Monthly Archives: July 2016

Why I’m a Racist…the Response

Two weeks ago, I sat in my favorite chair at 6:00 am with a cup of coffee and troubled IMG_3140heart.  I opened up my lap top and started writing.  I didn’t know what I was going to say or how I was going to say it, but only that I needed to say it…for me.  My heart was so heavy that I needed to look directly into it and see why.  So that is exactly what I did.  Less than an hour later I hit “publish” primarily because it was time to go to work.  To be honest, I didn’t even know if the post was done yet and I certainly didn’t think many people would read it,  but I just had to get it out.  (Have you ever had something you had to share even though you “knew” nobody was really listening?)   I spoke to an issue that breaks my heart, but aside from that I had nothing to offer it but authenticity.  What happened next was incredible.

In less than two weeks over 1.5 million people have read my words, radio stations have called to talk to me about it, people have republished it and wrote articles about the article.  That’s cool and all, but the thing that has absolutely floored me, and the reason I am back in my chair with a cup a coffee writing, is the responses.  The conversations, comments, emails, posts and private messages that you have shared so genuinely with me.  Whether we agree or not, you have shared something deeply personal with me and I want to honor that.  You have given me a gift.  When I first sat down to write I had a very limited perspective on the issue of racial inequality and in a lot of ways that is still true, but you have given me a bird’s eye view into the heart of America on this issue.  Yes, the reactions ran the spectrum.  There were those whose responses were just hateful. I am not going to waste your time with them.  There were others that were comical, but held deeper meaning.  And then there were most of you.  You bared your heart and I will never be able to say thank you enough.  I hope that I am able to do justice to your words.

Let’s start with the comical:

 “Your wife and kids are not blond.”

Yes, I received this multiple times.  For the record, they are sandy blond; lighter or darker depending on the season and the lighting.  That being said, if you read an article about judging others based on some physical attribute and you get stuck on how blond my family is, I have to ask you: What are you avoiding?  I don’t mean this as a dig at anyone, simply a question for consideration.

“You don’t know what the word racist actually means.”

or

“You’re title is just click-bait.”

Yes, I do know the official definition of the teracismrm racist.  I also know what the full definition is.  But without arguing those points let me just explain why I used that term.  First, there is just about no more offensive thing you can call a white person than a racist.  It creates such a feeling of discomfort that I am forced out of my comfort zone and I promise you, that is the only place change ever happened.  Second, I have realized that because I had this picture of what racism was, and it doesn’t line up with who I am, I feel like I am in no way connected to it.  If I’m not connected, there is nothing I can do about it. Re-examining what that word could mean helped me to connect with an issue that I was having trouble engaging with before.  It helped make it personal.  Finally, did I realize that some people would click on the article simply because of the title?  Sure.  While it was not the reason I used the term, why would I change it just because it might motivate people to read what I wrote?

“Finally someone who gets it.”

Now that we have covered that, let me tell you what the overwhelming majority of you said: “Thank you for being so honest.” “Finally someone who gets it.” “Thank you for articulating what I have been saying.” “I sit here reading this through tears…”  While you might be tempted to think that these were responses from African American readers, they were not.  White folks, by the hundreds, have been responding like this.  My new friend Jackson Young put it this way:

“I need to realize that even though the slogan is “Black Lives Matter”, they don’t mean that other lives don’t.  As I sit here in tears I realize they mean, racism exists, inequality exists, and that their lives matter, that they are a part of humanity just the same.  It’s sad when you think about it…us white folks don’t have to have movements because we are not reminded daily to a level of ridiculousness the color of our skin.”

He went on to say:

“So today moving forward I will no longer remind everyone all lives matter, I also will not profess people of color matter more, but I will say people of color matter too and they need to know that.  We are the only ones that can show them that, so help me, next time you see someone of color remind them with a simple gesture  ‘you matter too.’Let’s start there, once our brothers and sisters know we have their back, they will feel like they matter. It’s sad when any color of humanity has to say ‘hey don’t forget about me.'” 

