Not Knowing What We Don’t Know

hidden-figuresTell me your story,” I blurted out to a stranger at Montreat last week.  Not sure why I didn’t just start with “Hi” but the stranger quickly became a friend because he told me his story.  He looked like a hipster which means I’d pegged him as one kind of person when actually his story informed me that he was another kind of person.

Erroneous assumptions cause problems.

I’ve been in situations because people assumed things about me based on my job, my age, my gender, my appearance.  And I have my own personal problem with making erroneous assumptions about other people.  We call this implicit bias.

The God who knows the truth about us (and especially those things we would die if everyone knew about us) calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves.  It’s easier to do this when we know peoples’ stories.  When we don’t know what we don’t know we are not just ignorant; we are dangerous.

I am a little less ignorant about systemic racism after reading Waking Up White – the book Denise Anderson and I are asking everybody in our denomination to read.  Before reading the book, I didn’t know that the GI Bill was – in the 1950s and 1960s – only for white men.  What this means:

  • White men got their college educations paid for or subsidized which means that . . .
  • They graduated from college without loans which means that . . .
  • They could buy a home to build equity which means that . . .
  • They  could afford to move into better and better homes with higher tax rates which means that . . .
  • Their schools were better which means that . . .
  • Their children could get a good education which means that . . .
  • Those children could get into better colleges and perpetuate the advantages.

So, if Black men didn’t have access to the GI Bill . . .

  • They either couldn’t go to college or they had to borrow money for college which means that . . .
  • They started their adult working lives at a disadvantage and also . . .
  • Even if they could get a good job and buy a home, there were only a few neighborhoods they could get a mortgage to buy a home because of red-lining (and being considered a poor financial risk) which means that . . .
  • They lived in less desirable neighborhoods which means that . . .
  • Their property tax rate was lower which means that . . .
  • There was less funding for their schools which means that . . .
  • Their schools had fewer resources which means that . . .
  • Their children had a disadvantaged education which means that . . .
  • Their educational futures were limited which means that . . .
  • Disadvantages were perpetuated.

Do we see the “systemic” part of systemic racism?  Nobody alive today initiated systemic racism.  It’s been set up this way for a long long time.

This is a long introduction to why I recommend that we all see the movie Hidden Figures this weekend.

Many white people not only do not know this story which is part of American history, but we also do not know the extent that racism has been an everyday reality for citizens of color in the United States of America since forever.

Not only are we ignorant when we don’t know what we don’t know; we are also dangerous.

Note:  I write this on the day that a man has killed innocent people in the Ft. Lauderdale Airport and while information is still coming in, one tweet I read which was sent to Ari Fleischer who was in the airport when it happened is this: Are they screaming or ?   

One more time:  Not only are we ignorant when we don’t know what we don’t know; we are also dangerous.

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One response to “Not Knowing What We Don’t Know

  1. Maggie Jorgensen

    Somewhere in the last few months I saw something posted by a white male who said he had gone to school with African Americans and he didn’t see that they were treated any differently than he was. I was utterly amazed. We usually (unless we ask as you did) have no idea what goes on in people’s lives. We don’t see the racism because we don’t have to. It doesn’t register when we do. And even when it isn’t a matter of racism, we just don’t know what happens. My cousin, my age, same hometown, had no idea of the physical abuse occurring in my home until we were grown up and she talked with me and my sisters. I’m don’t know how we help people open their eyes, other than by telling our stories or stories entrusted to us.

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