I remember visiting an older woman in her home. It was early in my ministry. She lived just a couple of blocks from the church but had been inactive for awhile. We didn't know why. It was one of my jobs to get re-connected with her.
We had a good visit and communion. We talked about a lot of things, most of which I do not remember any longer. We talked about the new development that might go in, and the probably would have to move, but that there were not any good options for retired people moving out of their homes to stay in this community.
At one point in the conversation (I no longer remember the context, but perhaps because "the neighborhood is changing") she said, "I used to be okay with black men, but then a black man robbed me, and now I don't trust them any more."
Those were not her exact words, but that was the general gist of it.
I remember as well, that my first instinct was to say, "I understand." My first instinct was to feel sad that she had that experience, and to sympathize.
It was not until sometime later, after I had gone home, that I thought something else.
I thought: I can't imagine anyone making that sentence this way, "I used to be okay with white men, but a white man robbed me, and now I don't trust them any more." Well, I suppose someone could make that sentence, but they would get a lot of pushback on it.
If you have a bad experience with a someone in the dominant culture, someone whose skin is fair, someone who we call "white," you can't get away with being afraid of everyone else who resembles that person.
As well, if you are a white person, you assume that people will judge you as an individual, not as a member of a group. And if people dare to characterize you or stereotype you or make assumptions about you, you have a lot of venues for righteous indignation.
I think about the nine people who were praying at Mother Emanuel in Charleston. They had every right to be afraid of that young man who came to the Bible study. In fact, they should have been afraid of him. Maybe they should have locked their doors and politely told him 'no.'
But they didn't. They didn't act out of legitimate fear. They didn't treat him as a representative of a race that had harmed them over and over again. Instead, they treated him like a person, like a child of God.
He did not return the favor.
The realization drives me to silence.