 

I have no words to add to that.

I have received just as many responses from African Americans.  I believe these three best sum up the majority:

  “I deeply regret that my father and grandparents are no longer alive to read this.  Your words are beyond their hopes and dreams.”

“This is how we heal and move beyond our pain.  It takes each of us looking at ourselves, being honest and deciding that we want to be better individuals.”

“As a black woman it was refreshing to the point of tears to read your words…I have always looked forward to the day when we all could openly dialog about race and its impact on our nation.”

Based on these responses and many others it seems pretty clear that most African Americans are not looking for an “excuse for missed opportunities” or to “blame white people for everything.”  Men and women of color were moved to tears simply because some white guy from New Jersey acknowledged what they deal with every day.  They are simply looking to be heard.

I think I can sum up this “bird’s eye view” in a couple of points (clearly brevity is not my strong suit).  First, most white people think racism is disgusting.  They don’t want to be associated with it in any way and any suggestion that they are is deeply offensive.  They feel like they have been unfairly judged by society as “having it easy” and supporting racial inequality because it benefits them.  Neither of which are true of the majority.  They just want that reality acknowledged and then they are willing to talk.

Second, most African Americans don’t believe that they are owed any special privileges. They feel that they have been unfairly judged by society as wanting “special treatment,” which they find just as offensive as discrimination.  Their primary frustration with “white America” (if they have one) is simply the refusal to admit that racial inequality exists.  They just want that reality acknowledged and then they are willing to talk.

This is the point…

This is the point: if we can just get over ourselves long enough to acknowledge the other side’s reality, we could actually DO SOMETHING about this whole mess.  Please hear me, we are ready to have the conversation.  Find someone in your life who has a different experience than you, and ask them what it’s like for them. That’s the easy part. Then listen.  Don’t argue, don’t justify, don’t defend, just listen.  I think you will be surprised how willing they are to hear you after that.

 

Why I’m a Racist…

IMG_3037I am a white american male. I’m married to a beautiful blond-haired green-eyed woman and have two amazing blond-haired blue-eyed boys.  I was a blond-haired blue-eyed child who grew up in suburban New Jersey in a solid family with a mother, a father, a brother and two dogs. I lived a life marked by opportunity and forgiveness; and while I may not have always had “much”, I have always had the benefit of the doubt.  I was raised to treat everyone equally, regardless of race, or any other demographic for that matter. And while my town may have been predominantly white, I certainly didn’t grow up isolated from other races and cultures.  But even with the upbringing and exposure I was blessed with, I’m probably still a racist.  I don’t mean racist like a hate filled bigot who dehumanizes and devalues the lives of others based on skin color.  I mean that I am uncomfortable with, ignorant of and distant from racial inequalities that exist in my country. It is okay for me to admit this.  It doesn’t make me evil, it makes me ready for change.  This admission took two things: research and honesty.  Over the last couple of years I have read, watched, listened to and participated in countless discussions on the topic coming from a broad range of sources.  Through this process I was able to realize the aforementioned realities. Which is great for me, but for purposes of this post, let’s unpack them a little.

