Before I dive deeper into this topic, I think it’s right that I provide a little context.
I grew up in eastern North Carolina in a predominately white area. I went to a predominately white high school. When I graduated in the year 2002, we were still voting for senior superlatives according to race. Instead of Best Looking, we voted for “Best Looking White” and “Best Looking Black.” Instead of voting for Best Dressed, we voted for “Best Dressed Black” and “Best Dressed White.” At the time, I remember thinking that it was rather crazy, but being a minority in a predominately white high school, it ensured that someone from my race had a chance to win in those categories. The real tragedy is that I never heard anyone among the staff, faculty, or administration say a mumbling word about how backward this was.
Fast forward to my first stint in college, which was somewhat of a culture shock, as I attended one of this nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities—otherwise known as an HBCU. This was a great time for me; every day I was able to see, with my very eyes, black professors, black PHDs, black lawyers, black engineers, black CEOs, and the list goes on. Some may not understand the importance of this, and I apologize, but I do not have the time to explain it at this moment.
From there I enrolled at a small bible college in Missouri. This too was a culture shock because though I grew up in a predominately white area and went to a predominately white school, neither were as predominately white as my time in Missouri. This was REALLY different. This really different experience is what I want to center in on as we continue to discuss The Problem of Race in the United States of America.
Last week I mentioned that a few predominately white institutions have asked me to draw from my experiences and give a few suggestions on how they can improve race relations within their organizations. I always begin with my time at that small bible college because I believe what I experienced there was really powerful and adds value to this conversation.
At this small bible college, most of the students, staff were white (there was one black employee working in the admissions department). All of the faculty and administration were white, with the majority of both being white men. I was a student there for two years, and by the time I left there were three professors that had a huge impact on my life. A few years after graduating, I began to evaluate why those men were able to have such an impact on my life. We really did not have much in common.
Then it hit me. All three of those men were former missionaries on foreign soil where they were minorities. Furthermore, the very nature of what they were doing, as missionaries on foreign soil, was the engaging of culture that was different from their own. They had been a minority and were able to identify with that experience, and, they were not afraid to engage someone who looked, acted, and thought differently than them.
The willingness to engage other cultures and races is a step in the right direction as we navigate The Race Problem in this country or in your organization. People learn through engagement. Instead of allowing a book, movie, or television show to inform your notions, engage people for yourself. Engage those that are different from you. And not necessarily to draw conclusions, because though there may be cultural norms we must understand that with people there is nuance. We are not mathematical equations.
Grace and peace.0