I am a racist

I don’t lock my car doors when a black person walks by at night (like many of my friends do).

But I know that I don’t.

The thought rarely crosses my mind when the person walking by is white.

I’ve been choosing where to go to church for over 15 years, but I’ve never been a member of a church that had more blacks than whites. I’ve never even visited a “black church” with the intention of possibly joining. I can choose where I want to live, but I’ve never lived in a neighborhood, or apartment complex, that was primarily African American. Aside from my tenure at UPS, I’ve never worked at a place where I was the minority. Of even greater significance, I’ve never even applied to work where I’d be in the minority.

I went to an undergrad that first accepted a black student in 1963. By the time I got there it was still predominately white–and it wasn’t even close. I went to a seminary that desegregated in 1965, and it also remains predominantly white to this day. It does, however, have a Black Student Fellowship. There is no need for a White Student Fellowship.

I think Ebonics sounds ignorant, but redneck sounds cultural.

I have hundreds of contacts in my phone. Precious few are black. I have over 1000 friends on Facebook, with about the same ratio as my phone.

It’s not enough for some of us to admit, “I could have been Trayvon Martin.” Others must also confess the inverse:

I could have been George Zimmerman.

Determining whether or not Zimmerman acted from racial motives isn’t my priority (the FBI says he didn’t). Determining where I still act from racial motivation is. The KKK has passed from relevance, but subtle racism like mine maintains a stranglehold on racial progress. Zimmerman may not have shot Trayvon because he was black, but everything about that night and the subsequent trial only served to reinforce various racial fault lines, or scripts. “Each side is using a racial script. Everyone’s script involves a racial perspective. Everyone’s.”

It’s very likely that Zimmerman’s actions had far more to do with ignorance, foolishness, and misplaced bravado than racism. And perhaps Trayvon even acted the part of the thug. Regardless our opinion of what transpired that night, we do ourselves a favor to learn from what we know happened in its aftermath: a significant percentage of our population said our country still staggers under the weight of racism.

This is why Trayvon Martin and Zimmerman’s case matters so much. When one life, one death, one case ignites so many passions and incites such a depth of reaction, we have several options. We can downplay the position of those with whom we disagree, or we can seize the opportunity to examine our own lives for blind spots.

When we rush to politicize, we squander the opportunity to personalize.

I am a racist, but I don’t want to be. I will continue to strive to be better than, more than, a racist. I am a racist, but I don’t always have to be. I am a racist, but with the help of Jesus Christ, one day I will not be.

This is my salient takeaway from the Trayvon Martin case.


About Tim Owens

I'm a husband, father, and Christ follower. I also live in Albany, NY, where I work as a pastor.
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4 Responses to I am a racist

  1. I know/agree with, what you are saying. However, I think that the “racial” aspect is totally geographic. I live in Norfolk, Virginia and the majority of “African American’s” fit the racial profile of “thug life”, you owe me “__________” because “__________”. Basically, a misconstrued battle cry , evolving from a truely remarkable speech, given by the martyr of a cause that few can follow.
    To quote Chris Rock, “I am not a racist. I hate (Chris Rock quote) niggars, but I love black people”). There is a difference. Just based on the this past weekend, the driving habits of the 757 are far worse than anywhere else in the state. The “melting-pot” that I heard so many horrible stories about, was just a minor inconvenience, we made good time the whole way. Through-out the whole weekend, the only issues we had were when we passed through the tunnel on the way home and started to encounter “thug life”, or “reckless driving”. I am not racist, but I hold “thugs” and “squids” in the same regard, based on experience in my little part of the world.

  2. dan says:

    another brilliant piece that i can unfortunately relate to. thanks for sharing so honestly.

  3. Faith says:

    Thanks for your honesty. But I’m trying to wrap my brain around the statement you made about redneck being cultural. LOL um,NO….ballet is cultural, redneck is not! (Just keeping it light here :D) seriously, though, I think most of us in our little upper middle class burb have a bit of racism in us whether it’s against African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, or whatever…..thanks for a great post

  4. kelly says:

    Don’t let geographic location or the lack of assimilation confuse you with white guilt and racism. Our society is segregated as much by choice of Blacks, Asians, and Hispanics as Whites. Blacks prefer to live in a Black neighborhood but can assimilate in other neighborhoods and same goes for the other races. For the most part races feel most comfortable around their own race. Transversely less comfortable around other races. This is not racism but a lack of assimilation. If you meet each individual with love and respect assimilation will occur naturally over time. However, I love your quote about Politicizing vs Personalizing. I think you are dead on there. People want to establish a platform and enlighten people with their version of the truth filtered by their opinion and experiences. Asking more involved questions like what does it say about the society I live in that this case received this much attention and inspired this much passion. What would you do if you were Zimmerman, or Martin. How can this experience cause me to reflect on my own personal environment and inspire growth and possible change from what I see in that reflection. Thank you for the post.

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