quote 1

I am uncomfortable with racial inequalities that exist in my country. I live my life day in and day out and only rarely am I forced to confront these realities. Certainly the media, social and otherwise, shine a light on the issue, but that is not what I mean.  Reading a powerful blog post or an inspiring tweet does not constitute confronting anything.  What I mean is that when I get pulled over, shop in a store, go for a job interview, meet a new person for the first time, etc… I expect to be judged by who I am.  Yes, I am tattooed and bearded so I’m sure that on occasion someone generalizes about me, but I don’t worry about it because I know that once they get to know me they will move beyond those judgements. And I assume that they will eventually get to know me, because even with their judgement, they will give me the benefit of the doubt.  I live my life benefiting from other people’s glass walls.  That is simply not true for people of color.  They are forced to confront it every single day.  Perhaps not in an overtly bigoted and hateful way (although I’m sure that happens too), but in the “deficit of the doubt.”  The security guard that makes a mental note that they are there, the woman who locks her car door as they walk by, and yes, the times they get pulled over for driving while black. (No matter how much or how little you think that happens, we all know it happens.)  So you see, while I am very uncomfortable when forced to confront a terrible reality that I can generally avoid, my friends and neighbors of color are forced to confront it every day.  Consequently, they have formed a thicker skin to the subject and are more free to discuss it.  This can easily be misunderstood as being rash or aggressive because it creates an uneasy feeling in me. Let me put it this way: we all have that person in our lives who always manages to say the one thing that makes everyone in the room uncomfortable. Maybe it’s a friend or coworker, maybe it’s your cousin or your sister-in-law; whoever it is, our attitude is generally that it is their problem.  We feel like they are doing something to us, because we are feeling uncomfortable with what they are saying or doing, rather than taking responsibility for our own feelings.  Until I can acknowledge that I feel more uncomfortable talking about racial inequality than people who have been forced to deal with it every single day of their lives, I will never be able to get over myself enough to be a part of the solution.  And if I’m not a part of the solution, I’m a part of the problem.

I am ignorant of the racial inequalities that exist in my country.  I was recently watching a Sunday service from North Point Church.  In the service the lead pastor, Andy Stanley, invited two African American men who were also christian leaders to be a part of a discussion about recent events and racism in general in this country.  They both explained the reality that they were taught how to behave if they ever got pulled over by the police. wallet They talked about it as if it was just another part of growing up.  An obvious lesson like don’t drink and drive or always pay your bills.  This may not seem so strange until they described exactly what they meant by “how to behave if you ever get pulled over”.  One of men relayed that he was taught that you never reach for your wallet.  Now, I understand that if you are being addressed by a police officer you don’t want to be erratic or make any sudden moves, but the degree to which this lesson was ingrained in him as an African American young man was startling.  It ran so deep in his heart that when he heard about recent events he admitted that there was a part of him the thought to himself, “Why’d you reach for your wallet? You know you’re not supposed to reach for your wallet.”  I will teach my boys to always be respectful of police. I will teach them not to resist or run if addressed by police and to always be upfront and honest, but I will not have to teach them not to reach for their wallet.  I cannot imagine feeling like I have to teach my children how to protect themselves from the people who are meant to protect them.  If ignorance is defined as lack of knowledge, education or awareness then I most certainly ignorant of the racial inequalities that exist in our country.  The beautiful thing about ignorance, though, is that it is easily remedied; but not without willingness and intention.  There is a video that has been circulating recently showing several people sitting in a diner, all of whom are white except one.  The waitress comes out and brings all the white patrons pie.  The African American man then asks the waitress, “Where’s my pie?” to which the other patrons respond, “Why are you making such a big deal? All pie matters.”  It is meant to illustrate the tension between #blacklivesmatter & #alllivesmatter.  I think it is an excellent illustration except that it misses one of the most important factors.  It would have been for more accurate if the white guys who had received their pie were blind-folded.  Because whether or not we mean to, most of us are blind-folded to the things that people of color deal with every day.  That is not our fault, but whether or not we stay that way is on us.

