Race. Prejudice. Hatred. Fear. Everyone has a story. What’s yours?
This is my story. It does not start well, and it is longer than a 3-minute read, but I hope you will hang in with me because I think it ends well.
Actually this is more of a confession because I have been guilty of prejudice. When I meet people, I do judge them. But I now I remind myself that my first thought may be (probably is) wrong.
I was born in Newark in 1955 and grew up in Belleville in 1960-70s. Three of my grandparents were born in Italy. My father spoke only Italian until he started elementary school. He was a World War II vet and prejudice then was about Americans who came from other countries. My mothers told stories of the prejudice she received growing up in Belleville because she was of Italian decent. I was raised just as much an Italian as an American. Italian was spoken in my house as well. When I grew up, Belleville had become full of people just like me, Italian or Irish Catholics There was one black family in my neighborhood and he was different from us in the same way the Polish family was. The first Jewish person I met was in high school. As a teen, my father encouraged me to marry a nice Italian boy. Turns out that I did. My husband tells stories of the men he started working with, all from that greatest generation, joking together about the nationality of each other but it all was in good-natured fun.
Growing up we often went shopping in Newark, only minutes away from were we lived. My father grew up in Newark and worked there for years. My mother took me there for my first dancing lessons and for Easter dresses. It was a beautiful city at the time with large buildings, high-end stores and restaurants. But then things began to change.
|Our Gio and his Grandpa fight racial prejudice with Ice cream|
In July 1967, when I was 12 years old, there were riots in Newark. Many people died. I remember sitting in our living room watching it on TV but we also heard the explosions through the open windows on those hot summer nights. I shuttered in fear. As the poor black population in Newark grew and spilled into the near by towns of East Orange and Irvington, the wealthy whites moved away to the suburbs. The once beautiful city of Newark was scarred with burnt and broken buildings. We no longer went to Newark as we feared it was no longer safe. My father, who owned a hairdressing salon in East Orange was repeatedly robbed and eventually had to move the salon to Bloomfield. My husband who grew up in Irvington watched as the families of all his friends left town. His younger brothers dropped out of high school as it became a dangerous place for white boys. Truth be told, as a young woman I was afraid of groups of black young men. The thoughts would come into my mind: would they rob me? Hurt me? Rape me? I knew it was wrong to assume this but with what I had experienced, it became my reality.
College and my first job at IBM in the 1970s introduced me to many different kinds of people and when I talked to them, I saw they were just like me. When our daughters were growing up, it was a totally different world. In Fairview Elementary School in Bloomfield in the 1990s, it was like the United Nations. Immigrants from Germany, India, China and other Hispanic countries ended up in our school and our neighborhood giving our daughters the beautiful experience of all cultures. Our church in Montclair looked the same way with several interracial couples. We were grateful for that experience.
Even now, my first thoughts are still these others are not like me and I continue to fight it off. From experience I know if I engage with them, ask them questions, hear their stories, I find we are more alike than different. It is also true with people who are not in my economic level. Rich people may take better vacations and have nicer cars, but they still love their kids and worry about their elderly mothers just like me.
And yes, I have felt prejudice myself. As a woman, there were things assumed of me, things I could not do and yes that hurt. It deprived me of opportunities because of how God made me. I can’t change the fact I am a woman. I can’t study more, work harder, or gain more experience to make that go away. But then I can’t change that I am white either and the experiences that gave me more privileged than others.
My concern for society today is we forget fear and hatred of other people groups have always been with us. Read Genesis and see the stories of Isaac and Ishmael and Esau and Jacob. Brothers turn into nations who hate and war with each other. The first story of murder is between brothers. It has been with us from the beginning and is not going away because it is part of our sin nature. The government can pass better laws but ultimately can’t fix this because it is in our hearts. We can only do it ourselves, one by one by one.
How easy for us to see a news story about a black man being shot by two white men and think we have the answer. How can we? Did we engage with any of them? Did we ask these men questions, hear their stories? How can we be their jury? Why must we assume the black man was there to steal? Or the white men are bigots? Why, because that fits our internal narrative? Because there was a killing, there needs to be a trial, but let us leave the judgment to the jury who will hear the facts.
Yes prejudice is sin, but must we make the sin of prejudice and of being “white privileged” our “tax collector” sin? Must we make being a white man the same as being a Samaritan? When we do we have forgotten something very important. Who did Jesus come to save? Sinners. Who did Jesus tell us to witness to and serve? Sinners. Who are we? Sinners.
As Christians, we don't judge the sinners. We love on them.
Black or white, Italian or Irish, man or woman, rich or poor, let us not be quick to judge. Let us not assume the worst for either. Let us engage instead. Ask the questions. Hear the stories. Show kindness and patience and love. To all.
Race. Prejudice. Everyone has a story. What’s yours?