I Am Not Colorblind
July 12, 2023
Twice, now, I’ve been asked how I feel about being part of a very diverse community, in terms of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity. It happened a couple months back in a job interview with a Unitarian Church, and yesterday during my interview for admission to seminary.
I am about as white as they come, and I am a heterosexual woman with a graduate degree. In the seminary interview, I talked about how I’ve never experienced discrimination, I simply haven’t any direct personal experience. Even as a very large woman, I don’t recall ever having been disregarded or marginalized in business because of my size or gender. If it happened, it didn’t register. Perhaps I’m so conditioned, it went right over my head. Or maybe it’s due to the fact I was in the healthcare industry, which is comprised of over 75% women, most of whom have college degrees. But it’s more likely nothing truly significant has ever happened to me in terms of my size or gender.
When I learn of the things that happen to my black and brown neighbors, I am often flabbergasted. It doesn’t seem possible the things that happen actually happen. That’s how removed I am from racial discrimination in my day-to-day life. Oh, I believe it. It isn’t possible to deny or minimize what is happening. I have not one doubt this country is a terrifying place to be a person of color in 2023. It always has been, but things feel exceptionally tenuous and volatile right now.
When I hear about the atrocities perpetrated against LGBTQ+ people, I am not only shocked but perplexed. Why? I have found people from the community to be intelligent, patient, kind, gentle, loving, and resilient. And in spite of the fact I may be playing to stereotype, here, I’m going to say they’re also generally witty as all hell! I am privileged beyond measure to count many among my chosen family.
It’s deeply troubling to see what’s happening to my more vulnerable neighbors. And knowing myself as I do, I know it would be impossible for me to not call out wrongs when I see them. There may be repercussions to that, but it is unlikely that would deter me. I am a big woman who lives a big life and I have a big mouth and I use it. I say what I think, I say what I feel, and I speak out against injustice.
Still, I struggle with how to answer the question, “How do you feel about being part of a very diverse community, in terms of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity?” I hesitate to say, “Some of my best friends are black.” That’s the stereotypical response white people use to convince others, and themselves, they are not racist. But in my case, some of my best friends are people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community. I can say that, and at the same time I recognize full well that doesn’t mean I’m blind to our differences.
Recently, I was out with friends at a bar, and we began interacting with people at another table. We ended up joining them and spent several hours in conversation. One woman worked in non-profit. We were talking about racism, and I said, “I ask my friends about their experiences, and I often ask about the right way to express my support.”
She responded, “It’s important to do the work, study on your own, and not expect people of color to educate you on discrimination. It puts a burden on them, and that’s not their responsibility.” That hit me square on hard. She’s absolutely right, of course. I have done some reading, but I’ve not been deliberate about expanding my understanding. I recognized I wanted to make that change.
I’ve stepped up my investment in learning more about these critical social issues. I’ve found the Straight White American Jesus podcast especially helpful. Podcasters Dan Miller and Bradley Onishi are religious scholars who tackle the tough topics at the intersection between politics, religion, and marginalized populations. They’re committed to calling out this nation’s slide into, or rather slide back into, white Christian nationalism.
The more I interface with the progressive Christian community, the more I understand and internalize inclusivity and acceptance. And yet, the progressive Christian community is overwhelmingly made up of upper middle-class, college-educated whites. According to the most recent Pew Research Center study, 88% of Unitarians are white, 43% have incomes over $100,000, 31% have four-year college degrees, and a whopping 36% have post-graduate degrees. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’m not sure how I should feel about that. Regardless of my discomfort in being part of such an elite group (yes, I’m using that word “elite”), I fit squarely in this demographic. I’m comfortable here, for better or for worse. I fit. For the first time in my Christian experience, I fit.
I firmly believe there’s tremendously good work happening as a result of the collective efforts of the progressive Christian community. Those values and the resulting activism are firmly rooted in progressive Christian traditions. And because of that, more than any other reason, I fit. So, I’m staying. I can do my best good work as part of this community. If I see more and better opportunities, I will absolutely join those efforts. That’s who I am. I want to do right, and I want to do good. And so now there’s my white savior complex showing, right?
It was my bi-racial niece who explained the concept of the white savior trope in the movie, The Blind Side. I felt so stupid I hadn’t recognized it, but I clearly recognize it now. Should we shy away from telling stories about the good which can result from white parents deliberately creating multi-racial families through fostering and adoption? I want to believe those stories are critical on so many fronts. Those stories can change attitudes, change minds, and even change the direction of society. Is it racist to believe white people can, and do, save black children? I could ask my black friends, and I will! Is that fair? Maybe not, but I’ll do it anyway. I’m comfortable in the knowledge my friends know me well enough to recognize if something I say is questionable, it’s likely unconscious bias. I do not set out to offend or harm. They also know me well enough to know I’ll take their feedback very seriously, and I will alter my behavior moving forward based on new learning and expanded understanding.
I have black friends, Asian friends, Latinx friends, and friends from the LGBTQ+ community. I don’t say that to make myself sound like the best most superior kind of liberal. I say that because it’s fact. And yet, I recognize that just because my chosen family is a diverse group of folks, doesn’t mean I’m devoid of racism. It doesn’t mean I’m able to comprehend what it feels like to be treated as less because of skin color. It doesn’t mean I’m not perplexed by the concepts of gender fluidity and non-binary. I can try to understand, but I’ll never know how it feels. I’m not afraid of those differences. And I want diverse people in my life. But I’ll never be able to walk a mile in those shoes. As much as I’d like, all I’ll ever be capable of is empathy and love. I can and have and will continue to educate myself and grow in empathy and love for vulnerable communities. That’s not me trying to convince you I’m the best most superior kind of liberal. It’s just who I am.
Here I am at the end of this piece, and I still don’t know how to answer the question, “How do you feel about being part of a very diverse community, in terms of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity?” Or have I answered? If I have answered, how do I answer next time in less than 1,350 words??? Geez.
I Persevere. And life goes on.