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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 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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