Thoughts on Race from the Racially Awkward

Today I was at the grocery store. A group of us shoppers were crowded in line, paying for our groceries. I was just finishing paying and I smelled this amazing aroma of fried chicken. I glanced behind me and there was a really large black man standing there waiting to pay. I commented, That chicken smells so good, it makes me want to go get some! He commented back that he wasn’t even going to get to eat it, it was for someone else. I sympathized and went on my way with my groceries. A typical southern grocery store interaction. As I was walking out, I wondered why all interactions with people of a different race can’t be like that. Just two people chatting together in the grocery store line, not seeing color.

The problem is, I know that it goes a lot deeper than “I just don’t see color”. I was reading a book on American history that was focusing on the nonwhites in America. The atrocities that were committed against the Native Americans blows my mind. Sure, we all know that the white people and the Native Americans fought wars with each other, weren’t friendly with each other.. But have you ever read the actual accounts of what happened?  What is most horrifying is reading the historical documents written by the white men who led these atrocities and realizing that they did not see Native Americans as people. They just weren’t human, so it didn’t really matter. Looking at the history of slavery in America: for 200 years the white people kept black people as slaves. Again, there seemed to be a total lack of acknowledgement that black people are humans. Then after slavery was abolished we had the Jim Crow laws for almost another 100 years that were designed to keep black and white people separated as much as possible. Again, not seeing black people as humans. This is the history of our country, and it’s not a distant history. My father’s generation can still remember segregation. 

I am puzzled when people say that racism is a figment of the black person’s imagination. I see examples of it all the time, just in the comments that people make in my hearing. Besides, our country was founded on racism. It is a blight on our country. I really struggle when people say that we live in a Christian country, founded by Christians, and it is only in the past couple decades that we have wandered from our true roots. I struggle with that, because I read about our true roots being genocide. Stealing land. Enslaving an entire race for several centuries. These are not actions that I would proudly stamp with the label “Christian”. I’m not saying that our country is all bad. Our constitution laid a foundation that could eventually lead to freedom for all. But, it took us a long time to get here. And I’m not convinced that we have truly arrived yet. 

Now, things are different. All races are legally equal. All races are legally protected. We are now supposed to be a united, non-racist country. Except that we are still awkward with each other. There’s a lot of mistrust. There’s a lot of misunderstanding. I know that I myself am Racially Awkward. I see all races as equally human, equally important. But, I’m not comfortable around all races. I tend to feel like I’m walking on eggshells. Afraid that I’m going to inadvertently say something offensive. Afraid that I’m going to come across the wrong way. Afraid that my actions will be misinterpreted. I wish so much to be friends with people of other races and show that I am not racist, and show that “I don’t see color”, and say, look, I am not part of that whole horrible history of white people. But, I don’t know how to do it, and so I am just Awkward. 

I wish that we could just be blunt with each other. My family lives in a primarily black community in the South and my kids are often the only white person in their class. They relate conversations to me and I sometimes cringe. The high schoolers have no problem hurling racial epitaphs at each other and joking about race and poking fun of each other and I think, Is that ok? Is my kid crossing the line? Is he being unfairly picked on because of his color? But, at the same time, I envy them. Because they don’t seem to have any inhibitions. They just say what they’re thinking to each other. The awkwardness isn’t there. 

I’m not sure what the answers are for our country. I think some real educating on the racial history of our country would be good. Let’s not gloss over what happened in order for us to claim this land as our own and create our own country. Let’s be honest about it. As a Christian, I think it would be totally appropriate for those who call our country a Christian Country to enter a time of mourning and fasting and repentance, to stand in for the sins of our ancestors. We need to keep ferreting out laws and regulations that are keeping true equality from happening.  And then time. We need time. We need our kids and our grandkids to be able to live in a world that isn’t tainted by the sins of our past. Where they can establish true equality and true brotherhood. 

In the meantime I will continue to pursue friendships with people who look differently than me and maybe one day, I will stop being awkward. But it’s going to take practice. And that is something I can do. 

EDIT POST: I have been thinking on this some more. I have been friends with people of all races and many different nationalities most of my life. I think my awkwardness developed much later as an adult. Perhaps it’s just because I became more aware of racial tensions where before, I had been oblivious.

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