well, my friends, we have come to the end of february & this 8 post series on a view from the margins. i have really enjoyed everyone’s perspectives and all of the comments & emails in response. it’s time to take a little break and shift gears (i am going to be writing about some lent season reflections as part of christine sine’s synchroblog over the course of the next month, plus a few other thoughts that have been swirling around during my blog break). i also know that some other interviews need to be shared. i have some really good ones in the queue: people’s stories about what life is like as a cutter, native american, former abuser, church exile, and a married couple living with domestic poverty & mental illness. so just look out for them now & then in the upcoming months. for now, though, i wanted to wrap this series with a perspective on what it is like to be in the “minority”, brown in a white world.
i am as white as white can be. blond hair (well, at least it used to be!), blue eyes. i have an instant benefit of white privilege. there are doors open for me that remain locked shut for some of my friends whose skin is a different color. my husband is brown. as brown as brown can be. black hair. brown eyes. his family speaks english when they need to but only spanish at home. over the course of our 22 years together i’ve heard people talk about how “jose only got hired by united airlines because he’s hispanic and they had to meet their minority quota”, that “he’s pretty good looking for a mexican,” and that somehow his family measures up to their expectations because “at least they came to this country legally.” years ago, my daughter had someone in kindergarten ask her “why is your skin so brown?” (she responded with “because my daddy’s black and God loves people who are all colors of the rainbow”).
as much as our country has come a long way in terms of racial restoration, we all know we have a lot further to go. and no matter how we slice it up, in most churches, the lack of diversity is so present. sadly, on the whole, whites stay with whites and browns stay with browns. we have a tendency to stick with people who are like us so that we feel more comfortable. cultural & power differences a lot of time keep us fairly segregated. when we try to be together, because of the emphasis on power in a lot of christian communities, it only makes sense that the least powerful, marginalized, typically discriminated against wouldn’t get a lot of air time. let’s face it, pastors typically aren’t golfing with the young hispanic father of four who works 3 jobs to feed his family.
in the kingdom of God skin color, race, gender, socioeconomics are not valued one above another. there is so much to be said about this issue, but i thought i’d give you just a little glimpse into some perspectives from my friend “alex,” a dear friend and brother on the journey, who is hispanic, deeply dedicated to incarnational ministry, a philosopher & theologian, and knows what it likes to be marginalized because of the color of his skin.
share a little of your background, what kind of family you came from, what your experience being in a hispanic family was like.
My parents were Mexican immigrants that came to the U.S. to work and live. I was the last of 4 children and it was difficult for us as children trying to figure out what role we fit in more with…Mexicans or Mexican-Americans, two very different cultures often at odds with each other, mostly due to issues related with identity, culture, and assimilation of the two within the American context.
can you think of the first time you noticed being somehow marginalized, thought less of, discriminated against, because of the color of your skin? what did that look like, feel like?
My parents had a Spanish speaking church that met in the building of an English-speaking church (mostly Caucasians) and I recall life feeling like we got the leftovers…as a result, I became more conscious as to the fact that the people who had the leftovers were all darker skinned. I started to take notice of my skin color as a factor in how I experienced life. From then on, I could never get away from noticing that we lived in a racialized society, meaning that in America we are profoundly aware of race and sometimes that can be a good thing, but often growing up it was not.
when you look out at the big bad power structures that are out there, in the world, in the church, what do you see? where does it seem like those systems leave you?
I understand that the Western spirit has been a major driving factor in what we’ve come to know about human civilizations and cultures. Even though the Eastern spirit has had it’s own story, I feel like the West has made a significant impact on both the West and East. In that I notice three things: 1.) It feels like it’s still a white world, meaning that most of the powers and structures are dominated by non-dark-skinned peoples worldwide; that leaves me feeling like I’m always subject to their good or bad deeds, their willingness to impart on me either favor or discrimination. 2.) Subsequently, in light of this, many non-white power structures are influenced by the examples of their oppressors and as a result, people of color who rise from the bottom tend to mimic such forms of domination and abuse of power that has been used to oppress them. 3.) To demonize those in power, even those who abuse power, continually perpetuates a cycle of abuse with victims and victimizers.
As a result, it feels like all those systems leave me..us..the church..humanity.. disoriented. The norms we have accepted to be our everyday lives as individuals and as a community are in direct tension with what is at the center of our created being, the Image of God which we ALL carry; reconciling this tension is really hard. For me, all these systems in the church, the world leave me feeling the need to lament…and also hope.
why do you think diversity is so difficult to create in churches?
