Thursday, April 12, 2018

A white woman walks into a black church. A social experiment.



The precursor to this experiment is that I am a white woman, a single mom of three white children and my home church is predominantly white. Most of my closest friends are white and the community I live in is largely white. I live in a middle class lifestyle and live in the absolute abundance of white privilege. If you want to know personal view of white privilege, it is that I despise it. I am, inherently, part of the problem because I am white. Though I do however, challenge my belief system, vocally stand up for racial justice and do not personally carry with me a taught racist belief system, I am systematically a part of what divides us.

A few years ago I read an article that spoke about the actions we can take to make change. Surround yourself with people who look, think and act differently then you.  To create open and non judgmental or prejudice dialog about what it is to be a person of color. Show up without the defense system that I am personally not racist and listen to the truth of what it is to be on the receiving end of the atrocity that is our judicial system, our school system, our health system, are segregation of society and judgment on those who start out life without privilege of any kind. I can tell you this, being white means you are a part of this problem. There is no defense card here for you. You live, breathe, eat, drive and walk this Earth with ease. You do not live in fear, the kind of fear that people with dark skin are born into. 

I decided that in order for me to gain further perspective I did need to make myself uncomfortable. How I chose to do that was to go to a church in a different community than mine, a community where the demographic is that of low income and much poverty. A town with section 8 housing and that people belittle. I chose a Baptist church that is roughly 98% black. I needed to enter with a sense of curiosity and be receptive to the possibility I am simply not welcome. I felt nervous, excited, anxious and beyond willing to show up. If I can't walk into a church with people who look differently than me than how could I really show up in a community that looks differently than me. 

The first night I entered the church I received smiles. I was openly embraced with hugs and was told how happy they were I was there. I sat down in the middle of the pews and listened in awe to the most beautiful gospel music I had ever heard. My soul immediately felt overjoyed. The sermon spoke so much truth that I left an overwhelming sense of belonging. 

I decided I should return. I went a few times and each time was greeted in the same way and was welcomed to become a member of the church. I recall an older woman holding my hand and we walked together talking about how wonderful it was to be so tall as woman and how much we enjoyed one another. 

The next experiment was bringing my children. I wondered how they would feel being the only white children in Sunday school. What I noticed was that they did not notice. It did not occur to them there was any difference, nothing to note whatsoever. This made me immensely happy. My youngest son was having a tough time in Sunday school one morning, so a sweet man decided to take on the task of keeping him happy and entertained instead of disrupting my time receiving the word. He was so kind and understanding and my son just adored him. 

In the times I went to that particular church I never, not for one second, felt out of place. In fact I have not been to a church where the members so openly embraced me and wanted to know me. I even ran into a member while I was shopping one day and he came over, introduced himself and his mother and told me how the church had taken him in while he was homeless and helped give him the strength to believe in himself. He now owns his own business. I could have cried. What love, what motivation and what a strong community I had entered.

Months later I decided to embrace yet another social experiment. This one was very different from the first. I went to a predominantly black night club in Oakland. Now listen, I can only imagine what it looks like to see a tall drink of water like me, white as snow, walk into a room with drinking and dancing and all the sexual energy of a club. I wondered if they would eyeball the hell out of me until I was so uncomfortable that I left. 

In the three times I went there, one of which I went alone, I was so loved on by both men and woman. It was another breakthrough in the divide for me personally. 

I was left to wonder this: how would that experience have looked if I was black and I walked into a white church. If I was black and walked into a white club. My thoughts are, it would not have been so loving, caring, nurturing or embracing. Though I will never have that opportunity in my life to experience that, I know this country is not in favor of that.

In conclusion of my social experiments, I feel a sense of love and sadness. Sadness this experiment needs to even exist. Sadness that I know it does not work the same the other way around. Frustration that our communities are divided and I am well aware I am living a very white life. 

I am open to discussions on this. Please reach out if you have comments regardless if its love or hate or something in between. The dialog is open and the more I can learn, the more objective and unbiased I can be. I promise you, I get it wrong a lot.