“If I Were…”

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Perspectives on Hope

By The Rev. Dr. Jerome DeVine

The Rev. Dr. Jerome DeVine

 


Have you ever been an actor or actress in stage theatre productions?  Or perhaps you love reading a novel and imagining that you are one or more of the characters within the story. For me, to do so can be a great adventure, or it can expand awareness of self and of the other. It can be especially challenging if I choose to try to enter into the life experience and understanding of someone of a different gender, culture, ethnicity, or time and place. From the time I was a young child and first learned to read, I used my inner imagination to try to understand, appreciate, and empathize with people and cultures that I was not yet familiar with.

While this imaginative process can be entertaining when playing in fictional worlds, it is much harder when we engage real life situations and relationships. Imagining ourselves into the life experience of someone else can take us to deep and sometimes uncomfortable places within ourselves. On several occasions during my adult life when the news media has covered the beating or killing of African American men by white men I have tried to force myself into that interior journey.

Each time I have asked myself, “If I were black, would I still be alive?” When a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri did not find any reason to at least examine through trial the role of a white police officer in the shooting death of an unarmed black young man (youth), I asked that question again: “If I were black, would I still be alive?” 

Given my propensity to confront injustice, my distrust and resistance to unchecked use of authority, and my commitment to standing up to bullying behaviors, my answer to my question most often disturbs me. It was made even more poignant for me as my family prepared to gather for a harvest festival celebration.

My wife and I have three young adult sons. As the announcement came out from Ferguson I made myself go deeper and ask, “What if our three sons were black? What would we have to have taught them about surviving in this country? What worries would we have to hold in our hearts every time they went out with friends?” As one Twitter posting said, “The conversations in white households this Thanksgiving [was]quite different than the conversations in black households.” I cannot truly or fully know what it is like to be a black male in the United States, yet I know I need to continue to be uncomfortable as a white male when something of this nature seems all too common to the general public and to our systems of power and control. Some of you reading this are now ready to exit, while others may just now be getting interested. That is one of the tensions of having honest conversations on race in the United States. People in a dominant culture place of relative comfort can quite easily escape having to go to deep places of examination around systemic and/or hidden biases. A Facebook posting by Bill Moyers (billmoyers.com) invited readers to consider those hidden, often unintentional, biases. It leads us to take the Implicit Association Test on the UnderstandingPrejudice.org. I strongly encourage all of us to risk entering into a greater self-awareness. I won’t tell you what my results were, but the test was a healthy journey. (Click here to take the test.)
 
As the announcement in Ferguson approached, I followed young adults on Twitter and Facebook for the days preceding the announcement. The yearning and hope for justice and transformation were palpable, as was the pain and disillusionment following the grand jury announcement. Most of those young adults are asking all of us in the Church to risk building the relationships necessary to have honest conversations around race, white privilege, and white oppression, and to allow the recent and ongoing tragedies to be the catalyst for a new tomorrow. I invite you to consider what such conversations might look like in The United Methodist Church. Remember, “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

The Rev. Dr. Jerome (Jerry) DeVine is the Director of Connectional Ministries Detroit Conference. This post originally appeared online at www.detroitconference.org.

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