Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Can We Celebrate This?

The Butler was on this past weekend (at least in our house – Hubby DVR’d it). And I was once again moved by the scene at the end when Cecil Gaines watches Barack Obama winning the presidency.

Because as much as I am opposed to the man’s politics and policies – as much as I disagree with the direction he has taken our country in the last six years – I was and still am quite moved by the fact that our country finally elected an African-American to its highest office. Seeing a movie like The Butler, which reminds us of how bad things were at one time for blacks in our country and how hard the fight was to turn that around, only makes me the more grateful.

My daughter, on the other hand, was surprisingly complacent about the whole thing. Maybe it was a big deal, she said, but it really shouldn’t have been.  It shouldn’t have mattered what color his skin was. Well no, honey, it shouldn’t have – but it did. That’s the whole point. And the fact that it doesn’t matter to you now is kind of the whole point.

Can we take a moment to celebrate the fact that – despite the whole “black lives matter” controversies of recent months – we are raising what is probably the most colorblind generation the United States has ever seen? My children had to be taught that some people see blacks as inferior, and they found this fact strange. There’s a victory right there. I don’t remember being taught that. I just knew. It was part of my experience; it’s not part of theirs.

In 1995 and 1996, I worked as a temp in an MCI sales office in Springfield, Missouri, with an African-American receptionist named Belinda, who became a close friend. This was during the O.J. Simpson trial – and in a city about an hour north of the Arkansas border where a road sign informed you that the local Ku Klux Klan chapter sponsored the clean-up of that stretch of highway – so she and I had a lot of talks about race relations during that year together.

I remember the day she told me that her parents believed that every white person in America thought like Mark Fuhrman – that all white people hate black people. I was stunned. You mean to tell me that, if they walked in this door and saw me sitting at this desk . . . didn’t know me from Adam . . . knew nothing about my background, my faith, my beliefs, my experiences, my heart . . . they would look at the color of my skin and immediately assume that I hated them?? Yes, she said, they would. That had been their experience.

Stunned, I tell you. I was completely stunned.

She was quick to tell me that she certainly didn’t believe that – her life experiences had been quite different. And her daughter’s experiences had been better yet – her biracial daughter had never experienced any significant prejudice that she was aware of in her fourteen years to that point (despite living in a city where blacks were a very small minority). My friend had much hope for the future of race relations in our country and in that community in particular.

Can we take a moment to celebrate the differences in life experiences in the three generations of that African-American family?

I’m not so ignorant or sheltered as to believe racism has been eradicated in America. Frankly, I’m realistic enough to believe that it never will be eradicated in America . . . in this world . . . or in this life. Humanity is just that sinful. But in the midst of difficult times in our country, I would love to hear more people celebrating that, by the grace of God, we are not who we used to be.

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