“It is nice to find someone who agrees with me.” This was the second comment my seat-mate made within a minute of sitting next to me on the plane. Her first comment was a question, “What are you reading?” Without verbally responding I held up the spline of my book, it read “White Rage.” In general I avoid airplane conversations. I was hoping she would take a quick glance and focus on her iPad. Instead she reached across the aisle, tapped her husband’s arm, and said, “Look at what he is reading.” For a second time I raised my book spine. This is when the second comment came. At this point I was starting to get confused. The full title of the book is The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide – White Rage. Carol Anderson, the author, carefully and thoroughly revisits the history of the United States, particularly as it relates to race. She makes a convincing argument that every racial advancement from Reconstruction to the present is met with an equally powerful white rage designed to circumvent and keep people of color in “their place.”
It was interesting to find myself in a conversation with this couple that assumed I was another white man fed up with all the whining by people of color and Black Lives Matter. It slowly downed on me that the spine of my book could be understood in multiple ways! I had a moment of wanting to correct their assumption about my choice of reading material. In the end I chose to just let the conversation play out.
It was fascinating to listen in on an unedited conversation about how people of color just need to get with the program. After a short time I was saved by the safety announcement. This allowed me to put my headphones on and focus on reading for the rest of the flight.
I have continued to reflect on this encounter. Why does there seem to be such a lack of empathy or understanding by white folks for anyone who is different or who challenges our assumptions? The daily protests around our country advocating for Black Lives Matter or by our First Nation brothers and sisters in Standing Rock, ND against the building of a pipeline through sacred lands should be a cause for pause and reflection.
We need to find ways to move beyond the assumptions and values of the white privileged class. Reading the Bible only through the lens of northern European white theologians has done the church great harm. It has colored, more often than not negatively, our understanding of Jesus, the Church, and our role in society.
Five years ago I made a commitment to read three theologian authors of color for every white theologian. This has proven to be a valuable decision. It has helped me to gain a wider understanding of who Jesus is and our role as believers in the world.