The other day, my friend texted me to ask how I was doing after a jarring exchange I had last week with a Chinese DVD seller on the bus that I had shared on social media.
Just ran into my favorite Chinese DVD seller on the bus. I moved to stand across from her and said “Long time no see” in Chinese. She moved over so I could sit next to her and we started talking in Chinese. She asked me if I had gotten married yet and I explained no one wanted me. She said I should hurry because I was getting old. She said maybe I could find a Chinese guy. I told her that we both knew Chinese didn’t like black people and she said it’s because black people are bad. “Most black people are bad. Chinese people and white people all know this.” She told me two months ago a black person stabbed her and that black people steal her DVDs. She said that a white person called for help when she was stabbed and that they always pay for their DVDs before taking them. “You’re not black,” she said, “if a Chinese person got to know you they’d see this. Black people are scary, you’re not scary.” As she said this, a little black boy, maybe 5 or 6 years old, sat across from us staring at us confused that we were able to talk to each other. I wondered if he was exempt from her bad people conclusion. My eyes stung. I’m sure had we been speaking English, she wouldn’t have dared to say these things on a bus full of black people. I wasn’t sure why she was being so candid with me since she admitted she wouldn’t have remembered me if I hadn’t come up to her and spoken. I even asked her why she didn’t think white people were dangerous because they kill big groups of people with guns and she said she didn’t know. She went on to say that if people had a chance to work together with blacks it might be possible to think otherwise but without that people would continue to think black people were just bad people.
When I got off the metro there was a black family busking singing “We’ve come this far by faith.”
I want my people to do better. I want all people to do better. Am I naive to think we can be better than this?
Here’s what I told him:
Oh yeah, I cried but had to get it together because I led small group that night.
Wednesday night I went and watched 13th and bawled.
[Wednesday afternoon] I got a bout of anxiety answering someone’s question about race.
Literally, of being black.
Like, I want to tap out for the weekend and just be able to think about whatever it is that people who aren’t black get to fill their thoughts with.
Or I want to be able to give in fully to the growing rage inside me and tell everyone what I really think and ruin all those relationships, to just set patience aside and be real.
But neither is possible. No tapping out. No being impatient.
Trying to figure out how to stay healthy and strong mentally and emotionally sometimes with everything going on.
Trying to figure out how to handle these emotions with care so they don’t turn into hate or break me from the effort.
Thank God for Jesus.
2 Corinthians 4:8-11 “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.
Trying to convince myself that this is better than the comfortable complacency my neighbor gets to wear.
To not envy that.
To love that somehow the life of Jesus is revealed when I’m patient.
But scared that it’ll break me. Cause, you know, I’m not Jesus.
To be able to be episodically concerned, to pick it up and examine it, and then to put it down is something I feel my stubborn white friends get to do [when it comes to race].
Like playing house and toying with adulthood when I was a kid.
I wish God would just unharden hearts or unblind eyes—even if they’re mine. Especially if they’re mine and I’ve imagined a hardness and blindness in others that doesn’t exist. I could wake up tomorrow having been wrong this whole time about prejudice and bias.
If He were here in front of me, I’d latch myself to His leg until He caved. How magnificent that He could ask for forgiveness for the people who crucified Him as He was dying. I am so far from Jesus.
There was a panelist at the showing of the 13th who said, “If you want to talk to Republicans about criminal justice reform talk to them about how it will save their money to let people out from jail, don’t talk to them about race.” Is this what we’ve come to? ‘Keep your racism, we won’t bother that. But here, let me tell you how you can also keep more of your money to yourself. Don’t think about your neighbor, think about how much more money you’ll have.’ As though the love of money isn’t the root of all evil and the second greatest commandment isn’t to love our neighbor as ourselves. It’s ok if racism continues to permutate generation after generation if we can appease these people by appealing to the bottom line.
Anyway, that’s how my week was. Thanks for asking.
Tuesday night, after my ordeal with the Chinese woman on the bus, I shared as a prayer request with my small group my fear that in calling out racial injustice I will lose friends in the church or that I will feel censored by social pressure to not be that angry black woman that no one wants around because white people would really prefer to not have to think about the unsettling things that I can’t not think about. I worry that every time I say something, one less person listens, I get invited to one less party, I get friend zoned by one more guy for being too black or too insistent about racial justice. Maybe none of these are true, but these mental calculations run almost continuously in the back of my mind eating up my battery life, slowing me down. To speak or be silent? To make or lose friends? I have taken the temperature of the room. I know that to speak is to alienate. Like the Japanese saying, the nail that sticks up gets hammered down. Or as my friend put it, “There’s a cost associated with carrying this particular cross.”