My discomfort and my ignorance can be attributed primarily to one thing: I am distant from the racial inequalities that exist in my country.  I live in New Jersey.  I am not someone who has gone their whole life without interacting with people of color.  I am not someone who is solely informed by the media in regard to cultures and races outside my own.  I have friends, coworkers, neighbors, mentors and family members who are people of color but I am still distant from the racial inequalities that mark their lives.  I have never made it a secret that I was a “rebellious youth”.  And by that I mean that I was a criminal.  I made very bad decisions and did a lot of awful things.  Some things that I will never be able to fully make amends for.  I have, however, never spent more than a weekend in jail.  I have always attributed the reality that I am a free man to God protecting me and allowing me to learn my lesson without prison time.  I still absolutely know that to be true.  However, I have to acknowledge that my “get out of jail free cards ” came, at least in part, due to my ability to catch a good sunburn in 15 minutes.  I also regularly share with people how grateful I am for all of the opportunities I have been given to do things I really wasn’t qualified for.  I have been allowed behind the scenes in a lot of situations that shaped who I am and developed me in my field with no explainable reason.  While I will never really know for sure, I have to wonder if my experience would have looked the same way if I didn’t.  The “deficit of the doubt” that people of color experience throughout their lives is something that I am only beginning to understand.  And that understanding is really only an intellectual one.  It is often said that the greatest distance in the world is 18″, the distance from your head to your heart.  I will always remain distant from the deficit of the doubt until I allow it be hit close to my heart.  The question then is: How?

Know someone.

I don’t mean know someone in that way that white people tend to reference when racism comes up in conversation.  That, “One of my best friends is black” way.  I mean I have to enter in.  I have to make it my business to overcome my uncomfortability;  I have to be intentional about educating myself and raising my awareness so that my ignorance can diminish; and I have make it personal.  I need to let my heart break at the fact that there are people in this country who do not receive the benefit of the doubt, ever.  I need to care enough to do something.  Something more than just write a blog post or share a powerful video clip.  I have to build genuine relationships with people of color and stop the whole ridiculous “I don’t see color” BS.  I need to see color and learn to appreciate it for what it is.  I need to allow myself to participate in and grow from and enjoy a culture that is not my own.  One that has its pluses and minuses like all others.  I need to be willing to get close enough to applaud when there is a victory, mourn when there is a loss and call it out when there is a shortcoming. I need to actually see my brothers and sisters of color as family.   I have a certain degree of power and privilege because of my skin color.  That is not something I need to feel guilty about.  I didn’t ask for it or seek it out, but I have it.  The responsibility for having it isn’t on me; but the responsibility for what I do with it is.

 

 

 

 

Us

I wrote this a couple years ago in response to the tragedy of division we suffer as a nation. Sadly, it is just as true today as it was back then. 

Knowledge is power,Whether true or false.

But our “outrage” and “inrage” create borders and walls. 

What we know and what we show to prove us right,

Have most to do with our side of the fight.

But if kindness and love would lead the way,

If we really would listen to what “others” say,

We might start to see less them versus us,

Less suspicion and conspiracy, more unity and trust. 

Not man versus women, not old versus young;

Not black versus white, not most versus some.
We need less “versus” and more “verses”,
More love and less hate;

We need to create doors,

not barricades and gates. 

When community and unity trump distrust and accusation,

When we finally come together and stand as one nation,

We’ll see the difference between a protest and a riot,

We’ll learn to speak our mind we won’t need to be quiet,

But the fury won’t burn our homes and our towns.

Our anger won’t hurt whoever’s around. 

But our pain WILL be seen, heard and known.

We’ll no longer live the lie that we’re in this alone. 

We’ll stand with each other shoulder to shoulder,

And leave something better as we grow older;

For our children and their’s to have and enjoy

For all of their years whether girl or boy,

Whether black or white, whether rich or poor

Whether blue or white collar, whether less or more.

We’ll all share this world and its epic story

We’ll know “our” role, but delight in God’s glory

We’ll care for each other with compassion and love,

See the needs of another and put them “above”

So this world needs less knowing,

More listening, less showing.

We need more community, more unity in life;

less difference and anger,

Less suspicion and strife.

This society this nation,

This world this creation,

Is not about difference, despite all the fuss.

It’s not about division, it’s about His image in “us”.

What’s Your Wall?

