white discomfort

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Yesterday, I bought thank you notes at Paper Source. The woman behind the counter was black, and as she rang up my items she asked how I was. Flipping easily into the liturgy of nicety, I said, “I’m well, and how are you?” She couldn’t keep standing up on the bus — she said, after a pause, “I’m okay.” Immediately, I remembered what had transpired in the last 24 hours; with my grocery list on my mind and my cloak of white-upper-middle-class-ness on my body, I’d simply put the national news out of my view. I could do that.

I wish that I’d thanked her for making me uncomfortable, for sitting down on the liturgy of niceness to white patrons of upscale stationery stores. I was asleep at the wheel.

One of the first times I remember realizing how much I need to be made uncomfortable was when I started eating breakfast with the poor who showed up at St. Joseph’s in Durham. Monday through Friday, at 8:30am. The smell and the conversation and the way of interacting was unfamiliar and uncomfortable, but at the time, I’d wanted to be confirmed in the Episcopal Church, and that was carrot enough to get me there each week.  I started to learn that my discomfort and being stretched helped me see Jesus better.

I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing, of having the wrong response, of not being an illustrious expert out of the gate. But that pride holds me back from facing my sin and from being cleansed. Pride keeps me locked away and alone, in a safe and comfortable space that doesn’t require any growth or even God.

I’m still asleep at the wheel a lot of the time. I pray — with fear and trembling — for the humility and wisdom to wake up.

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2 thoughts on “white discomfort

  1. Hi Emily…I remember telling a friendly black person on the Harlem bus in NYC that I was sorry about the latest police shooting and when I mentioned this to a very good friend of mine who is also black, she was very indignant with me and scolded me for making assumptions based on stereotyping black people. You can’t win for losing….
    Fleming

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