The (Still) Great Divide

My eyes leaked again today.  For the last few weeks, I’ve been a part of a book discussion on Cornell West’s Race Matters with several local Pastors, both white and black.  Today was the last week, and as I sat there, listening to them talk about issues of race, of our complicit involvement in racism today on both sides, I felt a great weight.

My friend, Pastor Randall, talked about being thrown in jail at age 11 in the South, for 12 days, because he ‘allegedly whistled at a white woman’.  This was about six months after Emmett Till was beaten and drowned by white men for doing the same.  He spoke of the forgiveness he has practiced towards the ones who threw him in jail, but also of how this experience profoundly shaped him.

My friend, Pastor Duren, talked about how the Warner Homes used to be Jewish housing in the ‘ghetto’ prior to the flight of the Jews, when blacks moved in.  I heard from Frosty that there used to be housing covenants and business covenants in place in Peoria that there were penalties for selling a house or anything else to a black or a Jew.

We talked about beauty and how black people define beauty in white categories.  The white Pastors were baffled by this, and the black Pastors explained that if a black man has a choice between a black woman or a white woman, he will choose to go after the white woman.  What wasn’t explained, mostly because I didn’t open my mouth, is that for the majority of non-white cultures, especially in America, there is an inherent bias against black-ness.  Cornell West calls this black self-hatred.  Black people define themselves by the tone of their skin – with light-skin being better than dark-skin.  This isn’t uniquely a black phenomenon however.  Colonialism by white folks in South America and North America entrenched a bias against darker skin.  Since the whites had the power, to marry a lighter skinned person was to ‘marry up’.  This racial bias has centuries of history behind it.

White people only have a framework that historically was opposed to inter-racial marriage for the same reasons.  To marry a black man or woman was to ‘marry down’.  Ironically, the same goes for Hispanic cultures and even black culture.  So, even if white people now have moved past their opposition to inter-racial marriage (which was the impetus for the killing of Emmett Till and the jailing of Pastor Randall), black people have not.  In fact, it seems, black people have never been opposed to inter-racial marriage.  This is something we all need to be saddened by, not because inter-racial marriage is bad (or good (or neutral)), but because of the presuppositions that lie behind these viewpoints.

This is such a small example of the great divide between races in our culture.

My friend, Charlie, expressed his desire to submit to the black church in how the white church can best serve them.  I think this is a good starting point.  Pastor Williams invited us all to be a part of a fellowship of Pastors he is hosting in October, after which the Pastors will march together in solidarity for racial unity in the city of Peoria.  I will be there, because I want to see Peoria be a place in which we are not defined by the color of our skin but our submission to one another in Christ.

As we prayed at the end of our time together, my eyes leaked because of what I think is going to be a starting point for true brother and sisterhood in Christ, in Peoria, across lines of racial difference.  We do have differences.  We have different stories, different stereotypes, different ways of seeing, but together we have the ability to lead together as we work to transform the great racial divide in our fair city.

It’s not a lot, but it’s something.


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