My paternal ancestors arrived here from England in 1816. One hundred twenty-five years and six generations later, I was born in Michigan just before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. I grew up in the Midwest in areas that were either rural, very small town, or suburban, providing minimal contact with people who were not like me – white, middle class, protestant. While walking across campus at the University of Michigan, I was puzzled when friends would identify a stranger as Jewish given only visual contact and did not understand why they would think it necessary to point it out. Subtle – but looking back, I recognize my first conscious experience with racism.
Today I enjoy my relationship with the people of All Saints Episcopal Church in Toledo whose congregation is predominately black. I took years of Spanish lessons with a group of Mexican factory workers whose goal was for us to “speak proper Mexican”. Working with the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo in a food/clothing ministry in the inner city has provided a meaningful way to serve and live my faith.
While I have friends who are of different colors, faiths, sexual orientations, etc., it occurred to me that I know very little about racism. The initial Sacred Ground series in Perrysburg (fall/winter of 2019) came at a time just before the eruption of the racial violence and unrest that exist in our communities today. At the time, I saw an opportunity intellectually to explore the concept from a faith perspective with people both in and outside my own church family.
I gained a great deal of new knowledge about the history of racism in this country. However, I was not prepared for the impact it has had on my personal understanding of racial differences and on my approach to daily life. I realized early on that my views were frequently naïve, childish even, simplistic, one-sided, and self-centered. “White privilege” was a foreign concept and the one topic that continues to define itself in my daily existence. Thanks to the Redlining exhibit at Trinity Cathedral, I recognize the ongoing effects in our cities. Thanks to a gentleman who spoke at our library, my personal goal of not “seeing color” has drastically changed. “When you ignore my black skin you make me invisible and disrespect me. I’m proud of being black.” I now “see color”. Learning to look at a situation from the perspective of another has been enlightening.
I signed up for Sacred Ground expecting to learn something about the history of racism in our country and came away with heightened awareness of my own part in racism here and now. Being aware that I am standing on Sacred Ground has been a highly personal experience and one what will continue to shape my way of being in the world.