Growing up in New Orleans in the 1960s and 1970s I was distinctly aware of the racial divide in the city. You would run into African Americans and Anglos working together in businesses but residential areas, churches, playgrounds, social clubs, and even Mardi Gras parades were frequently segregated (by law when I was little, more by tradition when I was a teen). I saw it as normal because it was all I had ever known. And it did seem to me that certain ethnicities were involved in trouble more than others.
It all began to change in my twenties when, at Louisiana Tech, all of my classes in school were integrated. I got to know people of color and of all different kinds of ethnicities. One thing was clear to me – good and bad, smart and less so, contributor or detractor had little to do with skin color. There weren’t tendencies in any ethnic group. I saw the same good, and the same mess, coming out of everyone.
By the time I was in my thirties, I was living in Texas and Alaska. It was interesting watching the self-imposed segregation go from white/black to white/Hispanic. You could tell people thought they were making themselves safer, or simply hanging out with better people, by doing so.
By contrast, in the USAF, I can absolutely tell you that some of the smartest, most capable, and flat out good people I worked with, who worked for me, and I worked for were not lily white. Any “lessons” learned from my youth where crime frequently came from the African American parts of the city were wiped away. Crime, drug abuse, and poor education frequently come from poverty, not ethnicity. I saw the same in Texas. I saw the same in Alaska.
But my biggest eye opener was on a mission trip to Nicaragua where I found that people again were labeling others but this time it was the Hispanics in Nicaragua labeling those of native central American origins. Guess who were more affluent. Guess who came from the poor section of town. There were no Anglos involved but I saw the same dynamic going on of judging people by skin color and it had no merit at all.
I have been blessed by my life experiences and my ability to travel and see much of the world. I recognize that most people have not had these experiences in my hometown. But I find myself back here and I will go onto the local social media, and even hear aloud, arguments and thinking going on that was common to me back in the 1960s and 70s. This is highly distressing to me. There absolutely continues to be people who largely see others through what I consider to be a highly inaccurate racial lens and judge people accordingly. And while society as a whole has made progress I find it less so in my hometown and that troubles me.
There is good and evil in the world. There is intelligence and ignorance. There is much to fight for. We live in pivotal times. But it is an utter waste of time to think you can figure out what is going on simply by looking at someone’s skin color. Just think if someone judged you by how much hair you have on your heads or the color of your eyes. Would it really tell them anything about you? No. Skin color is no different.
Beyond all this – poverty – systematic poverty and poor education are huge issues. Many people will agree that we should judge people simply on their own merits. But, just to do that at this point (particularly in some parts of our country) is kind of like telling runners they need to run a mile and a half race but some have to start at the starting line, others at mid-point, and others still can start at the mile and a quarter mark! I do believe that people need to strive and grow and everyone needs to achieve. You can’t just give people a prize from running. But recognizing that some have a much longer and difficult race to run has to be considered. And striving for a society where everyone runs as close to the same race as possible should be a perpetual goal.
I strive to be a part of the change that is needed. But as we continue to approach major challenges in the 21st century we absolutely, as a society, need to jettison thinking that was never really valid in any time period and is detrimental to us all.
And as Christians, we need to remember we confess we were saved by a Middle Eastern Jewish man who was neither of Anglo, African, or Hispanic origin. Few of us are Jewish. Most people in our society have few ethnic ties to the Middle East. Yet, we see such a man as the source God gave us of ultimate good. If we drop the racial lens for good then, can’t we do it at other times too?
Jesus called on us to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. And that doesn’t mean just loving the neighbors in neighborhoods where everyone looks just like us.
What do you think?
Until next time,