Can those in white skin ever understand racism?
Norman Jameson, BR Editor
July 26, 2010

Can those in white skin ever understand racism?

Can those in white skin ever understand racism?
Norman Jameson, BR Editor
July 26, 2010

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

different color.

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.

Practical considerations

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.”

BR photo by Norman Jameson

Jonathan Redding, minister of youth at Peace Haven Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, chimes in on talk about racial reconciliation.

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?”

Speakers expressed

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,”

they said.

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.

“You’re not

innocent anymore,” Moss said. “You were innocent when you hit the ditch, but

you’re not any more.”