Thirty PLNU faculty, staff and students spent their spring break on a weeklong Civil Rights Pilgrimage, journeying through Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. Sitting in the pews of the church Martin Luther King preached in, marching across the famous Edmond Pettus Bridge in Selma, listening to President Obama give a live speech at the base of that bridge and standing in the spot where Martin Luther King was assassinated were life changing to say the least. But the most impactful moment for me was sitting around a table.
Our second to last night in the South, eight of us sat around a table in the hotel lobby. In that group of eight, four different races were represented and Doctor Beail asked the million-dollar question of what racism looks like at PLNU. The conversation that proceeded was hard, at some points tense, and at others full of miscommunications. But for me, that conversation was pivotal.
To hear that my friends carry the weight of generations, being some of the first of their “race” to go to college, is crazy to even wrap my mind around. To hear that people are surprised when they are articulate, educated and abstinent is hurtful to even imagine. To hear that they have to “act white” to do well, but in doing so feel they are abandoning their own people, is wild to even contemplate. Their boldness in trusting the group with their experiences was a gift, and yet I, as a white female, lament that I cannot understand completely because I have never lived these things.
In my time at PLNU, I have been constantly and painfully struck by how unknowingly privileged I, and so many others, are. This unrecognized privilege is what keeps us blinded to the realities of our brothers and sisters of other races; it convinces us that racism doesn’t exist. Yet as I sat around the table and shed a few tears over this fact, a friend challenged me to get past the guilt of it and start using the privilege to heal my own and other’s blindness. Sometimes that is hard to do without offending people in my ignorance, but if that fear of offense keeps me silent or complacent then I would imagine that is the much greater offense.
At that table in Alabama, the chances of offense were high and, admittedly, some offending did occur. But the boldness in everyone to allow God to start some reconciling made room for a divine moment. For the first time in my whole life, I was part of a conversation with people from four different racial backgrounds (white, Asian, black, latino) coming together to brave the conversation on race and build some bridges. Though there was lament attached to the realization that my friends feel discriminated against and that these conversations are so few and far between, there is hope because somehow those challenging but reconciling conversations have finally begun.
Photos courtesy of Rylie Shore