Friends with melanin that differs from mine, I owe you an apology. I encountered a blatant in-my-face racist yesterday and I became speechless. I was so flabbergasted at the boldness and ignorance of this random stranger that I simply couldn’t find the words to say. Let me tell you a little bit about my day….
I was in a restaurant for a lunch meeting with a couple of friends, one was Jon Strother, former Capital District Suprintendent and the other was Debora Murphy, a layperson who serves as worship leader with Jon and me (and others) on the NC Academy for Spiritual Formation Team. I normally would not find it to be relevant to share, but both of these friends are white. We were minding our own business, planning worship for a retreat and a random man walked up to our table and started talking to us at the Bailey Café (a wonderful location for breakfast or lunch if you are in the Bailey area and want some country cooking! It’s one of my favorite satellite offices!)
So this guy walks up to us, and asked us if we were from Bailey and we all told him “no”. He asked if we knew so and so, none of us recognized the name of the man and we again said “no”. He then went on to inform us that he was from Johnston County and that he is serving in Halifax County in law enforcement and told us that someone had accused him of being in the Klan and he told them “I’m not telling you about that but you better watch your back!” He also said something about being one of the only white people on the sheriff’s department and how it’s “rough out there”. He was clearly trying to engage us in a racial conversation, and not the kind that we had just had among ourselves.
Jon and Debora and I were all stunned. We were all shocked that a random stranger would interrupt our worship planning to try to start a conversation with us over this and none of knew what to say! Jon said something to try to diffuse the situation and to let him know that all were not necessarily in agreement with his views and we all three just wanted him to leave, it was a pastoral, non-conflictual response. Not sure that Mr. Random picked up on anything, but I’m pretty sure his wife (or the woman who was with him) gathered our lack of interest in engaging in conversation with him and they left.
Jon and Debora and I had actually been chatting earlier in our time together about some of the work that each of us are doing separately and in some cases together to be agents of change in the work of racial reconciliation. All of us in our own contexts are intentional in trying to engage with others in our circles of influence to bridge the gap and tear down the walls of racial discrimination. Prior to meeting with them that morning I had breakfast with Reggie Edwards to finalize details for two “Come to the Table” Events, one in Raleigh and one in Cary where we are bringing people together who have an interest in racial reconciliation and who want to be a part of a monthly lunch or supper group to form intentional relationships with people of other races. After meeting with Reggie, I met with a team of people who are planning a Crossroads Retreat in March which will be held at the Franklinton Center at Bricks in Whitakers, NC, a former slave plantation that was transformed into one of the first accredited schools for African Americans in the South. We plan to bring together Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, Bishop Ken Carder, Tex Sample , Ziola Airall, Lisa Yebuah and the Roots Revival Band to help lead us in a retreat to raise awareness on the ways that fear and culture have led us to this place of a crossroads where we are reminded by Bishop Carder….“to live prophetically, is to live at the crossroads of the way the world is and the way the world ought to be.”
Yesterday I was at the “crossroads” and in some ways I was successful as I planned with others some of the ways that we, as the church, are called to be a sign, instrument, and foretaste of the Kingdom of God. As baptized Christians, we vow to “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” We strive to be faithful, and yet what that looks like in our society today, and how to effectively resist evil and be a sign, instrument and foretaste of the Kingdom, often eludes us. But in other ways I was not successful because I sat silently rather than calling this man out.
I think that Debora, Jon and I were eluded in how we were to respond. We were all mortified and unable to come up with a response that seemed helpful.
In my initial hindsight, as I drove away from the restaurant, I wished I had told this man how ignorant he was. I was even so angry that I wished that I had invited him outside, and…. well, use your imagination. I’m glad that a pastor was present with us because I tend to behave a little better (sometimes) when a pastor is present, and I have learned enough to know that violence and more ugliness does nothing to diffuse ignorance, violence, and ugliness. Thank GOD I have a lot of pastors in my circle of influence to keep me (sort of) under control!
I am still not sure how I should have responded. I know that my silence wasn’t it, so to my friends who just happen to have melanin that differs from mine, I am sorry that I was silent. My prayer is that God will give me and others wisdom to know how we can react in such situations moving forward that will further the Kingdom of God, where ALL barriers will come down. I do know one thing. Silence ain’t gonna get us there.
Love you all, regardless of where you find yourself in this true story,
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Claire – An Apology
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