I really don’t have much to say in our national conversation about race after the George Zimmerman trial, and I think that’s good. You see, I can’t get it. I can’t possibly understand the racial reaction.
I grew up in a white school, in a white suburb when Grand Rapids, like Detroit and Newark, were being torn apart by race riots. I remember looking out the back seat window of our `67 Pontiac at the boarded buildings and broken windows from the devastation of racial politics. I remember being afraid.
My family tried to be inclusive. My dad talked to Ted, a black man, at the ballgames. My Grandmother hired a black lady, Mrs. Little, to clean her house. But we had no black friends, and as far as I know, my wife, Natsuko, was about the first person of a different race to walk into our red brick house on 4 Mile Road.
Then I lived for a year in inner city Chicago, just a few blocks up from where a guy named Barack Obama was organizing the community. My favorite professor was his pastor, Dr. Jeremiah Wright. In the combination of graduate school and internship, this white, suburban boy was to lead a black youth group. I often felt like I failed the cultural sensitivity test. We’d join hands and pray at the end of our meetings. I was the only one who couldn’t pray in rhythm. (You should have seen me get my butt kicked on the basketball court.)
I’ll skip over Japan and a cross-cultural marriage, and Natsuko getting followed in white stores because she’s a person of color. Let me just conclude where I started. I think the best way for our white, dominant culture to participate in Jesus’ reconciling work of breaking down “the dividing walls of hostility” is for us to say nothing–because we cannot get the African American reaction to the verdict. That’s not to say that there isn’t anything proactive for us to do. How about listening to a person of color talk about their reactions to the trial through their experiences of racism. Then only speak if you can improve upon the silences. I bet you can’t either.