I've been considering writing about the sermon I heard last Sunday. LaShawn Barber has an interesting post entitled "Has 'White Guilt' Run Its Course?" (no) and it and some of the comments have inspired me to go on and do it.
The sermon was given by one of the associate ministers, who happens to be the son of our senior minister. The title was "Why Diversity Matters" (and let me say parenthetically that I long for sermon titles like "Behaving Like a God-Fearing Person" and I may do something about that before long.) He started out by saying that Memphis is a segregated city and we need to stop being that way. Okay, well, from what I read Memphis is actually more integrated than most cities, but I made a conscious decision to keep an open mind and listen to what he had to say.
What he had to say was a resume of his own experiences. All of his schooling, K-12, was at private schools here that are mostly white, so he was surrounded, as he said, with "people like him". College, ditto. He never was around black people much, apparently, until he went to seminary in New Jersey and got a job at a church where, for the first time in his life, he was a racial minority. Apparently he got some kind of epiphany and has come back to get us all straightened out. Okay, maybe it's ugly of me to put it that way. I have PMS. Shoot me.
Here's the deal: My daughter went to a parochial school K-6. The school was about 50/50 black and white. I remember one year they had an overabundance of boys in her grade for some reason, and there were 4 black and 3 white girls in her class. Public magnet schools for 7-12, and these teetered on the 50/50 mark the whole time; by the time she graduated from high school, white kids were a slight minority at that school. Our neighborhood is probably roughly 50/50. A white family moves out and a black family moves in. A black family moves out and a white family moves in. F played with the black kid next door - they set up a space ship in the back yard, I remember. As for me, the overwhelming majority of the last 24 or so years I have worked at places where white people were in the minority.
And then there's F's friend, also a member of that church, who went to Central High School here in Memphis, and was part of the 13% of the student population that was white.
We don't need anybody lecturing us about how segregated we are, especially someone with the - I don't want to say "privileged" because, even though it was more expensive, it wasn't necessarily any better than my daughter's. But "elitist"? Is that what I mean? background that he stood up there and told us he had. I think he was projecting his experiences onto the rest of us white folks without stopping to ask himself whether his assumptions were valid. That's partly a sign of immaturity, but also there's this:
One of the commenters on LaShawn's post said that she thought liberal guilt was a sign of laziness. "It is so much less effort to make a big display of self-flagellation, and throw some money (other people’s money) around than to really engage with people. It is so much less effort than to follow Christ, in whom there is no Jew or Greek, no black or white, no free of slave." Is it laziness that this minister hasn't gotten to know the portion of the congregation that isn't "like him"? People who can't afford expensive clothes and ski trips and attend or send their kids to public schools? And ironically, now I am going to talk about the virtue of diversity: If you spend time at work or at school with people who are not "like you" then it becomes easier to leave your comfort zone and connect with those people; or maybe your comfort zone just becomes a lot larger.