By Deacon Andrew Lacovara
We are no longer [held by] distinctions deriving from the flesh – but are to bear within ourselves only the seal of God, by whom and for whom we were created. We are to be so formed and modeled by God that we are recognized as belonging to God’s one family. (St. Gregory Nazianzen)
I am still a little bit (alright, very much) at sea about what it means to be anti-racist, rather than to justify myself (however erroneously) as never being overtly racist. The benefits accrued to me as a White man are built into the system; these benefits I cannot undo (or have chosen not to). I think that I know that in minority communities, “code-switching” is necessary – that to speak with what are often gateways of power, potential employers, supervisors, law enforcement, and, perhaps worst, neighbors, modulation of speech is required. One would speak differently to White persons than to those in the community.
I have been left to reflect on my interactions with African-Americans, West Indians, and sub-Saharan Africans. I have felt blessed to have had, over the course of my life, organic experiences with persons from these diverse backgrounds continuously and from an early age. Even these statements appear to be exculpatory and to argue that where I have been and where I have wound up are freed from the taint of systemic racism. In high school, we had pick-up basketball games that were, comically at the time, and by mutual agreement, White against Black. As an adult, I have played in pick-up soccer games with persons from a host of backgrounds. There was in all of these apparently innocuous interactions a great deal of verbal back and forth. This is, by round-about way, to say that I felt as if I had repeated and somewhat intimate exposure to persons of other races and other cultures.
I am surprised at how often, purposely or subconsciously, I have done some perverse version of code-switching. There are a host of ways I have changed the way I speak, in various strains of colloquial English, in very bad French or Arabic, or some other patois. What this has all betrayed is my choice to see and communicate with these persons based on their race, rather than to start from a place of equality. As mentioned earlier, what I thought might be accommodation or even deference may have been, or have been perceived as, condescension, cooption, or, worst, insult. I still don’t know how racist I am, or how to become as anti-racist as I pray to be. There may not be much more I can do than reflect and pray on these past interactions and hope that the present and future hold something different and better if I am strong enough to change.
What are the ways we modify our speech or actions based on with whom we are interacting? Is there a way to change our default that better honors those with whom we come into contact?
How does Jesus in the Gospels model an egalitarian approach to all that could serve as an example for how we engage with those whom we might perceive as different from ourselves?
Prayer, based on psalm 19
Lord of us all, let the words of my mouth be acceptable, a comfort and an invitation to all with whom I speak, acceptable to you and to these sisters and brothers I often fail to recognize as such. Change my heart, meditating on the truth of the dignity you have instilled in us all. Bring me always closer to this family you have created and to you, my rock and my redeemer.
To sign up for our regular series on Becoming Antiracist click here.