Thursday, January 20, 2005

White America

Last night was my second class for Black Theology at Xavier (where I'm a grad student in theology).

Each week is like entering a foreign country, learning a new language, discovering a different way of seeing, being, living. Each article I read, lecture I hear, documentary I watch, I find myself cringing at my lack of historical perspective, my deeply middle class white orientation to life and faith, and how peripheral the black community has been to what I think of as American.

At one point, I asked my teacher if some of this white disregard for the African American came from a kind of collective guilt that makes us deny the past, that makes us want to separate from what our parents and grandparents were a part of. I explored these thoughts awkwardly trying to wrap my mind around the fact that the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, for God's sake (I was three years old)! I mean, honestly, African Americans suffered under Jim Crow laws for 100 years after the Civil War and have only been "free and equal" for forty years. How have I not appreciated the implications of those facts? I struggled to express tentative ideas that might account for this disconnect in the white population.

My professor, who is African American, looked dumbfounded by my comments and responded, "I have no idea. I don't understand white people at all."

It was a moment.

I saw something in his response. Have I really seen how much I don't understand/know black people? How many assumptions do I make about other communities and groups? How well do I know my own community—what do I know of us? What are our denials, myopias, and privileges?

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