I also fear that in learning more about the history and reality of racism I will be eaten alive by the very thing I’m trying to cure like the nurses during the Ebola outbreak who exposed themselves to the disease, treating patients without proper protective gear. I haven’t learned yet how to handle this stuff without contaminating myself, without some of the hate rubbing off on me.
I spent just three weeks compiling a list of 200 examples of discrimination against blacks, I’ve read 4 books on race that either end on a discouraging note or were written over 100 years ago and still seem all too relevant for today. In the past month I’ve seen Selma and the 13th. I spent two afternoons listening to rap and hip hop music about the struggle by Tupac, Kendrick Lamar and OutKast. I am haunted by King Solomon’s words, “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow, the more knowledge the more grief.” I’ve read about the church’s defense of slavery and every other form of discrimination and paced back and forth in my bedroom talking myself out of leaving the church altogether because of its hypocrisy—a hypocrisy I’ve already seen drive too many people away, a hypocrisy I fight against daily. Solomon taunts, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” But I am drawn back by love for Jesus and concern for the church. I resonate with Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:28-29, “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?”
What do I do with all this?
I have been steeped in these accounts for just six weeks—though I have known of them for much longer—but I, observing from a position of relative privilege, marvel at the resilience of blacks who are less fortunate than I am who have been living these truths their entire lives and don’t need books to tell them how bad it is, how bad it’s been, the toll it takes. The only shock I feel about rioting now is not that it appears to swell up from nowhere to happen in the first place but that it does not happen with greater frequency, that we’re able to contain ourselves at all.
I wonder if I’m not making things harder for myself. When I’m honest, I know that I’ll be ok. Mostly. The only thing my blackness may cost me that I really want is a husband. But perhaps that is my naivety speaking. Up at night with my mind racing contemplating all these things, Solomon lures, “What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.” For I have learned to be as “white” as the whitest of them like a lived piece of performance art done in exchange for acceptance. Dissent takes on a darker and darker hue. In a world littered with selfish motives, caring for those who are certain to be less fortunate than me when I could just take what I can get and go on my merry way feels deviant and fake. There’s no social affirmation for selflessness. I’m tempted to give up like Solomon and call it all a meaningless chasing after the wind. The weak suffer what they must.
I hear well-meaning people say change takes time and the echoes of “justice too long delayed is justice denied,” redden and warm my ears. I have found myself in tears multiple times over the past weeks wondering how we’ve survived and been amazed that a people that have been as plowed under as we have could sing, “We’ve come this far by faith/leaning on the Lord/Trusting in his holy word/He never failed me yet” as though our history isn’t one long record of being failed at the hands of His followers. I almost lost it when I read that Billy Graham originally opposed Martin Luther King’s methodology and the civil rights movement because he disliked public protest and favored a gradualist approach.
I felt uncomfortable to learn that a friend of mine hates Black Lives Matter and thinks that racism is less serious of a sin than abortion. I smile and engage with him with the knowledge that I come second to him—no third, behind white people and fetuses—clanging like a din in the background distracting me from every word he says. I burn inside knowing that in his love of theology he has skipped over the passage that says, “You have heard it said ‘Do not kill’ but I tell you anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell,” as though his disregard for certain lives does not say these things just as loudly as the words themselves, or “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” I go home and take my anger towards this person to God asking to be delivered of it. In my reading, I encounter a sentence by C.S. Lewis in the Screwtape Letters that gives me pause, “If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?” I think back to all those times I defaulted on love owed my neighbors. I wrestle with my lack of love for my white brother who trivializes the sin of favoritism while he trumpets his lack of love for blacks to social affirmation.
The worst thing that can happen to me though is not to never see the day where my people are actually treated as equals and no longer discriminated against. Though I long for that day, there is something worse than not seeing it. At least for me, the worst thing that can happen is if I allow myself to get eaten up by hate. If hatred of structures and sin turns into hatred of people I have lost something of far greater worth than temporal equality. Without love I have nothing, I am nothing, I gain nothing. Even and especially love for my “enemy,” for in this way I am truly His child. Romans 12:21 says, “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” 1 John 3:14-15 issues a warning of even more gravity, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that eternal life does not reside in a murderer.”