I never thought much about racial differences as a child and young adult. I do remember being surprised that my parents felt it was inappropriate for me, a little white girl, to ask Santa Claus for a black baby doll. I, therefore, did not get one.
I knew intellectually that blacks and whites experienced life differently, and I recognized at an early age that this was wrong. However, I still stood outside the situation, approaching it from the position of white privilege without even knowing what that privilege represented.
An experience I had about twenty years ago gave me a better understanding. At that time, my best friend was another young woman, a co-worker, who was black. Regina and I spent a lot of time together, doing what best friends do. One day, we decided to walk to a downtown restaurant for lunch. It was then that I began to experience the condescending, even degrading, attitude with which some whites treat blacks.
The hostess who “welcomed” us did so with only a vestige of civility. We were seated at a table where we proceeded to wait, and wait some more, and wait even more for someone to come and take our orders. Meanwhile, other patrons who had arrived after us were served their meals. Still we waited. Finally, the wait staff saw fit to come to our table and take our orders.
I was appalled at the level of customer service in this restaurant, but I still had not put two and two together, as they say. However, when I commented on it to my friend, she simply looked at me and said, “It’s because you’re with me.”
We stayed and ate in that restaurant for the principle of it. We never went back, though. That was in the 1990s, a time when one would hope that the attitudes of Jim Crow had long ago died. I was then, and am still, deeply saddened by the ways we humans–and especially, we Christians–continue to allow this sort of prejudice to exist in ourselves.
Regina died of cancer several years ago, and I still miss her. I know, however, that she is finally in a kingdom where the color of her skin isn’t an excuse for others to treat her with less honor and dignity. And so I pray with even more fervor than before, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth…”