by Katharin Blodgett
I grew up in a pretty diverse area in an Indianapolis suburb. But it wasn’t until I was 24 years old that I actually started grasping the truth, history, and scope of everything that had happened and was still happening in 2015. I worked for a summer with a racially diverse staff in racially diverse areas, including St. Louis, MO. But man I had so much to learn and listen to and experience. I remember seeing name after name of young black men who were killed by police brutality show up on the news; I was disgusted with it all. No longer could I think of that community as “other” and that the things happening were “their fault.” I was coming to understand systemic racism, white privilege, and how the definition of racism I’d been taught to understand all throughout school didn’t even touch the evil that racism really is. As long as I was nice and respectful of everyone, regardless of the color of their skin, racism didn’t exist and we were in a postracial America, right?
I went through the feelings of white guilt. I wrestled with my privilege and had to start really looking at race in America and in my life. I naively thought the only difference between blacks and whites was our skin color. How simplistic of me. Thankfully I had friends this summer who were patient and open with me. So now, fastforward to our retreat last week to Ferguson. It was amazing to be back in St. Louis, a place I’d spent 4 weeks in this past summer. The whole weekend was a great experience, but there are a few moments that really stuck out to me. We were able to attend a service at St. John’s Church (the Beloved Community), a church that is racially diverse, and seeks to care for the north side of St. Louis because they know their future depends on that community. There was a guest speaker, Rahiel Tesfamariam, who spoke a wonderful sermon about seeking validation from the right place, and continuing a fight for justice. This was an amazing sermon about racial justice and appropriation and captivity and intimacy. Towards the end of the sermon, she was talking to her black brothers and sisters. But then, she talked to her white brothers and sisters. It was actually refreshing to me, that she called me out by skin color, she recognized it and didn’t ignore it, and let me know that THIS IS MY FIGHT TOO. And it made me think of all the times I decided to ignore skin color, because it was easier, but when really I was missing an opportunity to recognize the purpose and value and passion in each of us.
Another part of her sermon that really stuck with me was when she said something along the lines that “so often we lose the capacity to see the world as God sees the world.” I mean, we’re living in PostRacial America after all, right?! But I’ve lately been struck by how much of God’s creativity and beauty and individuality we’re missing out on when we say that. For me specifically, a blonde haired white 25 year old, I know that my life is so much richer having friends who are from different cultures than me. I’m not saying that we all need to have our certain “token” friends. Because that’s a whole other issue in itself. But I do believe that God created us all how we are. And that every body has value, regardless of skin color. We can learn so much from each other and, as iron sharpens iron, really mold each other. We are doing each other and our communities a disservice when we don’t recognize those differences, understand where we differ, but more importantly see how we are so much more similar than we think, and are in this fight for justice together.
So for me, I know some practical steps I took at the beginning of my journey and I’m still taking now are reading and educating myself about my privilege. About systemic racism. Listening to other people. Shutting my mouth because a lot of times, it’s the better thing to do. I think we are a people who like to ignore what makes us uncomfortable. But it’s great, because the more you read and learn and meet more people, the less uncomfortable you’ll get and the more fired up and passionate you’ll get about everyone’s value.