This is part 1 in a series, as it appeared in the General Board of Discipleship's "Young Adult Forums" in March.
I grew up in a fairly homogeneous area where “diversity” meant someone from another part of the state. While I encountered people of different races and ethnicities in travel, my daily life was usually void of contact with those unlike myself. In school and church I remember hearing the admonition to be “color blind” when dealing with issues of race. The phrase meant that I should treat all people equally regardless of race or ethnicity. Though I understood the need for equality, I believed that if I considered race, I was being racist. I wanted to act like everyone was the same so as to avoid discrimination and racism, but race cannot and should not be simply erased from our consciousness.
As I have gotten older and continued in my
studies, I have been challenged to learn that being blind to color
means being blind to a myriad of issues. Choosing to ignore race often
means that I remain blind to the difficult realities of racism. By
acknowledging race as an integral part of a person’s experience and
identity, I then open myself to learning about the particularities of
an individual’s experience. A friend of a different race may have
encountered racism in the church, workplace, or other arena. As I
examine the leadership of my government, school, workplace, and even
church through the lens of race, I quickly recognize that racism
persists even today. By acting as though all people are entirely the
“same,” I turn a blind eye to the issues some groups face daily.
As a white, middle-class woman, I also believe that choosing not to notice race serves to protect me from having to face the painful fact of my own participation in racist systems and cycles. Perhaps if I do not think about the history of racism in my country, or even within the Christian tradition in the United States, I will not be forced to deal with the issue. By hiding from the difficult truths of our history, we will continue to avoid resolution and healing. My classmates, professors, and friends challenge me to learn about the history of racism in the United States and around the world. In doing so, we can work to eliminate the racist systems in which we participate and also seek healing from the damage done in the past. Through learning about apartheid in South Africa or the struggle for Civil Rights in the United States, I see the stark difference between recognizing race in order to oppress, and celebrating race as a wonderful aspect of the human identity.
When I do not allow myself to recognize the race or ethnicity of a person, I have chosen to ignore part of who that person is and what makes him or her unique. Skin color and nationality make up part of the rich diversity present in the world. God created humans to be different from one another, thus displaying a beautiful global community with similarities as well as differences. If God created us each with a particular skin color, why should I try to ignore such a special designation? Listening to the stories and lives of those from other racial and ethnic backgrounds provides rich conversation and new perspectives. We all have much to learn and much to share.
If our communities of faith become serious about eliminating racism of all types, we must first acknowledge and name the racism that exists around us each day. Then, we will be free to facilitate healing in our communities through dialogue and recognition of the fascinating uniqueness of each person. God created all people in God’s image. Let us therefore celebrate the beauty of each person as we seek to live out God’s kingdom on earth each day.
Question: How can we seek to positively identify and encourage racial diversity in our communities?
Anna Maynard Lee, age 24, enters her second year at Vanderbilt University Divinity School this fall.