built with a smart floor plan.
Nonetheless, I lay on the couch our first night there and sobbed. I wanted my smallish house back. There were eight exterior doors on the new house, which alarmed me from a safety perspective, and I was afraid it would never feel like home.
Different scares me initially.
In fact, I think that’s so for most people.
That’s what’s infecting our Facebook and Twitter feeds right now.
Racism. Classism. Feminism. Legalism. Cynicism. Chauvinism. Anti-Semitism. Homophobism (I may have just concocted that word). All the black sheep -isms.
These are systems or ideologies rooted in fear. Based on unfounded generalizations about a group of people who are different.
It’s not new.
In the Old Testament in Exodus 1, the Egyptians were afraid of the Israelites, so they enslaved them.
In the New Testament in John 4, Jews feared defilement by the Samaritans and had no association with them.
And this phenomenon has continued to pock the history of mankind via countless wars and atrocities. And it always will.
It’s not new at all.
Difference scares us.
During our vacation to New York, we stayed in Stuyvesant Heights, a largely African-American community in Brooklyn. We landed only days after Dylann Roof killed nine African-Americans just two hours from our home.
I felt conspicuously white.
When we checked into our brownstone on a beautifully tree-lined street, we found it decorated with strong political statements:
It made me uncomfortable. Afraid even. Can I be that honest? Afraid that my whiteness would be offensive. Because people of my shade have committed acts of horror against African-Americans.
Not a hundred and fifty years ago.
Four days ago.
And I knew my region would be as apparent as my race the first time I spoke. I expected their disdain based on the color of my skin and the sound of my voice.
We dropped our bags and walked to lunch just around the corner. By the conclusion of our meal, I had shaken the fear that different can summon.
I can honestly say I felt less aware of being Southern and white in an African-American neighborhood in Brooklyn than I do in South Carolina. It was a non-issue in our interactions. I’m guessing the residents realized we were white 🙂 , but my race had never felt more irrelevant.
It was freeing.
After lunch, we caught a taxi to the Brooklyn Tabernacle, a predominantly African-American church led by a white pastor, and felt so warmly welcomed by the ladies seated around us.
It was the next morning in our flat, while the girls were still sledgehammered by exhaustion, that I sensed the Lord whisper Truth very clearly:
Perfect love casts out fear, Cookie.
My mind drifted to a t-shirt I ordered in mid-May, long before hatred had its day on June 17. It would be delivered while we were away. Maybe Chris could ask William to grab it off the front porch and stick it in the house…
And then it was as though God put a puzzle together right before my eyes….
The passion ignited by my visit to Kenya years earlier + Recently hanging out and speaking to folks at our local homeless shelter + Getting involved with jail ministry + Being smitten with a quiet neighborhood in Brooklyn.
All people different from me.
When love is the driving force in you,
there is no place for fear of difference.
Because love is never satisfied
until it takes over every room of life space.
It’s a mutually-exclusive saturation.
I feel like I’m supposed to say I don’t see color. Or whatever difference exists between you and me. That that’s the correct response.
Maybe it is.
To me, it may be richer progress to acknowledge that we’re different.
To admit that you and I are different people, be that based on race, region, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
To admit that we have different histories.
That we have experienced the world differently because of our differences.
And appreciate that. Even greater….LOVE THAT.
Can we have the freedom to see each other as exquisitely different? That feels truer to me than pretending I don’t see color. Or gender roles. Or class inequities.
Because I only know Southern white girl; that’s all I’ve got. I don’t know what it’s like to be Middle Eastern or a felon, Asian or gay or a man or black, but to the extent that I am better equipped to love people and understand the heart of God, I want to.
I want to divorce unwarranted generalizations of people based on the actions of individuals.
But I don’t want to ignore the things that make you you.
Because how can I truly love you, with a genuine knowledge, if I ignore what your experience brings to the table where mine lacks?
We can take down the Confederate flag, which I staunchly support we do.
But we can’t legislate love.
We can fight for it though. We can be advocates and purveyors of it.
I’m about that. All about that.
I’ll take my example from a man who loved people very different from himself. A man whose every action was motivated by love. Whose death was the greatest expression of love of all time.
He is uncompromising with regards to our hearts. They are to be soft, affected, and undivided. Pure.
Wholly submitted to the Truth……..love trumps fear.
Blog subscribers….look for an email headed your way this week with the skinny on our fall Bible study.[Feature Image: Kat B]