What Does the Word “Racism” Trigger in You?

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By Michelle Reyes | Twitter: @dr_reyes2

My eyes twinge and a sharp pain reverberates across the back of my head as the artificial light of my computer screen glazes over me. Tiny, black words hang large within its interface, words that I’ve been staring at now for hours, and each glance, each repeated visualization, feels like a knife twisting in my heart.

My inbox is cluttered with hate mail, blazing in a sea of fire that screams words like, “I’m disappointed in you,” “You’re not a Christian,” “Stop being so liberal,” and (my favorite insult) “You talk like a Democrat.”

Why is it that the very mention of words like “racism”, “repentance” and “reparation” trigger such cruelty?

My brown-skinned, brown-haired body feels both wounded and indignant. My vulnerability to speak on broken things—the brokenness of my past and the ways others have sought to break me—are not heard with empathy, but hate. The only thing that seems to be triggered within my seemingly otherwise friendly fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to words like “racism” are anger, hostility and vitriol.

Do they not know that I was almost born alone and unassisted because the proud, white doctors of South Carolina refused to help my East Indian, immigrant mother in the delivery room?

Do they not know that the boys in school always ranked me in last place on their beauty scale because I didn’t have white skin or blond hair?

Do they know that none of my classmates ever sat with me at the lunch table because they thought my homemade Indian food looked like vomit?

Surely, they say, Christians who try to flout the ideals of racism, repentance and reparation today are just advancing the agenda of modern liberalism. This is Marxism at its core. You just hate us because we are white, because we are supposedly “privileged” and have more money than you. What nonsense. You’ve been white washed with the ideals of dialectical materialism, but you won’t be able to trick us!

But, I’m not just sitting in my arm chair at home, trying to pick a philosophical fight on the internet. I’m trying to tell you my story.

I’m holding out my arms, marred with wounds and rejection like Christ’s body on the cross, open, naked and vulnerable for you to see. It’s taken over thirty years for me to find the courage and the voice to speak these experiences into existence, to shed light into my own darkness.

My body has been made fun of. My clothes have been made fun of. The food I eat has been made fun of. My mother has been made fun of. The things I treasure most in this world, the things I cherish and love, have been made fun of.

Every part of my being, as a brown-skinned, East Indian woman, has been mocked, rejected, interrogated and publicly humiliated. But, when I speak about these things, daring even to ask for an apology, particularly amongst my fellow believers, the doors are slammed shut, the lights are turned out and the sneers begin.

Is it so wrong to ask for an apology, individually and collectively, from the other?

Do we have such a deficient theology of repentance that we are triggered to anger and repulsion by the very idea of racism being met with various forms of reparations?

Just recently, I was refused service at a national American conference. I walked up to a booth to ask questions about their resources (and, of course, to receive one of their famed swag bags that everyone was raving about). The two men behind the table wouldn’t even talk to me. Horror, anger, even shame washed over me as they looked me up and down, from head to toe, lingering over the black hair on my arms and my high brown cheekbones, remaining silent all the while and conducting themselves like statues until someone like themselves, with fair skin and blue eyes, approached the table.

Am I a Marxist because I wish reparations could have been made that day?

I’m not looking for retribution. I’m not trying to punish anyone. I’ve looked to Christ and have sought to model his own example, begging our Father to “forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

My words come from a place of love and forgiveness.

I do want shalom. I talk about things like racism, repentance and reparation because I desire peace, and it pains me that, when people listen to my pleas, many only hear a language of hate.

I share my story with you, not to pick a fight, but rather as a call to listen, to care, to empathize. Don’t allow these words to catalyze open hostilities between majority and minority, white and brown, liberal and conservative. Consider instead why my words trigger anger within you in the first place, dig deep inside your own heart and see if you can make space for my pain as well.

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About Michelle:

Michelle Reyes, PhD, is a pastor’s wife, author, speaker, and momma of two little ones. She is a regular contributor for (in)courage, Think Christian, Church Health Reader and The Art of Taleh, where she writes on faith, family and diversity. In both her writings and in her ministry at Hope Community Church, Michelle seeks to build bridges across cultures, joining people of different ethnicities and skin colors together for Christ and His Kingdom.

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