Our White Unbelief

I married a wonderful person almost thirteen years ago. My spouse is a person of color, and I am a white kid from New York. Six months into our marriage my spouse came home fuming.

"I'm so sick of being overlooked, passed by, and judged because of the color of my skin!"

I sat quietly and listened to my spouse tell me about all of the times that others made stereotypical comments, asked if she spoke English, poked fun at her culture, or told her to go back to where she came from. I listened to all of this and then I said these words to my spouse:

"I don't think what you're saying is true. I'm with you all of the time, and I never see that happen to you."

I'm grateful that I have a patient spouse who deals with my shortcomings. I'm grateful for her forgiveness. I'm grateful that my spouse is willing to walk with me through my white privilege. I recognize that she didn't have to hold my hand through this process of recognizing my own privilege. In the past thirteen years there has been much to deconstruct and more to learn from her and from others.

The protests started by Colin Kaepernick, the murder of Terence Crutcher, and the Black Lives Matter movement have produced troubling comments from the white majority. In fact, much of our white sentiment sounds an awful lot like the asinine statement I made to my spouse thirteen years ago.

When Colin Kaepernick tells us he's protesting the unfair treatment of blacks, we in the white majority don't believe him. His experience is not our experience, and we tell him to love his country or leave it. After all, the white culture has been afforded privilege over and over by our nation. What's not to love?

Every time an officer shoots an unarmed black man the white majority immediately finds ways to discredit the deceased. "He didn't follow instructions! He was a criminal! Let's wait until we have all of the facts. It's not possible that there is racism involved because when we get pulled over by the police that hasn't been our experience."

Instead of saying #BlackLivesMatter we make a point to remind everyone that #AllLivesMatter. We tell those who will listen that black people should focus on "black on black" crime instead. We say "If they just worked harder they wouldn't be in bad situations. After all, we worked hard and look at us!" In essence, we're telling the black community that their stories, their experiences, their journey isn't true. It can't be validated because it's not the story of the white, Western majority.

And therein lies the issue. The white majority has made their narrative, their tradition, and their experiences the ones that define the American story. Anything else is not to be trusted or believed. In fact, anyone who is unable to conform to the white tradition is immediately met with skepticism.

Here's what I'm asking from the white American majority. I'm asking us to believe.

A black person who responds "emotionally" by yelling, laughing loudly, or "acting demonstratively" will often be given the label of "thug." These actions fall outside of the white views of appropriate behavior.

A man or woman who practices an Eastern religion is a terrorist and needs to go home. That person doesn't share the dominant Judeo-Christian heritage of white Westerners.

A brown-skinned man or woman who doesn't speak English is immediately called an Illegal. "It's a good thing we're building a wall. Then we can make sure that our story isn't infiltrated by a different worldview."

Our nation was founded and built upon a white Western narrative and throughout history our nation has worked to preserve that narrative at the expense and oppression of other races, ethnicities, and nationalities. Whether through slavery, displacement, deportation, or imprisonment we create consequences for those who are unable to conform.

Most of the time the white majority doesn't even know that we carry the deeply ingrained prejudices of our culture and tradition. It simply is for the white majority the "American way."

Our blindness to our culture, our privilege, and the benefit of the doubt given to us leads us to doubt the experiences of friends, coworkers, and yes, even our spouses. We continue to live our narrative with a blindness to the fact that it affords us opportunities and freedoms that others can only dream of.

Here's what I'm asking from the white American majority. I'm asking us to believe. I'm asking us to open our eyes to the fact that the world presents us with far more experiences than just our dominant narrative.

I'm asking us to believe someone when they tell us that they've experienced racism at the hands of the majority even though the dominant culture has a much different experience.

I'm asking us to stand in solidarity with those who have been systematically displaced, imprisoned, hurt, or oppressed, not because it's been our experience, but because our eyes are opened to the fact that the experiences of others are true. The experiences of others matter.

I'm asking us to believe a person of color when they tell you that their story includes abuse from the authorities. When an unarmed black man is shot, let us stand with each and every person of color who tells us that this happens far too often and it needs to stop.

Instead of building walls I'm asking us to immerse ourselves into an incredible hispanic culture.

Instead sending out skittles memes about the dangers of refugees, let us take some time to learn that refugees are indeed actual human beings with actual families, lives, stories, and histories. They are not candy. They are individuals.

It's time for us to recognize our own dominant white culture. Let's put the brakes on discrediting the experiences of others because it doesn't fit our worldview. Let's recognize that there are other cultural stories that maybe, just maybe, have something to teach us. Let us stop our unbelief. Hopefully this time it won't take almost thirteen years.