Saturday, September 20, 2014

Red and Yellow Black and White, Allies, part 4: The Humble Stumble

“Damn Hispanics,” muttered the cab driver as we drove west on Indianapolis’ Washington Avenue. We had just climbed off the train which had arrived at 5:00 a.m., too early to call family for a ride. It was the middle of a hotter than usual July, the air conditioning on the train had gone out, we were hot, tired, hungry, and ready for showers and some sleep. We were not ready for a racist screed.

At least I wasn’t. But that’s what we got as we made our way out through the city past buildings proclaiming bodega, foto estudio, restaurant, and more. “They’re ruining our city,” he moaned. “I wish they’d all just crawl back to Mexico.”

Now I’d like to say that I rose up in righteous indignation and told him to be quiet. Or better yet, engaged him in a serious dialogue about bigotry and race in Indianapolis. But I didn’t. I leaned my head against the window, shut my eyes, and try to tune him out.

It wasn’t one of my proudest moments.

But it was learning one. It was one that reminded me that seeing that of God in others was more than just an internal thing. Sometimes it require action or speaking out.


As an introvert, I’d really just as soon keep things to myself. But if I truly do believe that seeing that of God in others means treating others as if they were equals is something I needed to actively put into practice. After all, if someone slighted Nancy or my kids or my closest friends, then I wouldn’t hesitate to rush to their aid or defense. I wouldn’t sit quietly by. How could I be quiet if I believed that the Hispanics in the neighborhood I had just passed through were as equal and Nancy and I in our cab?

Double sigh.

Especially disconcerting, the more I thought about it, was that I remained silent that day while being a position of power. Yes, I had the power of being a customer. I had the power of a tip. I had the power to complain to his employer. And a fair amount of that power came from the position in society that I have – an educated, middle class white heterosexual male. That privilege may not be something I aspire to or want, but society affords it to me regardless. While I believe, and try to live by the belief, that I am no better or worthy than any of the other people in whom God’s light shines, the fact is that I am treated differently than some of those other people. I first noticed this in a real way when I walked into the place I bank in Philadelphia. I was wearing sunglass and a hat (to keep my little bald head from getting sunburned). There was a sign there that said “Please remove any hats and sunglasses.” I saw some Black men in front of me, holding their hats in their hands. I got in line with my hat firmly atop the great white expanse and my sunglasses on. This was hard, as I typically am a rule keeper not a rule breaker. But I wanted to see what might happen. The guard, who was Black, looked at me. But didn’t say anything. Some younger Black men came in and were promptly asked to take off their hats and sunglasses. I completed my transaction, was treated courteously, all with hat on head and sunglasses on my face. No one said a word.

I do this everytime I visit that bank. Nobody’s said anything to me yet. While men of color are asked to doff their hats and glasses.

Which is why I’m finding it important, as a spiritual witness to my belief of that of God in all people, be an ally to those who see not being treated equally because of their race, class, sexual orientation, ability, gender, and much more. Being an ally is an action that puts me in touch with that of God of in others in a tangible way by helping me develop an understanding of the personal and institutional experiences different from myself, but equally embued with God’s Light.

Part of that is pondering what would I experience now if I were a person of color, a woman, disabled, gay? Again, not as a political exercise, but as a child of God.

How can I act as if I truly do believe there is that of God in every person? Should I
  • step into a situation in which a person of color is being ill-treated by someone who looks like I do?
  • speak out about a situation in which I don’t appear to have any vested interest: 
  • interrupt a comment or joke that is insensitive or stereotypic toward a group
  • commit to the personal spiritual growth I needto be genuinely supportive. 
  • promote a sense of inclusiveness and justice in the places I work – and worship!
  • create an environment that is hospitable for all – including at church
  • share power inclusively
  • create opportunities for trust
  • form authentic relationships with those who are “other”

If I’m going to be a friend of Jesus – which I endeavor to be! – I need to learn to be a vocal, public witness for his love of all people. Not easy for an introvert, who likes to work quietly, even on Christian justice issues. So no more quiet taxi rides for this bad Quaker. If I get another bigoted taxi driver, I hope to engage him or her as a beloved child of God in a gentle, but direct conversation about how I really don’t want to be exposed to such thinking.

Either that or I’ll keep quiet… and walk the ten miles home.

Sigh. Why isn’t following the way of Jesus easier?


Anonymous said...

This is not likely a comment you would want, but as an introvert myself, I used to be aware of the difficulty in speaking up in such situations, but then my passion for justice seemed to over come me, and it became easy to speak up. But then I realized how badly my life could really go because people don't really want others to speak up, they want them to sit down and be quiet. I had believed in a God who would protect me if I just tried to do what was right. Yes, you can say all kinds of things about whether I used by best social skills, or just fumbled into it, or was too passionate, but knowing myself that I can only be what I am in any particular moment, I had someone still thought God would have been there to keep me from falling too far in my attempts to follow him.

Brent Bill said...

i appreciate your comments, anonymous!

David H. Finke said...
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David H. Finke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David H. Finke said...

Glad to see your resolve about the likely next time when you're on a ride with a driver (cabby, or even f/Friend) who makes a bigoted remark. And you're giving us some concrete clues about how folks can try to be allies.

So, Brent, I now have another suggestion: Next time you're in line in the bank stubbornly wearing your shades and chapeau, if and when you see black males being asked/directed to doff theirs, I hope you may take the occasion to engage the guard and point out the contradiction. And if they DARE say that you "don't fit the profile" of potential bank-robbers (most of whom, I would surmise, are white males!), I hope you'll ask to speak with the Manager.

Gotta deal?

Thy Friend, (and fellow midwesterner, even if you're trapped in the confines of Philadelphia), —DHF

Brent Bill said...

Thanks, David, for your comments. It is my plan, indeed, the next time I'm in the bank...