I’ve experienced “racism” in the church throughout the 14 years of my saved life. I’ve heard derogatory comments from pulpits and pews. I won’t deny the gamut of emotions that overwhelm me when seeing and hearing church people act in ways contrary to our Biblical directives to
let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer (Romans 12:9-13)
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart
(1 Peter 1:22)
I initially set out to share my church experiences with racism in this piece but as I began writing, I felt convicted to go back. Way back. Like back to my formative years, prior to salvation. I would be remiss, and a hypocrite, if I failed to mention my own history of hatred for white people, which was passed down to me from the adults and community from where I came.
As a Mexican Latina who grew up dirt poor in both urban and rural areas, I have East L.A and New Mexico chili farms running through my veins. I’ve seen gang warfare and violence rip apart families. I’ve seen familia loyalty rip apart souls.
Uncle so and so sleeping with who in the family? Cousin so and so molesting who? Shhh….you don’t say anything…that’s familia. We don’t tell on our family, our people, our blood.
I know how the psychological effects of poverty and marginalization can create a deeply entrenched inferiority complex that seeps into every facet of one’s identity. A person struggling with issues of worth in a society that has written them off causes them to find their worth in other areas. Most often, that worth will be sought through demands of respect by oppressing or abusing people in our own family or our own communities. Mild and meekness is seen as weakness. For protection, we put on garments of aggression and hostility, wearing them for so long, they become part of our identity.
I was angry at my mother’s rage and chronic physical abuse, which caused me to run away from home too many times, I lost count. There is something about belts, straps, and flyswatters beating away at one’s skin that does something to one’s psyche and worth. When the hand that is supposed to love and provide comfort instead wraps fingers of wrath around the back of your hair and flings you across the room because you broke a vase, or didn’t fold the pillow case properly, you begin to believe that your life is not valuable.
I was angry at the Mexican high school students that bullied and made fun of me on a daily basis for having a nose I did not ask for and hair that did not fit the typical long flowing locks of beauty that Mexican women are known for.
I was angry for not having a father in my life and even more angry that my mother spoke lies to my sisters and I, telling us that he was an evil “wetback” of a man, in spite of the fact that we also wore Mexican skin.
I was angry that I had to work in the onion fields with the hot New Mexico sun beating down on my already “tanned” skin. Not to mention the back breaking work of packing onion and chile peppers in sheds to earn money for school clothes because my mother’s welfare check was never enough for anything. If we didn’t want to “look” poor in school, we went to work with the nomadic seasonal migrant workers who did not have papeles (papers) to be in the country legally.
I was an outcast in school, abused at home, and had absolutely no social skills to fake normalcy. Through my own external and internal suffering, I looked to books, specifically history books and biographies of oppressed, abused or suffering people to be exact. I felt a sense of camaraderie with fellow sufferers.
I knew what it was like to be on the receiving end of blow after blow on one’s skin due to another’s internal rage. I knew the pain and victimization that occurs when things that happen outside of one’s control that makes life miserably sad and unbearable. I felt every bloody stab to my already fractured self esteem when my classmates made it clear that I did not fit any standard of beauty.
It was through those history books that I learned that oppression seemed to be a fact of life for all different people groups across the globe. Jews were oppressed by Romans and Germans. Arabs often oppressed blacks and other Arabs. European white poor were oppressed by other European white aristocratic elite. White American’s often oppressed mostly non-whites. Africans oppressing Africans. Latin American’s oppressed other Latin American’s. Cubans oppressing other Cubans. History books taught me that suffering and oppression were not bound by a border or people group and seemed to be a universal reality of life.
However, in spite of knowing that suffering and oppression was universal, my own anger, frustration, emotional exhaustion, chronic feelings of inferiority, worthless, hopelessness and poverty was the perfect storm for hate to percolate in my heart as well.
My family frequently made comments that white people were to blame for Mexican poverty and marginalization yet no one talked about how and why. It was too easy to just say “because the white man”.
We were blind to the depravity we inflicted on each other in our own majority Latino community but we always had fingers pointed at those outside of our immediate social and family circles. Gangs were creating wealth through drug sales and fighting for land (territory) with other gangs. The tension felt in the neighborhood between black, Latino and Asian gangs was thick, yet we ignored all that. Instead we created derogatory names for white people that were often thrown around with such matter of fact-ness, I never questioned if they were true or not. White city people were dirty, lazy, stuck up, power hungry, know-it-all’s, greedy, and their food had absolutely no flavor and when we moved to the country, those same terms still applied to white country folk. Regardless of how much we made fun of white people in harsh stereotypical expressions, we never actually knew any white people. White people and white culture were foreign to us. We lumped all white people into one category. It was easy to hate and categorize white people, when we didn’t actually know any personally or intimately.
I finally left home at 16 because I could no longer handle the beatings. I moved to another city and began attending a high school for troubled teens. The only person to befriend me at my new alternative high school was a white teenage single mom. I eventually moved in with her, her 6 month old daughter and her single mom. All of my assumptions and presuppositions about white people were put on hold.
Interestingly, this tiny female family initially treated me like a charity case. They taught me that toilet paper went on the roll a certain kinda way. Oatmeal (avena) needed a recipe. Worst of all, I had to figure out how to walk on the balls of my feet because being a good neighbor meant not forcing our downstairs neighbors to hear our heels pound the floor as we moved about our second story apartment. That was my very first exposure to “consider others”. I hated that rule because it meant I had to be mindful of someone else, even when I didn’t feel like it. Other than some interesting cultural distinctions, I learned my stereotypes were wrong. I grew to love this new broken family and they seemed to love me.
I lived with them for about 2 years until I got pregnant. Sadly I then moved back to my majority Mexican lower income migrant agricultural small town community, got on Section 8 housing, applied for food stamps, welfare, WIC and attempted to settle into my Latina teenage mom statistic life. I would not have a deep close relational interaction with another white person until God saved me 16 years later and sent me a white husband to love, learn from, and make every effort to understand.
After marrying, I was thrust into majority white spaces and God immediately began schooling me on some things further deep into my heart. Yes, I praised God that I was no longer a slave to outward sins, like sexual promiscuity and my identity was no longer defined by meeting statistical criteria (uneducated, Latina, single parent) but rather wholly defined by my adoption into an eternal kingdom and co-heir with Christ.
However, there were other things lurking in my soul that still needed light. I would never have been able to wrestle with them had God not given me a white husband.
All that to say….before I could, with a clear conscience, call out the sins of racism, I first had to wrestle with and confess the junk in my own heart. This is my confession. Now I can talk about racism in the church.
to be continued……