Looking both Ways

What would happen to race relations in the U.S. (at least) if Americans of African descent sometimes tried to identify with the experience of a white person? It may happen more than blog posts after racially charged incidents suggest, but the theme of many an African-American pastor after the Michael Brown shooting was that white people need to empathize with the experience of African-American men.

Well, sometimes, an African-American does see the world through the eyes of a white man (or boy). How could that happen? Well, in the case of mixed-race couples who reproduce children who look white, an African-American parent will need, as Trillia Newbell reminds her readers, to consider the experience of white folk in the U.S.:

Because he is white-looking, I fear my son will grow up in an environment that is hostile towards white males. I do live in the south where racial tension and strife have plagued our history. So what if we end up doing just the thing we’ve fought so hard to stop? What if we, black Americans, begin judging other brothers and sisters solely based on the color of their skin? Could my son be thought of as an ignorant, uncaring, privileged white male? There is a good and needed call to repentance, action, and – at the very least – acknowledgement that there remains a problem in America regarding racial reconciliation. We haven’t arrived—far from it. And yet I wonder how it feels to be a white male in America today. There are some who have indeed acknowledged that racism continues to rot the hearts of men and women—even those within the Church. There are many who feel a weight of responsibility that could prove to be useful, but there are others who I believe feel a weight of responsibility, guilt, and fear. I want my son to know about our country’s history, to realize the sin of man, and to not retreat when faced with difficult and heart wrenching situations like that of Ferguson. But I don’t want him to walk around feeling guilt, shame, and fear.

If a mother can empathize with a son in this way, what about an African-American pastor who ministers to white and black people? Does a minister of the word, no matter what his background, need somehow to lay aside his own experience based on race or class or nationality and minister to the people in his congregation whose experience may be very different from his? It makes sense that a mother looks out for a son. It also makes sense that an undershepherd looks out for his sheep whether they are white or black.

6 thoughts on “Looking both Ways

  1. Empathy is impossible, and is a wussy Oprahfied newfangled prog concept; sympathy is possible.

    One cannot, and shouldn’t bother, trying to put oneself in the place of someone else, in terms of trying to imagine what it must be like to be them. By all means, try to understand, and sympathize.


  2. Will S.
    Posted August 31, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink
    Funny how few comments this post has generated in three days, compared to the open post about racial matters.

    Not funny or even worthy of note. Race is the “third rail” of American society and politics. [3rd rail = for an electric train, the one that if you touch it you die.]

    Since you seem to be some sort of foreigner, albeit an Anglosopherean, it’s all here.


    The rest was and is demagoguery. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, like any good prophet, was properly reviled.


  3. @ TVD: As a Canadian, living next door (and not only having visited many times, but having lived a year in the States), being quite exposed to American media, I certainly realize the taboos surrounding discussions of race in America.

    Yet the other post, the open post on race prompted by events in Ferguson, did manage to get lots of comments in spite of such, which wasn’t itself surprising to me, since the commenters here generally seem to be a fairly fearless bunch, willing to talk about anything, and enjoying a good argument.


  4. “What would happen to race relations in the U.S. (at least) if Americans of African descent sometimes tried to identify with the experience of a white person?”

    Good article. Ferguson is another reminder that race relations in the US still have a ways to go before people – white or black or whatever – are judged “not for the color of their skin, but for the content of their character” (MLK). The problem I have is with so-called “civil rights leaders” who are basically race-baiting rabble-rousers who seem set on perpetuating a culture of victimization and identity politics, and who basically act as if we are still stuck in the 1960’s. I don’t think they are helping our nation attain to MLK’s dream. We still have quite a ways to go, but this ain’t the 1950’s/60’s.


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