“Are you for me or against me?”—this was my thought as I waited at traffic intersection and looked at the driver in the vehicle adjacent to me. Why did this question creep into my mind on a seemingly calm Sunday afternoon? The simple answer is: distrust is sneaky.
The man driving the vehicle I was looking at was an older, Caucasian male. I am a younger, Hispanic male with brown skin and what I like to think of as a beard (on most days). We were both in Charlottesville the day after our entire nation witnessed the violent and racist events that transpired in our little city back in August 2017.
In that moment at that intersection I was being tempted with a choice to treat my White neighbors with suspicion. Never before had I experienced the fear of discrimination as an ethnic minority in the city of Charlottesville until that day. The longer I pondered this feeling, the more I began to realize how sinister and destructive hatred is.
I’d like to offer two insights into this personal experience I had. As a disclaimer, I’d also like to say that my comments aren’t meant to reflect the feelings of all minorities. These are just my humble, Hispanic-American-Christian opinions. Take them as you wish.
First, I think it’s important that we as a body of Christ’s disciples would choose trust over suspicion. Within our Chi Alpha group at the University of Virginia, this is one of our “24 axioms,” scripture-based phrases that our community lives by. This axiom is one I often need to be reminded of.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that suspicion can destroy relationships. However, what I often find surprising is how it creeps into my life, like that day at the intersection. It feels justified, it feels cautious, and it even seems logical. I’ve observed how on our campus there are many people who live in fear of being discriminated against and how there are also those who live in fear of being seen as discriminators. What a paradox to live in; at every turn people are suspicious of one another.
I can imagine the thoughts of a hypothetical situation where two strangers pass each other. One thinks of the other: “Do you see me as less than you because I am not White?” While the other stranger wonders: “Do you automatically see me as a bigot because I am White?” This is how destructive suspicion can be in the hearts of people.
Paul encourages the church “to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness,”(Eph. 4:23-24 NIV). Christ taught us a better way to live with one another, even with those who do not profess his name. Christ taught us to love.
In a recent Voice of the Martyrs podcast, Edward Aruba, a former Bangladeshi Muslim, recounted the story of beating-up a Christian student who tried to share the Gospel with him. He mentioned how surprised he was to see the Christian student return to him days later, with bruises and scars. Edward expected retaliation; but instead he was faced with love, friendship, and one of the biggest smiles he had ever seen. This show of love was the catalyst that turned a staunch Muslim into a redeemed and reborn follower of Christ.
Love beautifully disarms hearts. Even when someone believes the worst in me and acts upon that, I am still called to love extravagantly. Edward’s story is an example of how true Jesus’ words in John 13:35 are, “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” It’s not about having all the answers, the most knowledge, or the best arguments. It’s about choosing love, especially in the face of suspicion.
Secondly, as a minority, I’d like to encourage other minorities to propagate understanding and not hatred. Recently, we held an outreach at our university where we engaged students by asking them, “How do you address racism?” Many students brought up the important topic of stopping microaggressions. I was saddened by the bitterness in many of them (the minorities) who recounted situations where they received unwarranted generalizations and remarks based on their ethnicity. One even commented about how close she was to punching someone after receiving an insensitive comment.
The Scriptures teach us of the power of our words in various places (Prov. 18:21; 19:1, 5, 9, 28). We should guard our words and speak lovingly and considerably towards others; but what good is it to just stop acts of microaggressions while holding on to the bitterness of the experience? This is why we need to promote understanding. It’s important for all people to know why their comments are hurtful, how they can respectfully refer to others, and how to affirm diversity.
There will always be people “less educated”on matters of diversity around us because we live in a diverse world. I didn’t choose to be born into a third-world country or to grow up in the melting pot of New Orleans. You can’t fault someone for growing up in an ethnically homogenous environment. Often times, I’ve met students at our university who say UVA is the most diverse place they’ve lived in! I firmly believe that Universities are strategic places to teach others on the value of diversity.
Yes, you’re right, not everyone is interested in educating themselves on why calling me a “beaner” is offensive (because I prefer the term “luchador” . . .). Yes, there are those who despite their diverse, university setting would prefer to live ethnocentrically encapsulated in their homogenous world. To that I say, "I am innocent of this man's blood," as Pilate did after washing his hands in front of the crowd about to crucify Jesus. If they are unwilling to listen, unwilling to learn, that’s on them; but let it be far from me that I withhold wisdom from a weaker brother if I have it. In my experience, this has not been the majority of people I have encountered, so the “benefits” outweigh the “risks.”
What a shame it would be if I gave into the feeling of suspicion that moment at the traffic intersection. My heart can be so easily “prone to wander,” as that timeless hymn says. I pray that it would continually wander into the grace and love of Christ. I hope my opinions are helpful for you. Again, you don’t have to agree with them; but at least I hope they help you process your actions next time you find yourself at a personal, metaphorical intersection.