Note: This was originally written in mid April, as I was recovering from knee surgery. I am just now getting it up on the blog!
As I write this article, I am listening to Dan Patrick's radio show on ESPN radio. The discussion is full of the recent comments made by a radio talk show host, Don Imus, about players on the Rutgers University's women's basketball team. By the time you read this, it will undoubtedly have died down, enough news cycles will have passed that it might even be hard to remember what exactly happened. It will be “just another racial/sensationalist event” where a white person seemed to speak unfortunately about someone who is Black/Asian/Hispanic/"insert-minority-classification-here".
That's too bad. These events keep happening, seem to be happening more all the time, and not yet have we learned what is really at stake here.While Imus appears to have been VERY contrite, and has done what the majority white culture requires he do to hopefully learn exactly how what he said was wrong and stupid, we in the majority white culture won't have learned a thing. What he did was say out loud what too many think in the majority white world. And our thinking is pretty much wrong-headed when it comes to race.
Now, I am a white person. I have my racial prejudices. I’m not proud of this fact, but I know I was raised in an American culture of white privilege. It's true of most of us. What matters isn't that this is true, but what we are going to do with it. I am the chair of the Wyoming Conference's Commission on Religion and Race, and was a member of the North Texas Conferences' Anti-Racism team. I have had my eyes opened to many things, through this training. One is that it is a privilege to be able to say, as many white people do, that "I am color-blind".
What we need to realize is that it is from a position of power that we have the ability to say we don't see race. We alone have the power to ignore or notice race. Our brothers and sisters of color (folks of African descent, Asian descent, Hispanic heritage or First Nations heritage, really anyone of a minority classification or status), have no choice in how they are seen. It is the first point of introduction, it is inseparable from that all important "first impression". Being white or Caucasian is the norm, it is the nominal state. While we have the choice whether to work with the race or not, whether we choose to ignore, value or devalue it, they do not have that choice. They MUST notice us as white. They must work with us, because we are the majority. We are everywhere! They must notice that we have the power to choose whether to notice or not. And honestly, we all notice. And what we do with it is one example of our privilege.
I am privileged to be able to ignore it or not. I benefit from the white people around me not thinking about me through some progression that may include; "Hey, what race is he?" "Is he a physical threat?" Is he a threat to my daughter?" Is he a threat to my job?" "Is he smarter than me?" "Is he legally here?" Every person of color, every identifiable minority you could name has this swirling around them everywhere as they go through their day.
Each time there is some wrongheaded or ignorant comment made by someone who is white, we return to the wrestling match of race in America. And we find that it is still too difficult a problem. We forget, we move on. Imus said he's sorry; he was probably sincere. He will have probably learned something. But the stereotype of black women that he propagated and reinforced has not gone away. The ones who were defamed, who were mis-portrayed have not found relief. There is no redemption, no escape from the stereotype for them in the same way that Imus will ultimately receive.God teaches us in Scripture that Jesus died for all of us. We are all worthy of redemption, we are all worthy of forgiveness. Imus is forgiven. But lots and lots of people still think of African-American females in the way that Imus referred to them. Redemption has not happened for them. And so we in the Christian church are not yet done.