Over the last few months, Steve & I have been talking and reading a lot about the past century of African American history, lingering racial injustice & structural inequality, and the church’s role in racial reconciliation.
We’ve talked extensively together and we’ve talked with a few people in our church about how we can better address racial reconciliation in our congregation. Then, a few weeks ago, Steve & I got to attend the Stronger Together 2017 Justice Conference here in Oklahoma City.
A few other members of our church attended, but it was mostly people we had never met before. The conference was full of influential people in the OKC area who are working towards structural equality and racial reconciliation in different areas throughout our city.
By far the biggest benefit of the conference was meeting new people. It was no coincidence that as I walked in the door, a sweet lady, who was African American, stopped me and asked when my baby was due. I told her it was twin boys, and she excitedly told me about her twin grandsons that are coming this summer. Her name was Marsha.
We were assigned to the same table, and as we ate dinner we talked about her many years working in OKC public schools. I loved hearing her heart for children and equality in the classroom. She was adamant that children of different races, from different backgrounds, and different social/educational strengths need to be together in the classroom to learn from each other.
Throughout the conference, we did a lot of discussing issues at our tables. One question we addressed was, “What is Justice?” One man talked about teaching his sons that justice was being treated well or rewarded for good actions, and having negative consequences for wrong actions.
When it was Marsha’s turn to speak, she addressed his answer. She believed that his view of justice was correct, but lamented that she had had to teach her sons something different: that frequently when you do right, you will be treated unjustly. She specifically mentioned teaching them to keep their hands out of their pockets when in a store, in order to avoid even the appearance of suspicion. She thought that by the time she had grandchildren, she wouldn’t have to teach them the same thing. But here we are in 2017, and little black boys, like her twin grandsons, will still have to learn those hard lessons early in life.
This observation really hit home for me & Steve. Our white twin boys, the same age and in the same city, will never have to learn how to behave so far above suspicion in the grocery store. And that is not justice.
This story points to one of the main things I took away from the conference: that in my own life, privilege is more often what is not there than what is. I don’t like to think that I benefit from my skin color in any way, but in my day-to-day life, it’s the assumptions that are not made about me, or the suspicions or prejudices that people don’t have towards me that benefit me in a way that an African American in the same shoes wouldn’t experience.
This conference did for me exactly what Marsha said a diverse classroom environment does for children. Meeting people from different backgrounds with different experiences and discussing such difficult and divisive topics in a open and honest way helped to open my eyes about what the world is like outside of my white suburban life, and the need for the church to come alongside African Americans, minorities, and refugees to heal the racial divide that it would be so much easier to ignore.