The threads in a woven fabric are composed of the warp (threads running lengthwise) and woof (threads running crosswise) to create the texture of the fabric. I have a shirt I really like. It is as comfortable as any I have ever owned. It is polo style, so it can be worn to almost any occasion (except hunting). Its black, dry fit fabric is soft. It breathes. That is why I like it. The design, pattern, color, fit, style and comfort all work for me. What never crosses my mind is the warp and woof that makes up the material and holds it all together. I suspect most of us never think about it. If I were a seamstress, I might notice it. In fact, the thread might be the first thing I notice. But I remain blissfully, comfortably unaware.
I had a conversation with a friend recently who shared this story about fabric. He told me that people who have suffered from racism are like the seamstress. They notice when it is present and can see its source and effect immediately. As an African American who was a child in the sixties, he has observed over a lifetime that racism is like threads that make up a piece of cloth; it is woven into the fabric of our society. He said most people just enjoy the fabric without recognizing what is holding it together (or perilously close to tearing it). He said that if you pick at the fabric you will begin to notice the individual threads in the cloth and will begin to unravel it.
Our conversation started in response to an unpublished blog I wrote (called Bad White Guys) which I sent to him for comment before presenting here. We have a relationship of friendship and trust, so we can safely talk about racial issues. When we do, I usually expose ignorance and naiveté while he opens a door for me to see into a world in which I have never lived; one of which I have been blissfully, comfortably unaware. He has given me a lot to chew on.
Simultaneous to that conversation, I have been doing a survey about a video called What Kind of Asian Are You? It is about a young man who approaches a young woman and begins an awkward conversation about her race (she is of Asian descent). I asked a number of friends to view it and to tell me about their response. All the Americans who are non-white had stories to share about being marginalized by white Americans. One woman whose is of Filipino descent, who grew up in America, was told by a white friend, “your English is so good that if I were to close my eyes and listen to you I might actually think you were American.”
The people I asked to participate in the survey are people I know and love. I had never heard these stories from them before. I have been blissfully, comfortably unaware. The good news is that they say such encounters are not that prevalent. They felt no need to associate their white friends with the ill manners of some very clueless people. The bad news is that they deal with this at all. Frankly, I have never dealt with this. People find reasons to dislike me, of course, but I accept that I bear some responsibility for it or that they don’t know me and are just wrong. But the color of my skin has never engendered awkward encounters.
I started thinking about what my friend said about a seamstress who knows the fabric. These friends see something in America that I don’t. Fortunately, they are mature enough not to swipe all of us with the broad brush of racism, but they nonetheless have encounters that remind them that some people act towards them as though they are inferior because of their complexion. How sad. What might change if they could see the world through the eyes of Jesus. He says that in Heaven there will be people from every culture on Earth…
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10, ESV)
Jesus is inviting us to a great, multicultural celebration. Our nation is uniquely blessed to reflect racial diversity in the here and now. Cultural distinctions will last into eternity. They testify of an amazingly creative God. The message of Jesus both transcends and incarnates culture. He is teaching His people about the way of the Kingdom, where we…
“…put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” (Colossians 3:9-11, ESV)
If we listen and we follow, well…. that is good news.