March 7, 2016,
Dear Friends and Family of the Diocese of Eau Claire,
During last night’s Democratic Party Presidential Debate, the two candidates were confronted with an important question. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were asked, “Do you have any racial blind spots? If so, what are they?” Predictably, neither candidate answered the question. I wish this question would also come before the Republican candidates.
I have racial blind spots. My experience as a white person who is now 67 is one of being imprinted with racial discrimination. The imprint was so strong I have spent the last nearly 50 years trying to unlearn what I was taught. What am I talking about? What is an imprint? We are formed in childhood by our parents and others to embrace certain values. Most of these values are good. We want to admire and respect our parents. They are our primary role models. They imprint us, usually in the name of love.
In the midst of this I was taught to be cautious. It is a good thing to pay attention to your own safety—up to a point. Racial discrimination, the differentiation of race and the placing of false values on those of different skin color, was imprinted into me in the name of safety. I was taught to identify with my own kind—white people. In growing up I never knew a black child. Those persons of color I did know were maids or yard men. It’s is easy to put false values and to acquiesce to the racial invective of peers when those being castigated aren’t aren’t around. In my late teens I worked as a construction laborer as the only white person in a black occupation. Among many lessons I learned was that I better get a good education. I didn’t want to be stuck with this job and among these people for the rest of my life.
Like Hillary and Bernie, I’m not answering the question. It’s hard to answer a blind spot, for by definition it is something I don’t see. Even more painful is what I do see and am too embarrassed to admit. At least the question has forced me to see a primary source from where the blind spots came, and this is an important beginning. Understanding how and why I was racially imprinted is a key element in my own faith journey. Do you have racial blind spots? I ask that you too consider it. How we were reared as children in the midst of good and not so good formation is a good starting point. With my love and best wishes, I am,
Your brother in Christ,