Wrangling With Racism

I published the following article exactly three years ago, on July 18, 2013. Tragically, it is more relevant today than ever.

It was a curmudgeonly time during the George Zimmerman trial. Heated. Cantankerous. Unfriendly at best. We heard one too many divisive comments on news interviews, social media, when out-and-about in our communities. Some outright racism. I suppose each side wanted to build their ranks, or defend their position, but it only made us acknowledge what a bunch of hard-headed, hard-hearted people there are on this planet.

While most of us strive for daily peace, some truly enjoy fighting. I’m talking about those who position themselves at the extremes of issues. They blend there with like-minded people in sweet security, or anonymity, and shoot off bombs of vitriol toward the polar opposition. The rest of us in the middle, between the poles of extremism, get the caustic fallout.

It’s no fun to realize that about humanity. On top of that, I feel guilty. Because I was born white. I belong to the group that gets a pass, even when I’m in someone else’s neighborhood.

I’ve received looks, sure, when I was the only blonde in a village in Guatemala. But no vigilantism. No forced removal for being the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood. I’ve gotten looks while sitting with my son in a local burrito joint in his youthful, working-class, Hispanic neighborhood in San Francisco. When I asked him why (it’s not often that I’m the one who stands out), he explained that I was out of my demographic. I was a surprise. But I didn’t get told to leave.

When he moved to the South Side of Chicago, he and his roommates were the only whites on the block. There were two more whites a couple blocks over, he told me. When he met them one day on a sidewalk, he wanted to acknowledge them but refrained because he didn’t want to be racist that way. Aw, it’s tricky noticing skin color but wishing you didn’t.

The day I visited, mine was noticed by three little neighbor girls. They stood staring as they were introduced. They had pretty names and careful rows of braids fastened by pink and purple barrettes. When I asked if it hurt, they stared harder. “Because I remember it hurting when my mom braided my hair,” I followed.

The oldest found her voice, “It did when I was little. But my head got used to it.” They perched on the fire escape and pressed their noses against the kitchen window, watching us sit there at the table. We were fish in a fishbowl. I heard the littlest describing my features to the older two.

Grandma upstairs hollered at them, “Girls, leave ’em alone! Get on up here now!”

They were just curious. I was out of my demographic again.

A guy who lived upstairs at that Chicago brownstone was under house arrest, a fact he shared with my son on move-in day. It mattered not to me. He was nice. He said “hi” and smiled as we brushed shoulders passing in the doorway. I know I stuck out like a silly cowlick, a blonde-haired white woman in a neighborhood I didn’t belong to. He didn’t ask me what I was doing there. He … well, he was polite.

As I left at dusk, the sidewalks were filled with people of all ages, including young-adult black males I’ve been told to fear. I’m not naive, I know about crime rates, bad guys, and all, but it’s illogical to size up individuals by collective crime data. It’s insensible to decide a person’s intentions based on their skin color, income or educational level, or their geographic location at a point in time. My son and his housemates were embraced by their community. People were neighborly. As a visitor, I was treated well there.

I don’t like that I get unmerited favor on this planet and others don’t. I have it easy. I’m Caucasian, straight, and comfortably middle class. I was born to a Midwestern farmer and his wife, for crying out loud. Others are up against prejudice, rejection, and hate just for being who they are. Their hearts dared to beat after they were born in the skin God gave them. They are hated by some because of it. I don’t know what it’s like to be despised for things like that.

Thankfully, in all this guilt and discouraging reflections, I got some relief when along came an old friend. I’ll call him Bert, because … well, because that name makes me laugh, it doesn’t fit him at all. Bert’s and my interaction didn’t start out as a relief, our points of views collided first.

During the Zimmerman trial, Bert shared a post about racism on Facebook. It suggested that whites are the victims, and included a picture of Trayvon Martin. Now you should know that since the day seventeen-year-old Martin was killed, I considered him a tragic victim of racial profiling (I still do, despite Zimmerman’s acquittal), so my protective reactions jumped up and wanted their say.

Which made me comment on Bert’s post, “As a Caucasian, it’s my responsibility to listen to people who experience being a minority firsthand, and to read reliable, unbiased information on the topic. Sociological stats make me side with young black males, who endure racial profiling (sometimes fatal) that we whites will never experience.” Something like that.

