“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, and love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13.12-13
Starting at about age 11, I was privileged to go to Gulf Shores, Alabama, each spring break with my family and 2-4 other families from our church. I was the youngest in the family’s groups of children, so when everyone graduated and did their own thing, I was allowed to bring a friend. I realize now as a parent this is a win-win situation. In any case, one year, I invited my friend Aisha. She and I did everything together; she was a track star and she and I would be coached by her dad to do speed workouts in her neighborhood. We were in band together, many classes together, and the ultimate test of middle school dynamics: sat at the same lunch table in the cafeteria. We of course had chatted about the potential spring break vacation for weeks before we had our parents talk about it.
About a week later my parents sat me down to tell me Aisha couldn’t come on spring break with us. I was devastated. But she said she didn’t have plans this year! She said she could go! Her parents know you guys, we’ve done sleepovers, and everything, they trust you! It’s not that, they told me. Alabama is deep south. Aisha’s parents are worried that she won’t be safe at times, or that she’ll be targeted with racism, and they won’t be there to protect her from it. It was just too unsafe, too unknown what she might encounter. I didn’t get it. But we’re not racist! I argued. “Sadly, that’s not enough,” my parents said. It’s not about us, they like us fine, it’s about Aisha’s safety. They told me that if they were in their shoes, they would’ve said no too.
I’ve never forgotten that moment. Never once had it occurred to my younger self that there was someplace I could travel to and I wouldn’t be welcome. There were areas that were unsafe because of violence or war crimes, sure, those might be off-limits, but not because of me. Not because of how I look. That was the first time I remember learning about white privilege. I didn’t know the word for it. I just knew that the world Aisha and her parents lived in was scarier than the one I lived in, despite the fact that we lived in the same community, went to the same school, and had the same opportunities. I thought it was enough that I had education and didn’t believe myself to be a racist. Just like it wasn’t enough for Aisha and her family to feel safe, it’s not enough now. I can do better. And I will. Slowly, awkwardly, moving forward.
Prayer: God help me to be humble enough to learn all that I don’t know and to accept that I don’t know quite a lot. Help us as a community listen to one another’s stories so that we can heal, connect, grow, and love our neighbors more fully. Amen.