Christmas has come and gone, it’s now 2008. The hustle and bustle of shopping and family times have wound down and by now we’re all transitioning back into the routine of work or school (maybe a few pounds heavier though). Although the season has passed, I feel a little obliged to tell a personal Christmas story. And, although it deals with a difficult subject, I find it completely necessary to discuss. The reason is simple. I will take every opportunity I can, as I believe all people of faith should, to speak out against, discredit, and fight injustice and ignorance.
This is a true Christmas story, but for the sake of tact and because specifics are irrelevant, I am leaving out the names of some people and particulars to my story. I hope you don’t mind. My Christmas story took place in my home city of St. Louis. It’s a strange city, Northern, but still Southern, yet Midwest. It’s considered one of the more dangerous cities in the U.S., which is debatable, but, surely, in my opinion, it is one of the most segregated. No, not segregated in the old school way. There are no Jim Crow style politicians, separation laws, or KKK rallies. Instead, ethnicities are simply compelled to live differently; meaning they (generally speaking) live in different areas, listen to different music, hang out within their own race, etcetera. If you ask me, I say this is a travesty. The good news is, I see it changing rapidly. The bad news is, while this separation exists, racism freely coexists.
I visited a friend this past November who lives in a typical suburban home on the North Side of town. Our families have been close their entire lives, so in a way, I grew up with them. Recently this friend of mine had a vacancy in the home next door to them. The home was only free for a short time until a single woman moved in. This woman was of another race, a minority, and had with her six kids. My friend’s father, who is typically a quiet and friendly man, took immediate irrational offence. He was convinced in his own mind that this was a woman who had never been married and has had each child by another father. I listened to him complain, highly upset, raving about how the children would soon be having wild parties, vandalizing his home, and disrespecting the neighborhood. He was talking about putting up a privacy fence, talking about his property value decreasing, talking about moving. I tried to discuss it for a while. I reminded him that of all the crime that has happened in his neighborhood, which consists of a few car break-ins and his home being broken into once, the culprit who was caught was someone of his own race. I also pointed out that the neighbor on the other side was a different ethnicity and they were the quietest and most sensible neighbors on the block. So race has nothing to do with anyone, it’s all who a person is individually. He still wasn’t convinced. He started to say that this new neighbor had to have purchased the house through section 8 federal assistance. He was fully convinced. I tried to rationalize with him. Maybe the home was being rented; maybe the woman had a husband who was out of state for work. I reminded him that when his family first moved into the neighborhood, they were just as poor. They had no furniture and drove the ugliest, oldest cars in the neighborhood. No reasoning would suffice; such is the way with racism.
This is how it continued every time I would visit. Things got worse. A few times the neighbor dropped in to ask typical neighbor favors. Of course, to her face he was friendly, but once he was back in the house the comments started back up. He only became more angry and embittered at every encounter.
Through this ordeal I was reminded of a very keen African America professor I had in my undergraduate studies. She was very intelligent and quite schooled in civil rights and psychology. I learned a lot from her. One day in class we were discussing civil rights and racism in our city. Most students, as with our generation, were engaged in the conversation, anxious to discern ways to combat cultural segregation and separatism. One student, a European American one, was not interested in closing the racial divide. She was a recent transfer student from California, ironically a state which prides itself as progressive. She argued that people naturally lean towards ethnicities that they are part of, and that this was natural and acceptable because those people naturally have more in common. The professor was quick and to the point. She pointed to one white student and one black student and asked the young Californian to choose which of the two students she would naturally have more in common with. Predictably the Californian chose the white student. The professor asked if the Californian has ever spoken with either the white or black student. She said no. The professor then made an argument I haven’t forgotten since. She said, “Now, how do you know that the white student isn’t from a foreign country and here on exchange? How do you know she even speaks English?” If the white student was foreign, the black student would clearly have much, much more in common than the white student. The young Californian was stumped.
So the point is this: you don't know anything about someone until you become their friend. Never judge anyone according to appearance, especially on race. Get rid of all prejudice in your heart, whether racial, sexual, or what, and go get to know people. When messiah came to teach the world truth, he didn't leave anyone out, he taught all- Jews, Gentiles, and Samaritans. Let's follow His example. I quote Him, "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment."
On Christmas Eve I was visiting my friend’s family again. After I was there for a little bit, the new neighbor knocked on the door again. Her car had broken down and she was in desperate need of a ride to the local market. I volunteered. Through our conversation I found out she just moved into St. Louis from Oklahoma with her four kids. Her was husband was recently K.I.A. in the Iraq war. Through social security benefits due to her husband’s death, she was able to move her family into a bigger home, in a nicer neighborhood. The other two kids in her home are foster. She works at the local high school as a math teacher. She is struggling, as any person in this circumstance would. She is also determined, intelligent, and hard working. Her name is Maria; her favorite color is purple.
I leave with this challenge. I encourage us all to check our hearts. Let’s look and listen deep in our souls and make sure there is not even a hint of prejudice. As people, we can never look at someone we don’t know and assume a thing. As hip hop heads, we should take pride in our diversity, which is at the essence of our culture. As Christians, we need to check ourselves first, then after that step out and lovingly correct those who are lacking in understanding. Then we truly love our neighbors.