Reverse Racist (or why I need a full-time editor)

After watching a couple of episodes of Making a Murderer the other night, my husband and I were “cleansing the palate” if you will, or rather letting our blood cool, by watching an episode of Superstore. (Which should definitely be on your watch list. But only if you appreciate the quick, smart-witted, impertinent comedy genre that makes the twenty-first century awesome.)

In this one scene Amy, played by America Ferrara, succumbs to pressure to use a Latina accent in order to push her salsa samples. Customers begin to gather at her counter and this one older white woman, with a big smile on her face, begins asking Amy questions about her background and country in this s l o w, raised voice. Of course, it’s completely making fun of this inane tendency some people have, but for the first time, I realized and exclaimed to my husband, “Oh my goodness, I really have done that!” And I wanted to hide under my couch from embarrassment. My apologies people of the world. (If you don’t watch this whole episode, you have to at least check out this clip:

Sometimes good hearted earnestness can come across as patronizing. I get that. My friend and I even joke that we are in the “reverse racist” phase (it’s a thing–google it). I’m just saying, I do have this tendency to get overly excited when I get to meet someone of a different ethnicity. Like at the pool this summer when I heard a woman with an accent call out to her kids. I walked over to find out where she was from and how long has she been here, and we had a great conversation. Nice right? Just to be clear, I made the extra effort because she was from another culture and not because I’m that friendly. My friends with accents are now like, “so you’re my friend because of my accent?”

Yes. No. Maybe. I don’t know, ok!

My point is, this whole “be the bridge” thing and entering this race discussion can be pretty awkward for some of us folks. But after watching the Reconciliation Table discussion last year at {IF:} and reading over Latasha Morrison’s Be The Bridge study guide she offered up, I felt like I had the tool to actually make a step toward the more interwoven life I desire.

You know the first thought that always pops in my head when I have wanted to engage this discussion? “Racism isn’t really an issue anymore. So if I bring it up, I’m just bringing up past wounds. No one likes to be pitied.” Do you ever have those types of thoughts? I wonder how much my privilege has become ignorance, and frankly, and a lame excuse to remain a passive by-stander rather than an intentional bridge builder. Maybe I don’t need to bring up racism or prejudice all the time, but I have come to understand that I must at least listen. ( ). And when I listen, I hear the drumbeat of justice beating. I want to beat that drum, even if I don’t exactly have the rhythm just yet.

A good friend from church and I decided we would give Be the Bridge Table a shot, and invited women at our IF: Local to be a part of our group last summer.

We had six sign up. All white.

Undeterred, we decided to specifically call and invite a more diverse group of women to join us. Everyone was a little confused at first as to what it was about. That’s primarily due to the fact that we (I) felt very uncomfortable about how to word it.

(ring, ring – that’s the sound telephones used to make)

Yolanda: Hello?

Me: Hi Yolanda, it’s Marijoy, how are you?

Y: I’m good Marijoy, how are you?

Me: Good! Hey, so Cass and I are doing this discussion table thing this summer and, well more like a reconciliation table, but not because we think there’s a problem
really, just that we want to understand more about different races. I mean not like human race, we’re all human, but like different ethnicity. So you’re different, I
mean like you have had a different background and experiences, and we’d love for you to be a part. (shaking my head at myself)

Y: That sounds great! Some of my undergrad is actually in Racial Studies and this is really important to me.

Me: (big sigh) Thank God! I mean, that’s amazing! Hey, so, do you want to lead our group?

I decided Cass should do the talking. I think it went over much better. In fact, when she posted it to our church’s chat room, we had some really affirming, eager responses.

Before we began meeting, I read this powerful post by Rachel Held Evans that challenged some of my assumptions and inspired me to keep pressing in. Before our first meeting, Cassie and I did a lot of praying, reviewed the study guide, outlined the flow, and set out delicious refreshments. First on the agenda: introduce yourself and tell us why you want to be a part of this group. When it was my turn to introduce myself, I knew enough to acknowledge that I don’t know what I don’t know, but I do know we ARE different colors and maybe instead of avoiding this discussion by claiming to be “colorblind” we should learn to celebrate our differences. (“True Colors” was playing in my head. I may have had tears in my eyes.) The woman next to me was this older, graceful black woman that I had been eager to get to know. It was now her turn to introduce herself. “I’m Erma, and I’m 61, and I don’t think we need to have this discussion because the Bible says there is no Greek or Jew, male or female. I am race-less, colorless, culture-less and gender-less. I really hope we aren’t having this discussion because of white guilt.”

Embarrassed emoji.

That first meeting did not go at all how Cassie and I expected. I don’t know, maybe I expected that we would all be on the same (my) page. Which is completely ludicrous since it was a DIVERSITY table. The discussion grew pretty tense at some points. Some felt that Jesus should be the only focus and that if we engage the topic of racism, we actually can create more discomfort by highlighting differences. Some women had experienced hurtful thoughtlessness or outright prejudice. Some women were angry and wanted to blame someone. But the snacks were good.

Everyone was pleasant and we concluded with the prayer from our study guide. Then we all hugged and said good night. The next morning I shot off a Facebook message to Latasha basically saying, “What the hell have you gotten me into? Y’all were so harmonious up on that {IF:} stage!”

“Don’t give up!” she quickly replied.

We stuck with it and spent some more time just getting to know each other. Sometimes tears were shed, we laughed at ourselves, we admitted our assumptions, and we learned so much from each other.

I’m not going to reveal everything we learned. You need to do your own table and discover that for yourself. I don’t care if you’re like me and either avoid or over-compensate. It’s worth the discomfort. Sure, it is messy. But here’s where I land: Jesus goes into the mess, so why shouldn’t I? All of us, I think, need a space to really see each other, humbly listen, and have a voice. Be the Bridge can be that space.

Almost every single time I’ve typed “bridge” my overeager fingers typed “bride” instead. It hit me: Be the Bride.

Now, I know I like to talk about this, about what it means to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Something that takes our identity from solo to communal. From Jesus loves me to, “what does it mean that God so loved the world?” I just have this feeling that I’m not the only one with the ache…for restoration…for freedom…for unity. And I also think none of us really wants to avoid that desire, just maintaining the status quo until “the end” (Jesus comes back). I mean sit and watch sitcoms, yes, we do want to do that. But just let everything stay the same? Live and die and not change something? No, thank you.

Jesus did come into this broken world as a bridge to the outsiders. To urge the ones blinded by privilege to get uncomfortable. And He again and again and again stooped in the dust to restore dignity, touched the untouchable, cried with the grieving, loved the hated, and celebrated those unseen.

Do you remember that you, me, we are the outsider? The hurting? The broken? Where would we be without Jesus building that bridge back to God?

And He built that bridge so that we could have a bridge back to each other.

You are a bridge. You are a bridge from your kids to the world, from your husband to your family, from a friend to a friend, from Jesus to your neighbor, from Austin to Uganda.

And we are a bride-a group of bridges set on being the vibrant, beautiful reflection of King Jesus so that the world can know His love now. (Your Kingdom come, on earth…)

How are we doing with that?

We are bearing witness to the continued struggle of power, culture, and beliefs. Never before has the world been so connected—through Facebook, podcasts, and Netflix. So what a privilege we have, to live in this time of connectedness. What a privilege that we have no excuse for ignorance. What a privilege we have such access to people and places. What will you do with your privilege? What does Jesus ask you to do with your privilege?

I watch TV.

Also, I fumble my way through hard conversations and get a better glimpse of who each of us is made to be.


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