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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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