I have always prided myself on being open-minded and non-judgmental.  I am a non-no rulesconformist by nature.  For some reason I have just always felt driven to push against the norms our society imposes on us.  As a result, I have always thought of myself as something of a free-spirit.  This manifested itself in all kinds of non-productive ways when I was younger.  Rebellious behavior that had real consequences; but that’s a story for a different post. 

“Our glass walls convince us that our happiness is somewhere else, whether that is just around the corner or beyond all hope.”

We live in a time and culture that encourages inclusion.  We teach our children that no one should be excluded based on external things.  We also teach them that they can be anything they want.  Nothing is out of sight.  Unfortunately, we also live in world filled with glass walls; barriers that we cannot see.  They’re made up or our preconceptions and fears; our limited perspective.  They tell us it’s “us vs. them” & “survival of the fittest.” Our glass walls convince us that our happiness is somewhere else, whether that is just around the corner or beyond all hope. They keep our hearts and our lives trapped; isolated in a maze we have no way of navigating. The worst part is that we don’t even know exist until we run up against them.  That’s what makes them so devastating.  Because we can’t see them, when we feel their confining presence, we believe there is no hope of ever going beyond them.  Glass walls are quite literally the barriers that stand between us and joy.

 

Our society emphasizes the visual.  We engage things based on how they look. This shows up in every form of communication from advertising to social interaction. We are no snap chatlonger satisfied to post statuses or send text messages, now we Instagram and Snap Chat. “A picture is worth a thousand words” right?  We put so much emphasis on it, in fact, that when we can see something we stop paying attention to anything else about it.  So when we start moving in a particular direction and we run up against a glass wall, we think it is simply a reality that we have to accept.  We have to learn to identify them.  That’s the first key to finding freedom. We have to start to trust that feeling that comes when we run up against them even when we can’t see them. Only then can we start to move beyond the glass walls in our lives and enjoy everything that this world has to offer.

Glass walls effect every area of our lives: our friendships, marriages, parenting, career choices, purchases, etc..but none is more detrimental than the area of relationships.  Every relationship decision we make is profoundly effected by our glass walls; who I will and will not associate with and how I will interact with those I do.

“Glass walls limit every area of our lives: our friendships, our marriages, our parenting, our careers…our relationships.”

I remember when I first started working with the homeless I had so much compassion for them.  These men and women were either forgotten or ostracized by society.  It broke my heart.  I thought that I was one of the few people who could really see them for who they were, and I was going to help them.   I  genuinely had no idea that I was being limited by a glass wall.  It wasn’t until a few months in that I really started to see what I had been doing.  Our outreaches were based around a mobile soup kitchen.  We wsittingould set up tables and tents, play music.  It was a lot like a weekly block party.  One particular location in Harlem, was heavily trafficked by folks struggling with addiction and folks looking to turn
a profit off them.  I remember standing there at the end of an outreach and seeing a man pull up in a tricked out BMW.  He pulled right up to the back of the bus and jumped out.  His cloths were clean an new, his sneakers were spotless (a rarity at our outreaches) and I could see the light reflecting off his watch and his chains from 30 feet away.  He went up to the window to get a cup of soup and I remember feeling particularly angry.  Who does this guy think he is?!? He doesn’t need this soup! Chances are, he’s part of the problem.  Driving a ride like that, with bling like that in this part of Harlem…he’s probably making his money off the misery of “my people”.  So I start to walk over to see what is going on when he spots me (we had shirts that clearly indicated us as outreach leaders) and he starts heading my way.  At this point I am ready for a confrontation.  I’ll tolerate him but if I see any indication that he is trying to sell to anyone he’s gonna have to go.  As he gets closer, he extends his had to shake mine.  Then he introduces himself and tells me that several years ago he was homeless.  He was at the end of his rope, with no where else to turn when he happened to walk into one of our outreaches.  He told me that he was treated like a human being for the first time in years.  People wanted to know his name and listen to his story.  We gave him some soup and some referrals to social services that helped him get back on his feet.  Now he has an apartment and a good job.  He said he happened to be in the area and figured he’d see if we were still there so he could “get a cup of the soup that changed his life.”  My glass wall shattered in an instant.  In that moment I realized two things: 1) I had judged him before I even met him as someone who was there to hurt the people I was there to protect. 2) The people I serve are not mine to protect.  I had been seeing what I was doing as charity.  Me giving to those in need as if I was somehow better than them.  In reality, it was communion.  I was enjoying relationships with men and women who allowed me into their lives.  From that day forward my life was made richer by my relationships with my homeless brothers and sisters.  They prayed for and cared for me just like I prayed for and cared for them.  We celebrated together and we cried together.  We enjoyed community.  I began to notice when other glass walls popped up in my life.  When preconceptions and fears were keeping me isolated and robbing me of the true joy of living.  I also learned a powerful truth: Glass walls may be hard to see, but they are not hard to break through once you know they are there. But how? That question is perfectly answered by a story my wife told about our oldest son Noah:

