Black, White, and Infinite Shades of Brown

by - July 17, 2013

I cannot believe I'm going to add my meager thoughts to the growing pool of commentary on the Trayvon Martin–George Zimmerman circumstance/trial/verdict/tragedy/travesty/I-don't-know-what-to-call-it. But I can't wrestle the ideas in my head to the mat without writing, so here goes nothing.

I don't think I'm a racist.

I don't use the N-word, never have. All my life I've been friends with people who have browner skin than I do. I've also not liked some of those people with browner skin--kind of like the blonder skinned people I've come across in life. I take some and I leave some of both the darker and lighter variety, so I must not be choosing friends based on the amount of brown in their skin. And I think this is a pretty good litmus test. If race is a non-issue, you are not a racist.

It's hard for me to say white and black, because none of us are either. It's never been a proverbial kind of black and white either. But I'll use the terms, since it's easier and that's what everyone's used to.

When salesmen (and women) come to my door to sell me something, my guard goes up. I treat everything they say to me as suspect because I know they are trying to make a sale.  Does that make me evil?

When I see families in the grocery store in which the females are wearing burkas, I watch them with intrigue, and wonder what they believe and why believe it, whatever it is because I understand that Islam is a wide umbrella of diverse beliefs. I don't do the same with a single Western-wearing family, be they white, black, Latino, or of some other geographical gene pool.

Am I profiling?
Is profiling always bad anyway?

It doesn't mean I wouldn't be friends with Arabs if I got to know them. I watch and wonder because I'm mesmerized by a culture I have little experience with and little connotative understanding of. So it's more curious than sinister, my fascination with the burka-clad women and their families.

I'm always sad for the families that feel a woman should cover herself to the point of impeding vision and comfort. (We have hot summers in South Carolina.) I wonder if Arab-Islamic culture is ashamed of the female body. I don't view the parts of female skin that men can expose without judgment, as something that must be covered at all cost. I don't see my body—or anyone else's for that matter—as a stumbling block for over-sexualized men.

 Thinking of men as over-sexualized would also be another stereotype, would it not?

And what of teaching our children about stranger danger? Is this all of a sudden not okay?

These are all taboo thoughts I wrestle with. Do they make me racist? a profiler? a stereotyper?

Mike said something in last Sunday's sermon that had nothing to do with the subject of the sermon (the church at Laodicea), but he managed to get it in anyway to our multi-cultural congregation:

The amazing thing is that our bodies are only earth-suits, And the earth-suits are all made of dirt. Some of us just have richer soil.

It's a lovely thought that conjures much about the artistry of our Creator in my imagination.

I don't define people by a physical characteristic. Not eye color, weight, whether or not you bite your fingernails, or have high cholesterol. Not even whether your skin is black or white.

Now, some of those characteristics might give me some insight into the soul and spirit behind the earth-suit, initially at least, but they aren't defining characteristics through which to view the sum total of a person.

The news this week tells me that much of America still sees society through the lens of race, and that makes me all kinds of sad. I like to think I'm further along on the road to race being a non-issue, and I wish we, as a nation, were too.

I've often wondered whether other nations, who, like America, have the stain of slavery in their history, have been able to let go of the atrocity and leave it in their past, which is the best any nation can do once slavery is part of their story. From what I know of Cuba, they have. They don't decipher between black Cubans and white Cubans. They just identify themselves as Cuban, recognizing a common heritage that is at once wonderful and flawed. Has England gotten past it? I don't know, but if so, how? We Americans need to learn this lesson.

I wasn't there when the circumstances that led to the death of Trayvon Martin unfolded. It amazes me that so much of the American public is willing to formulate opinions based on very limited knowledge of the facts, and many of us are not trial lawyers but, in fact, novices when it comes to the details of the American justice system. This says nothing about differing state laws, but that fact further makes my point.

Now, with that said, it appears to me that what resulted in the death of human being began with both Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman feeling threatened and viewing the other as suspect.

We still quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so often because his voice and his message are still necessary in our society even a half of a century later. With all respect to the brave and heroic Dr. King, this proves that he has thus far failed in his mission.

How refreshing it would be if his remarks were irrelevant and unnecessary today. That would be the greatest tribute our country could give this courageous man who spoke truth when it was unpopular.

Instead, we have two people who suspected one another and felt threatened by the other. And on the heels of the verdict this week, we have a nation guilty of making the same assumptions. When ill-will is carried out to its ultimate conclusion, it will end in death every time. It started in the Garden of Eden with the serpent, when Satan challenged Eve to look upon God's loving command as suspect and tempted her to feel threatened by God. The confrontation didn't end well for Eve.

And now, we are all fallen human beings capable in our sinful nature of the holocaust and slavery and murder and self-defense and self-promotion. Even at high cost to others. That's the kind of evil that lurks within every single person on planet earth from the garden until now. None of us are exempt from this plight. Even with our black and white skin and our high cholesterol.

That's what makes love so radical.

Our country is devastated that one human being can die by a bullet shot from the hand of another human being while the justice system can find no crime committed or a charge that will stick. This is the muddy matter we deal with on a fallen planet. It's not black and white. There are no easy answers.

In the end, no matter how rich our soil, all our mud-pie bodies have had the breath of God's image breathed into us by Almighty God--all of us. Despite the propensity for evil within us, God gave us value and deems us redeemable. All of us.

That makes the only viable solution at this point, love. Love is the one and only absolute that covers every other inadequate thing about us.

My hope is that love will be enough. For the grieving Martin family, the forever-changed Zimmerman family, and the still-divided United States of America.

Let him lead me to the banquet hall,
and let his banner over me be love.
Song of Solomon 2:4

Related Post: As Simple as Black and White

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  1. Thoughtful words and insights to a very difficult situation. Wish we could all live in harmony and share love even with the unlovable. . .

  2. One day, every tribe and nation and color and language and (fill in the blank) will bow at the feet of one King.

    I'm so grateful that God was so creative when he went to the effort to create people so uniquely by color and shape. I so long for the day when people around the globe will see color as something to celebrate, rather than divide.

    Thanks for being a part of #TellHisStory, my friend.


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