I am white. I grew up white with two white parents. I was born and raised in this country. I had no choice in where I was born, nor did I get to choose the colour of my eyes, hair or skin.
Even though I didn’t know it, my perception of the world around me was naive. Because I have white skin and lived most of my life in rural Saskatchewan, there were many things I was unaware of.
It took a child to teach me an important lesson. One week, during summer Bible camp season, I took a young First Nations teen to the doctor in a nearby small town. After the appointment was over, I asked her if she wanted to go get a slush or something to eat before we headed back to Camp.
“What kind of town is this?” she asked me. I replied, “A decent one, I think.” She then asked, “Are they friendly here?” and I said, “I think so.” Then she blurted, “Are they friendly to brown people here?”
My whole world stopped for a moment as I pondered her question, and it shook me to the core. I didn’t know the answer. I have never gotten out of my vehicle as a brown person. I have never walked into a store wondering if the workers would be friendly to a white person.
Racism runs deep in my province. It is taught generation to generation. I see the ugliness of it all around me. It is so deeply ingrained that people reveal their racism without even knowing it is showing.
It may be that there is some racism in all of us. Preconceived ideas and ideologies that lie under the surface are within each of us. But if racism is taught, can it be untaught?
I grew up naive and unaware because my little world wasn’t affected much by racism. I didn’t mean to be ignorant … I just was. It took children to teach me – children who were born with brown skin and had no choice about it. I needed someone to teach me what I could never learn on my own.
How do we learn? We become students. It starts with getting out of our comfort zones and rubbing shoulders with those of other cultures. As we live life with those who see things differently than we see them, we start to have a richer view.
It happens as we invite people into our lives and as we are vulnerable with each other. As we do life together, we learn. As we learn, our perceptions change. As our perceptions change, we think, speak and act in a different manner.
May God give us eyes to see and a heart to learn!