“Take up the White Man’s burden — Send forth the best ye breed — Go bind your sons to exile To serve your captives’ need; To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild — Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.”
— Rudyard Kipling, from his poem “Take up the White Man’s Burden”
“Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.”
— Jesus in Mark 8:23b-25
One of the greatest “loopholes” (if we can call it that) in the idea of race is the multi-racial child. Each of us who is born of parents from two different ethnic origins, at some point, is probably faced with the reality that we do not fit neatly into the pre-made roles of race. That is why the Southern White Culture once created the “One drop rule,” saying that if you had one drop of “non-white” blood in your veins, you were considered colored. Being a mixed, mestizo man, I think I’m absolutely beautiful in my ethnic makeup — having my mom’s body Scottish build and my dad’s thick, black hair. According to the age-old wisdom that permeates thought even to this day, I am not a white man — even though I “pass” as one in most of my spheres (unless my Absalom-like hair grows out, that is).
Even today I am frustrated that the age-old “burden” of our Country — to catch and tame all that is not of us and inferior to us — still works against some of us. That paternalistic, imperialistic, colonialistic impulse finds its way into so many of our relationships. A lot of well-intentioned people have come up to me and assumed (usually because I look unkempt with long hair or lacking a neck tie) that I need to be domesticated and brought in line. My experiences are mild compared to many others’. However, part of me is white and, having benefited from the patriarchical, imperialistic, colonized powers of our systems, has exercised this burden on others as well. I’m part of the problem as well as the solution.
Jesus gives me hope, when he heals the blind man in Mark chapter 8. This is such a funny miracle. The Lord heals him by putting spittle and mud, of all things, in his eyes. Then, as if to say, “Let’s see if it took,” Jesus says, “Do you see anything.” The semi-healed man says, “Well, y’all look like a bunch of Ents, or like an animated olive grove ramping around.” Then, Jesus touches the man’s eyes and restores his sight. The man was able then to see clearly. In the Church, we are so often semi-healed. I have gallivanted around as if to say, “I am woke.” To quote my friend Kylie though, I am more likely “baby woke” most of the time. Or, as the Apostle Paul says, talking about love, “for now we know in part and we prophecy in part.”
We all have our burdens for ministry, and much of the time, we are probably destined to hurt other people. However, Love covers a multitude of sins. As we continue in ministry, let’s not stop, because we see people as objects or haven’t been fully healed. Even when we take up the burden of our respective races (White, Latinx, Asian, Black, etc.), let us not forget that the burden of “taking up our cross” is the greatest burden that Jesus told us to take up. And as we do, let us continue in hopes of having our vision healed even further.
Consider this poem that I wrote, wrestling with being white and of color:
“The Non-White Man’s Burden”
“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” — Verbal from the movie The Usual Suspects
I am part paper-thin skin
that cringes at being sighted,
afraid of being blighted,
if I were to name the sin
of white comfort within.
But them I’m the other.
If only seen I’ll be in sync —
purple, polka-dotted, or pink —
with people “blind to color.”
Time to use my muffler?
Now who but “What are you?”
is what people are often asking,
basking in doing the unmasking.
I’m then tasked to give a view,
walking a mile in their shoe.
Taught to treat everyone the same,
might actually work in the sequel
when people are finally equal.
Until then the minority finds blame,
an implicit demeanor of binding shame.
My mom’s ancestors ceased to be several
when they saw my dad’s forebears dark like night,
and for control of all that was theirs, started a fight.
So now, those at the bottom all know it’s unlevel.
What rolls down the bevel is from the white devil.
The systemic reality — the practice and possibility
of racism — is bad, but it seems not nearly as offensive
as saying “white supremacy,” which makes defensive
anyone who’s benefitted from it. It’s my responsibility
to say that this is the definition of “white fragility.”
Pray: Lord, the world is endlessly complicated, and I am vulnerable to suffer from analysis paralysis. However, please help me to move forward with what I can see, to ask for grace when I can’t see the full picture, and to trust that You are moving forward, willing to heal me of all my remaining blindness. Amen.