Opening My Eyes

open my eyes

All transformation requires disruption. And it seems to me that no one changes because it’s a good idea. We change, if much at all, because someone provokes us and invites us to truth and goodness.

I volunteered on the Seattle streets to prostituted teens and young women in 2008 and 2009. We met together at nine in the evening and stayed on the streets until three in the morning. Once a month I was required to attend a daytime meeting and almost always the topic was race and racism. I thought that because I was under the authority of my two African American supervisors, as well as, the diverse leadership of New Horizons Ministry that I had achieved what I needed in understanding racial disadvantage.

I thought that I had embraced my white privilege. I knew these meetings were important, but sometimes I wondered if they were making too big of a deal about it. Frankly, I resented having to give up six hours a month to attend the mandatory meeting.

I was granted permission to be on the streets on Friday and Saturday nights because of the training at New Horizons, a ministry to street teenagers in Seattle. But, in reality, my supervisors, Sheila and Dottie, enabled me to serve the prostituted community. It was their skin and stories that empowered me to stand on the streets. I care deeply for them and because of our kindred love for Jesus we respect and enjoy one another.

I realized during those countless Friday and Saturday nights of outreach that every young woman I came in contact with was essentially just like me. It was simply that my family of origin had more money and more advantage. But more than that, it was also the color of my skin.  There are many factors that cause a girl or a woman to be prostituted, but one major factor is economic.

Last month I was in Colorado for diversity training with The Allender Center teaching staff and my eyes were more fully opened. There were countless pieces of data, stories, and experiences but one threw me to the ground.  My father, after WWII had access to a GI Bill that enabled him and millions of other white men to get a wildly reasonable loan to purchase a home.  Every black man returning from the war was deprived of that opportunity.  The result plays itself out today like an unseen ocean current that can endanger or kill an unsuspecting swimmer.

The rising value of my parent’s home enabled them to send me to college debt free and provide a small inheritance.  When you add “redlining” the practice of not selling homes to African Americans and forcing them to live in appalling slum buildings it constitutes systemic evil to deprive a people group of wealth, power, and goodness. To make matters worse, banks wouldn’t give loans for mortgages in Black neighborhoods. Perhaps, what is most striking is I already knew it. I remembered that my grandfather purchased the home next to his to insure an African American family would not move in! My parents and Dan’s parents signed covenants not to sell their home to African Americans in Upper Arlington, Ohio.

I have directly benefitted due to our families participation in systemic racial violence.

How could I know this from direct personal experience and “forget” it? Guilt. Helplessness. Busyness. Defensiveness. Chosen blindness. One of the comments made by a woman of color that broke my heart: “I am so tired of taking care of white people’s discomfort or being assaulted by your defensiveness. I don’t speak for all black women; I only speak for myself. I just want you to understand that no matter how hard your fathers and families worked for their nest egg, they got a one hundred meter start for a four hundred meter race.”

The instigator of this dialogue looked at me and said: “Willing to watch a documentary to see the chronic, systemic evil at work? What would it cost you to enter what the kingdom of darkness has done and wants to continue to do to sow chaos, division, and heartache?”

Then he turned on the PBS movie: Race – The Power of an Illusion, Episode Three: The House We Live In.  I watched and wept.


This post originally appeared on Red Tent Living. Photo by James Sutton on Unsplash