More Than Serving Tea


Another Lesson on White (Christian) Privilege From Cleveland

“I want everyone to know that the acts of the defendant is not a reflection of the Puerto Rican community here and in Puerto Rico.”  Cleveland Chief Assistant Prosecutor Victor Perez, at a press conference announcing initial charges against Ariel Castro.

When you are White, you never have to apologize for what another White person does, especially the really, really, really bad stuff. That is White privilege.

If you are White in America you are assumed to be an American. Not a U.S. citizen. Not naturalized. Not a legal resident of “fill-in-the-blank” descent. Just American. That is White privilege.

If a young White American bombs a federal building killing more than 160 people or guns down 20 elementary school children and 6 adults, no White American, male or female, in fear of retaliation, gets in front of the media and apologizes for White people. No officials during a press conference remind the audience that the acts of the defendant are not a reflection of White America. That is White privilege.

The kidnapping/rape/sick-to-your-stomach case in Cleveland is both unbelievable and hopeful. I desperately want more hopeful. I hope people like Charles Ramsey are in every neighborhood. I hope more missing children are found. I hope for justice and healing.

But I don’t know what to feel after hearing Maria Castro-Montes’ apology on behalf of the entire Castro family. I don’t know what is appropriate after hearing Cleveland’s chief assistant prosecutor address the pall of suspicion that falls over an entire community because of one person’s actions. (BTW, I can’t find a link to Perez’s comment I use at the start. I heard it on NPR this morning.)

Anger? Confusion? Disappointment? Resignation?

Why aren’t law enforcement officers and neighborhood religious leaders in front of the media apologizing for failing these three women, their families, the neighborhood? The women and a child were enslaved in their community. This didn’t happen in Puerto Rico. This happened in Cleveland. In America.

When news of a shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech started poring out, I remember emails and calls from colleagues and friends. We held our breath until the identity of the shooter was confirmed. And then we kept holding our breath. Koreans and Americans of Korean descent apologized. Young Asian American men were told in hushed voices and in knowing looks to lay low for a bit – retaliation  doesn’t necessarily distinguish between Korean American and, say, Chinese American. We felt under suspicion by the way media coverage used words to distinguish, differentiate, and define, reminding us that we were actually the “Others”.

I can’t do this turmoil in my heart justice. I can’t. I can’t believe Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight were enslaved and hidden in the middle of a neighborhood. I am amazed at their courage and at the story of their freedom. I am thankful Charles Ramsey didn’t ignore a woman’s scream for help. And I can’t stand that Ramsey’s past became part of the story and his words are becoming a minstrel show. I can’t stand that Perez felt it necessary and then publicly distanced an entire community from one person’s sins.

It’s only in God’s presence I can know deeply in my soul that my Asian-ness, what I often feel is my other-ness, is a reflection of God’s image. It is part of the plan. Just a part of the whole. We are all human, created male and female, in God’s image. Connected. Castro’s sin isn’t mine or Perez’s or anyone in the Puerto Rican community, but we are connected to one another through our humanity and our brokenness. We all sin.

 

In that way, my disappointment lies mostly with Christian leaders who stay silent on the issues of racial and social injustice, claiming those issues are not the gospel. How can what is happening to my brothers and sisters of any race or ethnicity not be a part of me and a part of how Jesus’ Good News changes the broken into wholeness? How can we as believers not come alongside Perez and Castro-Montes and say this isn’t about you being created in God’s image, your ethnicity and your race, but is about a broken majority culture our Church has both ignored and embraced?

That, my friends, is White Christian privilege.

 


I Saw Him Yelling So I Used My Voice

The guy was yelling at her so loudly that everyone in baggage claim area #4 watched them out of the corner of their eyes. He paused to point out the signage and how she had clearly bleep-bleep-bleeped it up. He seemed to grow taller and she continued to disappear into her already slight frame. I’m sure she wished the escalator would swallow her up while I hoped it would swallow him up.

Just a few minutes later as I head towards the platform to catch the train to remote parking I hear that yelling again.

There they were at the very end of the platform. The guy kept yelling and calling her names we tell our children are mean and shouldn’t be used. My heart was pumping as he kept yelling, flailing his arms, getting in her face and then backing off. I looked around and there were just a few of us at first, but after another three minutes a crowd was watching this unfold, keeping to the other end of the platform.

What would you have done?

Well, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t just stand there. Sometimes, and this may have been one of those times, the voice inside my head filter doesn’t work. I couldn’t ignore the voice in my own soul that told me to use my little voice.

So I did. Never mind how angry I also felt knowing that there were several other potentially more menacing types on the platform – dude, put your ski bag down and walk over here!

I walked up to her, put my hand on her shoulder while making sure I didn’t leave my bags unattended lest I look like the crazy one, and I said, “Ma’am, are you OK? Do you need some help here? Are you in any physical harm?”

And then I gave him a quick look.

She said she was fine, and then she sat up. And he took a few steps back and quieted down a bit. And then she stood up, said a few words to him, and then she walked just past me so that I was physically in between them on the platform. One minute later he walked away in a huff, leaving her on the platform and presumably leaving behind his ride home.

She and I got on the same train car, and she explained that she couldn’t find the right pick-up area. She went on to explain she got lost and that she was tired. She was trying to get her bearings straight after a verbal assault, and I again put my hand on her shoulder and told her that no one had the right to call her all the names that he did so that he could feel better about himself. And then she cried.

It’s been a slow ramp-up to Christmas. Maybe it’s the lack of snow. But that encounter at the airport so very late Sunday night made me think about Mary and how in a time when the world around her and the circumstances she found herself in could have rendered her voiceless she found the courage to use her voice and proclaimed God’s mercy and power.

I saw that guy yelling, telling one woman that she was stupid and silencing others with his anger. I didn’t yell, but I learned to use my voice.