Colorblind, Tone Deaf & In Need Of A New Heart
"One can lynch a person without a rope or tree."
I have to be up front about the story that I'm about to share in this article. I'm ashamed of what I did and it's weighed heavy on my heart for a decade. I hope that through this not only can I find healing and restoration but, that it might be received in grace.
When I was in high school I had a very diverse group of friends. This had accumulated through multiple sports and clubs as well as through an afternoon arts school I attended. Most notably were my friends from the football team, many of whom had been bussed from Detroit to our suburb. We had school of choice in our district which meant that no matter where you lived you were welcome to enroll in our schools. It was a phenomenal crash course in inclusion and togetherness because we needed each other to survive. Our football team was split almost 50/50 with white students and black students. We bled together, sweat together, cried together and became victorious together. Honestly, I've had few relationships in my life as strong as that team as we walked 4 years together onto that field. We were comfortable with each other. That's where this story becomes problematic.
One day we were cleaning out the wood shop together because the assistant football coach was the teacher. It was an easy grade and the football players took it to horse around for an hour a day! While cleaning, we found a large slip knotted rope. I was shocked and uncomfortable with it being in the room but the other white students kept pushing me to set it on the table. This table that I was supposed to set this noose on had two black students. My friends, my teammates were sitting at this table. I was assured by the other white students that we were past that and it would be funny. They will laugh because our team is like the Titans (from remember the Titans). We don't see color anymore they said and it's "something from the past and you just found it". That's when I did it. I walked up and tossed it on the table and said "Hey, I found this, just wanted to show you".
I will never forget the look in their eyes.
One of teammates sitting at the table looked at the rope and looked at me saying "you're better than that." as he pushed his chair from the table. My other teammate Sid "this is not ok, this isn't like you." as he got up put his hand on my shoulder and walked out of the classroom. I hung my head in shame as the other white students and teammates came up to me laughing. It wasn't funny. I was ashamed. I'm still ashamed. Later that day I went to both of them before practice and apologized and asked for their forgiveness. Kindly and through a few tears and laughter we restored the relationship. They easily could have gotten angry and retaliated but they didn't. They accepted my repentance and explained why it's not ok. For being seniors in high school it was a surprisingly mature moment for all of us. I will never forget that day.
Growing up I was told that the best thing for us to do was to see everyone as the same. I learned that in an almost exclusively white school, in a mostly white neighborhood amongst all white teachers. I was indoctrinated to believe that equality meant sameness. I was told that to see color is to be racist. I didn't want to be racist.
My father was a foreman at one of the automotive factories and he would come home and complain about the UAW. He talked about the "lazy" people at the factory. I always heard about how those people who didn't want to work and only wanted welfare. What I didn't realize until I was older was that he was talking about his black co-workers. The UAW wasn't his problem it was that they were there to ensure everyone received an equal wage. People weren't being lazy, they were simply working while black. I soon realized that "those people" were the people of color under his supervision.
I grew up colorblind and tone deaf.
I wasn't really aware of my symptoms until that moment in the wood shop. After that moment I had a responsibility to change. That change was not to have the symptoms repressed but instead had to be transformed. I didn't really have the education on oppressed people groups nor did I have the bible background to see the necessity of liberation theology. When I went to college I enrolled in gender and ethnocentric history classes as my electives. I got to learn the true history of Jim Crow laws and the plight of people of color in America. This is not to say that I'm an expert but a few simple classes were eye opening. I also signed up for ministry classes through the Michigan District Assemblies of God. My eyes were not only opened but now I had information that I had to do something with.
In Ezekiel you see the people of Israel in exile and oppressed when a prophet stands up and speaks. Listening to the Holy Spirit, Ezekiel proclaims repeatedly promises that one day a new spirit will be put in the people. Not only will these people receive a new spirit but a heart made of flesh. When people are oppressed it's only a matter of time until the spirit is crushed however, God promised a renewed spirit. God promised to strengthen those held in a system against their will. God promised liberation! Also, God promised those with a heart made of stone that they will be given a tender heart. This has undertones of the original exodus from Egypt. Pharaoh had a heart of stone but refused to follow in humility with the liberating act of God. His heart of stone never became flesh because his desire to oppress and enslave, his system would crumble without the free labor. Nevertheless God liberated.
People of color owe white people nothing. They have been whitewashed enough. They have listened to the off key rhetoric long enough, God will strengthen their spirit. We will need to have our eyes and ears opened in only a way Jesus can. I think of the Gospel of John when in chapter 9 there was a man born blind.
"Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he may be born blind?"
Jesus said that it was neither but, that the works of God might be displayed in him. Then the blind man had mud placed on his eyes and was told to wash them. He was healed. He joined in the further liberation of others. We can join in the liberation of others to the glory of God. We may not be directly guilty of the long rooted sins against the people of color in our nation but, we have to do our part in repentance. For us to be washed of our colorblindness we need to get into the struggle with people. To unlock our tone deaf ears we need to listen to the spiritual songs of the oppressed. Our condition might not be our fault but the syndrome we inherited needs to be remedied. We need to take seriously the claims of people of color when they say they feel oppressed. Though I never put the knot around my friends neck I was complicit in the further "lynching" of people of color by not refusing to speak against it. With repentance and a new heart my eyes and ears are opening. Amen.