Bert and I engaged in a private back and forth after. I suppose it could have become ugly, as some people like to make you pay for disagreeing with them. But that’s not Bert. My friend is the classiest of men. We discussed race civilly, intelligently, calmly, and respectfully.

It turns out he’s been a white victim of racial profiling of sorts, the kind that ignores past service and evicts a businessman because the numbers need to be there. “Gotta have a certain number of minorities on the books” kind of thing, “so you’re out, thanks for nothing.”

I came to understand the statement he was making with his post. The picture and words that someone else created, and Bert shared, did an inadequate job of representing him. Bert had wiser words about it. I got to read them. He sees inequity and wishes skin color were irrelevant. He was just saying, “Sometimes it’s the white person who is the victim of racism.”

Bert took some risk addressing a potentially volatile topic on Facebook. I can relate to that as I publish this blog post. He was nothing less than wonderful as we dialogued our differing viewpoints. He was a timely reminder that respect is possible amid conflict. Bert did me a great favor by being himself. As did the nice man under house arrest in Chicago’s South Side who shared that narrow doorway with me.

Sure there are people at the extreme poles, and they’re scary. But the majority of folks are in the broad middle, where differences are reckoned with and mostly accepted, and where manners and respect are bestowed regardless.

Video and music credit goes to: 

“Don’t Shoot” – Heaven x Lil Chris shot by @PassportTrace, Published on Sep 5, 2014

In a World of Trouble

Why are you depressed, O my soul? Why are you upset? Wait for God! For I will again give thanks to my God for his saving intervention.

Psalm 43:5 (NET Bible translation)

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Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.

Philippians 4:8 (NIV translation)

Take Charge – On Solid Ground

Cindi Gale

John 8:32 – And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

When you’ve experienced the freedom of mind which comes with knowing the truth, you can’t wait to get all your philosophies over-hauled by God. You want to be in truth every second of every day, to stay free and see what opportunities God has for you. You recognize truth is what will enable you to avoid future entrapment and cruel currents.

Keep at it, and you will get very good at recognizing conflicting information. A current tells you one thing, but God tells you another. God’s is the one you choose to flow with. Watch the threatening current fall apart into disorganization because you didn’t fall for it.

rough water, for blogIf you’re struggling to get air today—if you’re circling in overwhelming currents trying to get you to go under—put your feet down. You’re not in the…

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Take Charge – Truth

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Cindi Gale

John 8:32 – And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

Is it scary to hear the truth? Often it is. If you’re praying and asking for the truth in your circumstances, be prepared that the truth might be tough to take. Nobody wants to realize a fact like, “The person you love is using you.” Or, “Your spouse is cheating on you.” Or, “That woman posing as a friend intends to steal from you.” Or, “Your boyfriend abused your children.” Or, “You are an addict.”

It’s not always good news. But if it’s true, staying blissfully ignorant is not in your best interests. Being a pawn of some thing, or someone with selfish intents is not a good place to be.

Whether we like the truth or not, it is empowering to know it. With the bad news, you need a strategy. You need…

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Take Charge – Ask Questions

Featured Image -- 10043

Cindi Gale

You don’t have to flow with every current or roll with every punch that comes along. Don’t assume if it happened, it was meant to be. Or destiny. Or fate. Or karma. Or God’s will.

Hebrews 11:6 (NIV) – And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Earnestly seek him. Question your circumstances. In every baffling situation, ask, “What is the deal here, God? Is this situation final? Is it beyond my control? Did you make a promise to me in the past about this? How do I deal with this situation the way you want me to?”

You can’t effectively deal with conditions unless you know the truth about them. Taking a stab at it is often futile. In many situations, it’s impossible to know the truth unless God reveals…

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Take Charge – Hope and a Future

Cindi Gale

In our lifetimes, we are given countless chances and opportunities. That doesn’t mean we always notice them. Or take them. Sometimes we see a chance—we even want it badly—but let it pass by. While others take charge of their lives and seize opportunities, our feet are stuck in mud. Or we’re caught in a strong current and can’t break free.

river for blogLet’s use a river metaphor. A man wants in, but is waiting for someone to set him safely on a raft in the center of the river. In another case, a woman is in the water and wants out—her river is cold and ruthless—but she stays there, captive to the current.

Both the man and woman think the power to change their circumstances is in someone else’s hands.

Do people see themselves as having a victim mentality? Most don’t. They have views such as “accept the bad with the good”…

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