The Day I Found Out I Was a Racist

Growing up in North Dakota, I was not raised around a variety of skin colors. Other than Native Americans, the biggest “diversity” seemed to be whether you were of German or Scandinavian descent. And while I know there exists [I heard it!] a lot of prejudice against Native Americans, I grew up believing I was not racist.
Then I moved to Washington, DC, to go to a semester of seminary. I can remember driving down the streets, as we were moving into our house in Southeast DC and seeing very few white faces. I felt my heart race just a bit. I felt scared.
When I would walk to the Metro, I found myself searching out friendly faces—which I realized meant I was looking for white people to say hi to. And that is when it hit me—I am judging people by their color. I am scared of black people. I am racist.
In the wake of the horrific shooting at Mother Emmanuel AME church, our country has been forced to look again in the mirror at the racism we all struggle with. I’m not saying we all act violently on that racism, but I don’t think it is helpful to say that we don’t all struggle with it at times, and that it doesn’t affect us—individually and as a country.
We have been talking a lot about sin in worship lately. We have not been doing a preaching series on the 7 Deadly Sins to make you feel bad. We have been talking about them because we are truth-tellers in church. We all are prideful, full of anxiety and unfaith. We lust after things and people. And as our brothers and sisters in AA remind us, the first step is to admit we are powerless.
I have been thinking about my 25 year old self in DC a lot, and I have been trying to be gentle with her. My naiveté is understandable. Many people grow up being taught that skin color matters, that you are better than others because of your skin. Thankfully I was not. And thankfully I was also taught not to be afraid to acknowledge hard things.
Are there any hard things you need to acknowledge? You can admit your failings. We can admit our failings as a country. And we can learn and we can grow, and we can even change.
On Sunday we will sing the great hymn, “America the Beautiful.” I love how in the hymn we ask God to mend our every flaw and to refine us like gold, and to shed his grace on us. Those are lines that acknowledge we are not perfect–that we are in need of God changing us. And that we are saved not by the good things we do, but by the grace of God.
That is what I think we HAVE to cling to in these days. That God is at work even when we don’t see it. That even though our hearts that often betray us, God is there, and God wants to create in us clean hearts.
I am praying that God will create a clean heart in our country. And it starts with me. And it starts with you.
But even when we mess up, God still sheds his grace. That is what has happened in the wake of the tragedy in the AME church. A shooter being met with forgiveness. A church continuing to worship and hope in the midst of unspeakable pain. The grace is amazing. May you know it is being shed on you and on our country in this time.

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One response to “The Day I Found Out I Was a Racist

  1. Create in me a clean heart O God,
    and renew a right Spirit within me.
    Create in me a clean heart O God,
    and renew a right Spirit within me.
    Cast me not away from Your Presence,
    and take not Your Holy Spirit from me.
    Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
    and uphold me with Thy free Spirit.

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