Being born white in America
endows a person with privilege he or she likely never realizes, but that skin
color clears obstacles in life that block the path for persons cloaked in a
At least that is the insight
that two dozen people at a racial reconciliation conference in Charlotte July
13 gained from black participants who shared specifics about what it means to
live as a minority in a “racialized” culture.
Meeting at Sardis Baptist Church
people with a commitment to bridging the gap that artificially separates people
of different races questioned, discussed and revealed to each other the
barriers they saw in their own lives.
What difference can two
dozen people make in a world where race separates billions? Leaders concluded
that individuals make all the difference and that one by one, barriers can be pulled
Their goal is not just
diversity in the public square, but true reconciliation, they said. They long
for the church to set the pace in reconciliation. Not lost on participants was
the irony that they were meeting in Charlotte, recently identified in a Harvard
University study of 40 cities as having the third highest per capita number of
churches, but ranking 39th in interracial trust.
Those who work in racial
reconciliation avoid the term “white privilege” in most public forums because
it sets teeth on edge. But Darryl Aaron, pastor of First Baptist Church on
Highlands Avenue in Winston-Salem articulated some things non-white persons
often endure, simply because they are non-white.
During a recent store visit
his children, ages 10 and 12, were laughing and impatient for their parents to
finish and they ran out of the store. Aaron told them very seriously that as
black children they “can’t just run out of a store. Even if you have the
receipt, you can’t just run out of a store.”
He constantly fights the
urge to restrict the “childhood” in his children because black children carry
behavior stereotypes that are simply true of all children. But he cautions them
not to laugh too loud, or jump on the bed.
A “race burden” that black
participants shared that whites seldom consider is that they are compelled to
have receipts with them for any item they walk out of a store with — and they’d
better be prepared to present them.
If you have your receipt and
are asked to present it, it’s a small matter; a minor insult. “If you don’t
have it, we’ll read about you in the paper,” said Otto Gaither, associate
pastor of Delabrook Presbyterian Church in Winston-Salem.
Young black children can’t
find a doll at Christmas that looks like them, he said.
Speaking in the video
“Beneath the Skin: Baptists and Racism,” Wayne Ward said racism is ego
centered. People want to know, “why can’t everybody be just like me?”
frustration over a sense that resegregation is creeping into American life,
citing reversal of diversity policies in the Charlotte and Wake County school
systems. “We’ve dealt with this once, now we’re having to deal with it again,”
To those in privileged
positions who wonder why minorities don’t just “pull themselves up by their
bootstraps,” Javier Elizondo, a naturalized American born in Mexico who is now
executive vice president and provost at Baptist University of the Americas,
said by video that concept is a myth. “No one pulls themselves up by their bootstraps,”
he said. It is true and biblical that people come alongside others to help them
on their journeys.
Nathan Parrish, pastor of
Peace Haven Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, said racism is institutionalized
in American life and, “We have to be honest, the church is an institution.”
He asked how religious life
reinforces or resists racism in American culture.
He said people of color have
told him, “I just can’t believe you don’t get” that social privilege is
racialized in America.
Parrish said he recognizes
gender privilege more easily, knowing he has opportunity and ease of social
egress that females do not have.
“As a white, male Baptist
pastor I must be in relationship with people who can help me see,” said
Parrish, who very intentionally nurtures relationships with those of other
“Sometimes I need to see
some things that I may not be doing maliciously, but nevertheless are
perpetrating things that are hurtful and harmful to people around me.”
Parrish surmised that some
church traditions are in place “precisely to keep us from being involved,”
when we should “roll up our sleeves and work for justice outside the confines
of our property lines.”
“Maybe as a representative
of the Lord I ought to have something to say on the Lord’s behalf” down at
the board of education, Parrish said.
Maria Handlin, executive
director of the interfaith Mecklenburg Ministries, said if discussions such
that days’ activity happens only once, “so what?” She links black and white
pastors in a curriculum study called “Souls of White Folks” that helps to
establish inter-racial relationships.
“Once you build
relationships you are transformed,” she said.
During a concluding panel
discussion Greg Moss, pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church in Charlotte, and
president of the General Baptist State Convention, told participants they could
no longer claim innocence in a racialized society at a minimum because of what
they’d learned that day.
innocent anymore,” Moss said. “You were innocent when you hit the ditch, but
you’re not any more.”