Yesterday, Noah and I were getting in the car to run to the store, when a teenage boy approached us, almost in tears, explaining that he was lost, didn’t know where he was, and couldn’t figure out how to get home. He couldn’t find anyone who would help him, he kept asking people, but no one would. I immediately start trying to figure out how to help him-where do you live, do you know what it’s near, don’t worry we’ll help you get home, calling Jeff to come out and help him figure out where he needed to go….when I hear Noah yelling from inside the car, “Just ask him his name!” It was such a sweet reminder to me that so many times we see the details-the problem, the solution, the ins and the outs…but God just wants to know us. So many people are hurting, and just need to be known…sure they need help too-but more importantly, they need to be known. God gets that, which is why He calls us by name, and says, even before I formed you, I knew you. No one is invisible to God….or to Noah. So thankful to parent such a special boy, and thankful that he sees his daddy also cares about the things God cares about…because of course, Jeff asked him his name.

The most powerful question you can ever ask is, “What’s your name?”  In that one questions we blow past all of the circumstances, the judgments, the fears.  In that one question we tell people (and ourselves) that we want to know them.  We begin to truly see hello my name ispeople for who they are, not who they appear to be through our glass walls.  The most amazing thing that happens when we do this is that it bleeds over into other areas in our lives.  Our relationship with others are not the only relationships that are effected by glass walls.  They also limit our relationship with God and with ourselves.  When we begin to seek to truly know others, we begin to seek to truly know God.  Not know about Him, but really know Him.  We will begin to find all of the things in that relationship that most of us seek out in earthly relationships: comfort, encouragement, peace, acceptance, belonging, etc…  We can begin to rely on God as a source of strength and stop seeing Him as some distant figure.  He becomes present; He becomes real.   That changes everything.  It also allows us to begin to do the same thing for ourselves.  We stop judging ourselves based on what we see.  We set aside the limitations that we have imposed on ourselves either because of fear or some preconceived notion of who we “should” be or what we can or can’t do.  Only then do we begin to discover who we actually are and who we were always meant to be.

“It is a journey that will certainly last a lifetime but can begin in an instant.”

Most people who know me know my story.  I won’t hash it all out here, but the simple truth is that I lived the first part of my life in a constant cycle of hopelessness and self-loathing.  I did things that I never thought I would and always seemed to fall short when I tried to turn my life around until one day, God decided it was over.  That is a sever over-simplification but the point is that the man I am today in no way resembles them man I was.  I am given the opportunity to speak into peoples lives in powerful and important ways.  If you had offered me a snapshot of who I would become back in the day, I would have thought you were crazy.  But step by step, day by day and year by year, God has been helping my break through my glass walls and live a life of genuine freedom and happiness.  Every time I break through another one, every time I seek to really know someone, I move one step closer to God and ones step closer to the man I was always intended to be.  It is a journey that will certainly last a lifetime but can begin in an instant.  So what’s you wall?