Posted by Chris Goforth
Last week I viewed a documentary entitled “The Color of Fear”. The documentary showed 8 men (2 – African-American, 2-Hispanic, 2-Asian and 2-white). The documentary filmed conversations they held over a weekend. The documentary was 90 minutes and then a 90 minute discussion with those who had viewed the documentary around our thoughts and feelings on what we watched.
What struck me the most in the film was one of the white men talking about how he had friends of all different colors and accepted people as they were? As the discussions progressed it became clear he wasn’t so progressive. He referred to the other men as”you people” or “your people”. When the other men discussed barriers to jobs or even moving about in society, he suggested they were the barriers. He tried to explain how he didn’t do any of those things to anyone and yet he wasn’t able to hear really what they were saying. The tension grew and I wasn’t sure he was truly going to be able to empathize with what they were sharing. As the film progressed we learn more about his story and how it played into his views.
As I processed the rest of the day I was reminded of where I came from. The prejudices of coming from an all white small country town. The mindset from my Dad was “white is right” and the only way to do things is my way. His preference for not wanting to have anything to do with anyone else who didn’t view the world in which he did. In school the only other kids who were different were the Native American kids and most of them lived on the Indian Reservation. I used to stay with my Aunts and Uncles who lived in smaller towns and it struck me as odd to find African-American families living in these little towns. I wondered why they were there, knowing it couldn’t be easy for them. When I was in middle school one of my Aunts joined the Red Cross as a Nurse and went to the Middle East. She ended up marrying a Jordanian man. I distinctly remember my Dad tell me we should never marry outside of our own race. This was also reinforced by a family in the church I attended who told me to marry outside of my race was to be unequally yoked. Sadly this was all part of the world I grew up in. I truly had no clue how impactful this would be as and adult.
That night I came home from work and my wife and I had a discussion around this topic about our own families and the messages sent to us. I posed the question if we really understood the privileges we held being white and living in America. I decided it was important we talk to our kids about this and continue to have an ongoing discussion about this so I could help my kids better understand it. I wasn’t sure how the discussion would go. I ended up having to go back and explain race and prejudices and recount history to my kids starting back to the Roman Catholic Church. We opened up a great dialogue as a family around where we have come from, all that has been done and much of it being done in the name of God, which again saddens me.
The concept of privilege and being white is not something I have always given much thought to. I have grown up in a world where I have been affirmed as a while male and been told I can do whatever I put my mind to. While I didn’t grow up in a wealthy family. I have always known I would make something with my life. I wasn’t planning on letting anything or anyone stop me from doing what I wanted and reaching my goals. Moving to Portland I have had to deal with my own stereotypes and prejudices, often struggling with accepting others who didn’t think or act like I did. Even within the church there are vast differences. Gay, alternative, hippies, atheist, Mormon’s, Catholics, Conservative Baptists, Wiccan, vegan, vegetarian, liberal, conservative, fat, Black, Hispanic/Mexican, Native American, mixed, welfare are all labels and terms I have heard, used and had to come to terms with in how I have viewed them and treated them. How I have engaged with them or held them at arm’s length. How my mindset has been shaped and framed from the prejudices of my family and community I grew up in.
I’m thankful for living in this city and how God has used it to challenge my beliefs. I know if I had stayed where I was at, I would never have been able to see others as individuals and people uniquely designed by a God with an amazing plan. I would never have been able to hear stories and see the world from a different perspective. While I still have a long ways to go. I see the key in really loving and accepting others is by entering into conversations with other, not being held back by our fears, but starting a conversation and listening to what they have to say, understanding life from their perspective, allowing their stories to really offer us insight into the world at large.
The questions I am left with are how many of us really understand the privileges we have been given, and particularly white men. How will we go about trying to truly mend the past atrocities? How does living out the love of God impact the way we view and see others? Are we really ever to see others and connect as being human beings? Will we always continue to put labels on others?