I believe in the power of stories, especially real-world experiences. The power of the Gospels is that they teach in stories that touch our hearts. In this blog post, I wanted to share some stories of my experiences in hearing about racism here in Minnesota.
One of the reasons Julie and I decided to move from Nevada to Minnesota was the people we met during a trip here to Minnesota that 3M set up so Julie could see the Twin Cities before I would accept the job offer from 3M. It seemed that everyone we met was friendly and helpful. Despite the wonderful friendliness and hospitality of Minnesota “Nice”, we were to find out that like everyplace else there was an undercurrent of racism below the surface.
During my first year of diaconate formation, we had to take classes on diversity. Each class would have a guest speaker talking about an aspect of diversity and they would tell their story. While these classes were good, most of us complained that we already knew about these things and we should be learning more theology. During one lunch we were again hashing this criticism of the formation program over when our classmate, Deacon Phil Steward, exploded at us saying that we “simply did not get it”. He proceeded to tell us that frequently when he was driving home from his job at Xerox in his suit a Woodbury police squad car would do a u-turn and follow him home to his house and then drive by a couple of more times to check on what he was doing. Just because he was black! The anger and humiliation this had caused Phil was very apparent in his passionate response to our privileged world view.
Another speaker that really made an impression on me and opened my eyes to the level of racism here in Minnesota was a Deacon from Forest Lake whose name escapes me. He and his wife had adopted two children that were native to Columbia. Native Columbians are very dark-skinned and his children were the target of racist comments and actions in school and outside of school. They received much racist threat mail against their family and had multiple crosses burned in their front yard. After these incidents, he learned that at the time Forest Lake was home to one of the biggest KKK groups outside of the south. He also said that Minnesota was home to a fairly large population on KKK clansmen that acted in very subversive but also open ways.
After our children were in school at Transfiguration School for a few years, a mother of some other students in the school shared a bit of her story with us. She and her husband would be what some would refer to as a “mixed” marriage. She said they would get frequent mail from a pretty well known white supremacist in Woodbury denouncing their marriage and telling them they were “polluting bloodlines” among many other vile racist remarks. Since he never threatened them in the letters, the police could not bring any charges against the man.
These three stories are about fairly overt racism. Many times racism is much more subtle than this. A mother of a girl that I had coached for four years on the Transfiguration school swim team mentioned a few years later about the racism her daughter had encountered in organized sports. Her daughter was a very talented athlete in any sport she participated in, but in many team sports, her mother said she was not given much playing time and was even ignored by the coaches during practice. She believed that this was due to one thing, the color of her daughter’s skin and I had to agree with her. This type of subtle racism is what allows systemic racism to continue to fester in our society.
I continue to see under the surface racism from nice people that would not consider themselves to be racist. Comments like “the doctor I saw today was a black man and he was so nice”, or “the doctor today was from India and she was so nice”. I hear many people refer to neighbors of color with words like “you know that black family around the corner” or “that Asian family down the street of the left”. Interestingly if the people being spoken about where white there would be no mention of skin color or country of origin. As I have said in previous blog posts, the words we use do matter and affect our thinking! I believe that we need to make a conscious effort in our conversations to not refer to the skin color or country of origin when speaking about other people. It would be better to say the family that lives in the blue house or best to refer to them by their last name as we would if the person or family was white. I am making an effort to change how I talk and it is hard, which points out to me how deep-rooted these attitudes can be.
Healing racism will take effort by every one of us and will require a change in the way we speak about and treat others. This week I have been thinking about the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Luke 10:36-37
I have always thought the person answering did not mention that the person who treated the beaten man with mercy was a Samaritan because of the hatred between the Jews and Samaritans. This week I was thinking that maybe another way to see this Gospel is that the man answering was seeing beyond labeling people. I believe this would be a good model for us to follow in not segmenting people into groups when we speak of them.
Peace, blessings, and prayers