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Monthly Archives: August 2015

The Only One

A University of Kansas (KU) student recently posted, “I am the only black person in this class.” When I was a student at KU many moons ago as an electrical engineering major, I was often the only African-American in a class.  When I graduated from KU and started my career as an electrical engineer, I was often the only African-American in my department.  When I attended Covenant Theological Seminary (St. Louis, MO) I was often the only African-American in classes.  When I assumed the role of Director of the Francis Schaeffer Institute, I found myself as the only African-American in many social contexts.  I now work for a small non-profit, BBT (Biblical Business Training), which is owned and operated by a gracious Christian white couple and recently at their home, I looked around and you guessed it, I was the only African-American there.

I often ask myself, “why are you using your gifts in the majority culture, a culture that has enough resources while many African-Americans are not afforded the benefits of your gifts?”  I have these existential moments at times.  I asked recently, “why are you using your gifts for BBT that presumably serves more whites than others?” (See our website b-b-t.org to see what we do.)

So Tiring

Quite frankly, this is so tiring – being the only African-American in all white contexts.  Why? Mentally, it is tiring because I am constantly saying to myself, “should I say that?”, “should I make that gesture?”, “should I hug a white man’s wife?” A friend and colleague referred to this mental exercise in the company of whites as doing “mental gymnastics.” Blacks live in two worlds: their world and the white person’s world and the reality is: in America, the white life experience is normative – which means the white majority sets the rules for social engagement – what is proper and improper, etc. The white majority defines “business casual” for example. So, I have to constantly be on guard and remind myself which context I am in.  An African-American lecturer put it this way, “African-Americans have to be the master of double-talk.”

Divine Answer

I know that God has providentially led me to BBT for a season; how long is that season? I don’t know. So, I will remain faithful to the task at hand.  God has so gifted me to do what I do; and He does the calling and placing.  He commands and orders, and I say, “Yes Sir.”

Relate and Non-Relatable

Some will relate to my existential dilemma if you have gifts and want to use them for a less served demographic.  Like using gifts for the impoverished in regions in Africa, South America or in the inner city. However, unless you are a minority, you cannot relate to being a minority clothed in dark skin in the company of mostly whites. And that’s okay!

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A dear friend, Rob Burns (follow this dude) asked me to chime in on these questions: 1) why do white people misunderstand black rage and 2) what are some practical steps to begin understanding? Here are my thoughts:

  1. The white experience is normative in American society. That is, look at most TV commercials, magazines, and even blank picture frames and what do you see? happy white families and people. Visit many Walgreens or CVS stores and the hair products assume a white customer base. These are the things non-whites notice but whites are fairly oblivious to. And I think ‘white as normative’ is also assumed or subconsciously assumed by white church folks. Because the ‘white life is normative,’ what African-Americans are doing in Ferguson must seem like senseless to many whites because this is not their experience.
  2. A black life in this country is still viewed quite differently than a white life. Two examples will suffice. Scott Turow in his book, “Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer’s Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty” (2004) states explicitly, that a white life in the criminal justice system is viewed more valuable than a black life. And two, believe it or not, we all make unconscious associations at an instance because of the way we have been socialized in this country – e.g., ‘white is good and black is bad.’ Readers should review the results of the recent Black-White Doll Test. The test was first conducted in the 1940/50s by Kenneth Bancroft Clark and Mamie Phipps Clark to study children’s attitudes about race. What is startling is that even black girls and black boys associated the black doll as ugly and the white doll as pretty. Even more troubling is that the test was repeated by Kiri Davis of Manhattan’s Urban Academy in circa 2005 with nearly the same results. I encourage folks to take the Race IAT which “measures our racial attitude on an unconscious level – the immediate, automatic associations that tumble out before we’ve even had time to think.” (See Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Blink,” pp. 84-85. Find a computerized IAT at www.implicit.harvard.edu and look for the Race IAT).
  3. Going forward I will repeat what I have said before:
    • A. Our minds and our hearts need a major overhaul – I believe if you take the IAT you will see that;
    • B. The church – as a redeemed society – must be leading the way in fighting for social justice, the reformation of institutions, living out Galatians 3:28, and truly acting as their brother’s keeper. Margaret Mead and James Baldwin met for the first time on the evening of August 25, 1970 and engaged in a “Rap on Race.” Baldwin said this, “the salvation of America lies in whether or not it is able to embrace the black face” (“Rap on Race”, p. 77) – so the question is for the church, can it embrace the black face as his or her neighbor?;
    • C. Whites must begin to invite blacks to participate in their significant events – weddings, funerals, picnics, family vacations, etc. and;
    • D. Those with privileges need to ask, “who is not benefiting from this service or institution like I am and ask why?” If person with privileges would investigate the answer to this ‘why’ question, he or she might understand why African-Americans are so cynical, angry and bothered.

As a Christian, I think 3A-3D is what concrete acts in keeping with genuine repentance looks like. (Note: Dr. Anthony Bradley should be credited with 3C).