Perhaps because people want to act like nothing is wrong. On the one hand we desire to acknowledge that at our human soul level we are far more similar than we are different. We want to acknowledge our hearts and minds as God’s people rather than our color and cultures. However, it also our color and cultures that makes us who we are, and provides us with the context for everything we are to become, which has more to do with what makes us different than what makes us similar. As that is the case, both everything is wrong and everything is right when it comes to the issue of race, ethnicity, and culture . Eventually what people choose to do is to abstain from the natural tension that is at the core of “loving one another.” I am personally confused to be quite honest, because this task of embracing our differences is so volatile, mostly because there are deep wounds attached to diversity in any realm of the conversation, not simply race, but gender orientation, and other people’s passionate views on church and ministry. And even though it’s volatile, I believe our differences can be so powerful and transformoative. To do the hard work needed for our collected efforts towards unity feels sometimes unattainable. While that confuses me, and pains me much, I hope to continue to explore diversity in ways that change the way I see others.
what do you think of obama being elected? what do you think this might mean for “the church”, if anything?
I love that he was elected…for a couple of reasons. 1) There is something symbolic and powerful about elected a person of color to the highest office in our nation. I can’t tell you how many dreams and ideas of promise this one experience has dramatically impacted the aspirations of children of various ethnic groups…both nationally and globally. 2) I feel like Obama understands that we are not simply transitioning from one Presidency to another, but rather that as a civilization we are moving from a modern peoples to a postmodern peoples. As such, I sense that he leans into that transition in ways that are timely, needed, and will prove to be impactful for our nations. On the same token I lament what the election revealed to me, which was that many Mexicans/Mexican-Americans did not desire to support Obama for differences of ideas, but for differences of race. There were many conversations I had with people of my culture that had hoped for a Mexican-American to be the first President of color to be elected. There are some deep wounds still among the races. I lament that just like Americans nationally, the church is also very split on the election of the President, and as a result of this, many good Christians fail to celebrate with people of color the symbolic significance that this even has ushered our collectives lives into. I don’t feel it will change the church in my lifetime for Christians are still very, very segregated.
have you ever been called derogatory names concerning your race? what?
Um, yes….let’s see…Dirty Mexican, Spic, Beaner, Wetback, Greaser, and much more….let me also say that I’ve shot out my fair share of racial slurs of my own. No excuses, just how I’ve grown up.
what are some messages you’ve picked up along the way in your church experiences about your value, your voice as a person of color?
Historically I picked up two different messages from church experiences from both the white church and the brown church.
From the white church: That I am valued for my culture and my heritage as long as I can assimilate and it doesn’t disturb the norm. Once I am not functioning along the “preferred ideal” then it gets tricky.
The brown church: That I am valued as long as I can learn to succeed, straighten my life up, and be a prime example for my race.
From some of God’s people, non-church specific, outside the walls of institutional religion: I am valued for my personhood, that as a person of color I am loved for my differences as well as my similarities.
what are some ways that you have grown in your faith by being the “minority” in lots of the faith communities you’ve hung out in the last few years? what have you learned about God, yourself, others?
That reconciliation needs to be owned by everyone…and that we are all image bearers of the Holy One. That the road is arduous but completely worth the value of “becoming” loved and in love with one another. I’ve learned that we ALL have a story, even God…and that ALL stories need to be validated, acknowledged, and valued. I’ve come to know that I have as much to do with my healing process as both the victim and victimizer of others. As Martin Luther King said, “”Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
have you felt marginalized by “the church” or christians sometimes? how?
Often…by their lack of desire or ability to fully enter into my world…we need not share the same story to be fully present with one another, but rather all that is needed is an unconditional invitation to one another’s story.
what would you love to tell “the church’ when it comes to diversity & inclusion across cultural and racial barriers?
Let us have hope for our God-led movement towards diversity and communion with our fellow travelers of life. And while I mention “hope” I mentioned it as Vaclav Havel once said: “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” Let us have the certainty that it makes sense that we ought to be united and strive for that no matter how it turns out. Let us love well.
any other thoughts you’d like to add?
I am wounded…there is no doubt about that. I have pain…there is no doubt about that. I have memory of wrongs suffered…no doubt about that. But I am constantly trying to choose to be reminded of these words by St. Augustine:
We stand in awe of the ocean,
But we pass by
A human being
Is God’s most magnificent creation.
thanks, alex. we have so much to learn from each other, to push aside our prejudices, our insecurities, our lack of understanding, and work towards love and restoration in ways that are beyond the ways of this world. until we have walked in another man’s shoes, we will never know what it feels like to be called a “f*cking spic”, the dignity that can get stripped, the ugliness that power can perpetrate. we also miss out on the beauty of the heart and humor of someone different from us, and the joy that comes from finding ourselves together in God’s kingdom. my hope is that as Christ-followers we will do absolutely everything we can to break down walls of discrimination and prejudice & boldly practice Christ’s ways of love and reconciliation.