How To Survive A Racial Pitfall

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As a young black child growing up in south Louisiana, I often experienced my share of discrimination. As a result, feelings of confusion and disillusionment about race dominated my thinking for years of my adult life. I felt left alone to deal with an overwhelming desire to retaliate. Thank God I didn’t have to deal with it alone. Through the saving grace of Jesus Christ, I was delivered from the debilitating chains of anger; and today, teach other Believers, not only how to live free, but how to become leaders in the area of racial reconciliation.

NAMELESS FORCES

Making the ascent to freedom is a process that can have difficult steps along the way. What makes it challenging are the competing rationalities that fight to dominate our thought life. Humans naturally crave acceptance. It’s a desire that was hard-wired in us by God to create a hunger for relevance only He could fulfill. Our default reaction when we do not gain the measure of appreciation and voice we crave is to defend who we are at all cost. We speak louder and act more boisterously, even undignified if there was the slightest possibility we would be vindicated and heard. Anything to rid the pain of disrespect.

When I began to experience discrimination because of my skin-tone, there was a sense of helplessness. It seemed like nameless forces were too strong for me. I could not overcome the repeated dismissals with a wider smile nor more articulate speech. Being kinder didn’t improve the situation either. I was lost in an enigma of contorted opinions about me that were so far from the reality I knew about myself that for a moment I considered what I knew could be a farce and what they saw was truth.

THE DAY IT ALL CHANGED

In the Fall of 1980, on the tattered and dust-swept playground of St. Joseph Catholic Elementary School, somewhere between the swings and monkey-bars, a white playmate, her long sandy-blond pig-tails snapping in the wind as she abruptly turns to me, sheepishly smiles and says, “You’re not like all the other blacks. You’re really white!” On the surface it may appear her comment was simply the quint observation of a clueless child, but in the ensuing silence her true message rang quite vociferously. Her revelation was, “Anthony, you’ve crossed over. No longer think of yourself as a part of the ‘under-class.’ Consider yourself as better, better than black.” Her mind was as childish as mine at that age and I’m certain her words were not spoken to be as intentional as I’ve describe them here, but the meaning was still the same. “Wear your whiteness as a badge of honor!” Even at that innocent stage of life she falsely perceived there was something inherently wrong with being black, a stigma from which she compassionately felt compelled to redeem her childhood friend by christening him white.

It’s something remarkable when an act of kindness, which is seen as the highest expression of human decency, is interpreted as the need to save someone from what makes them who they really are. An implicit propensity to liberate them from a God-ordained characteristic that drives the very culture and value system from which they ascribe their self-worth. Imagine how my childish mind reacted. Until then, I did not know being black was a wrong from which I needed to be saved. And who wouldn’t want to be acquitted of something wrong? Who wouldn’t want to be deemed acceptable and considered right?

It was then the door opened to recognize the duality renown sociologist, W.E.B DuBois described in his ground-breaking auto-ethnographic work, The Souls of Black Folk. He defines the internal conflict of subordinated groups as they experience this constant “sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.” DuBois recounts from his own upbringing as a mixed-race individual, “One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” It was in the bubble of this internal conflict, I would now struggle to understand my true value as a black person.

FREE FALLING

On one side of the mirror starring back at me was my black face, thought too inept to ever be good enough to be appreciated for its full beauty and on the other side my white mask, thought to beautiful to ever be truly me. In between was a deep, deep chasm slowly filling with the swilling hot steam of angry emotion. There was this increasing feeling of unspoken rejection I carried that grew almost simultaneously with the many friendships I constantly gained with whites with every passing school year. Finally, in my senior year of high school, the confusion I was experiencing inside erupted into bouts of requited anger that caused me to walk away from many of my well-meaning friends who happen to be white.

My life was festering at the bottom of that dark steaming chasm. I had willingly succumbed to its thick smoke of bitterness. Blinded by its numbing grip of rage, I convinced myself my thoughts against whites were justified because of the slights I endured. So unaware of the traumatic condition I was in, I was ignorantly preparing to stubble into the rest of my life living angrily with one-thirds of the world’s population. Completely desperate was my need to be rescued, but the fermentation of hate so intoxicated my mind and emotions, I was oblivious.

In my stupefied condition, when I was debilitated and face-down in the cesspool of malfeasance I created for myself, a rope appeared and gently touched my face. It was the grace of God reaching down to me in the form of a gracious white elderly hostess at a small Wisconsin bed-and-breakfast at which my wife and I stayed. There among the delicious sweat peach marmalade, made from her own recipe and the arrangement of comfortable and colorful quilted bedsheets that neatly adored our bed each night, she shined a light of hospitality that so overwhelmed the dark case I had set against white people, that I was forced to look up from my decrepit surrounding and acknowledge my indignation.

That weekend began a journey of healing as God’s bonds of love slowly lifted me out of my pit of despair and hatred. It would be there, standing at the top of that smoking chasm, feet firmly planted in a place of deliverance, that I would find my calling. I was not to walk away from that dangerous spot, but stand at the end of the well-worn path that leads to it and wave the flag of truth. Through our sin-nature, anyone can haphazardly drive into the ruts of that broad way and end up toppling over into the same chasm of error I suffered. Without the Holy Spirit, all men and women, regardless of race, are susceptible to the works of the flesh. For me, it was the anger and bitterness from indifference that drove me, for another it could be the pride and conceit that comes from self-preservation.

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)” In Him, we are united in our need for a Savior. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)”

WALK WITH ME, MY BROTHER -  TALK WITH ME, MY SISTER

But we know it doesn’t stop there. As we find ourselves saved from the pit of destruction and pointed in a new direction together, we must now walk down a narrower path to life (Matthew 7:13-14). While the road may not be crowded, it can still require some skill to navigate it properly with fellow Believers. Agreement is key (Amos 3:3)! Without it, division can creep in and derail the purposes of God. Agreement certainly takes prayer, but it also requires intentionality. This is where the work of ONE NATION Training happens. At the intersect of purpose and intentionality, our classes offer Christ-centered intercultural skill development that starts with self-awareness and ends with understanding the proclivities of your neighbor. At the end, Christians are not only able to build God’s Kingdom together, but show visible leadership in the area of racial reconciliation to a world reeling from the divisiveness of sin. Join us today and let’s show the world we can truly be ONE NATION UNDER GOD!

Anthony JonesComment