This stop on the anti-racist journey is courtesy of Jemar Tisby’s suggestion in his book, How To Fight Racism. Tisby asks that we reflect on our racial autobiography, creating a personal account of events that highlight what it means to belong to the race we call ours.
Pen at the ready, I realized the difficulty of creating a story of being white in America because this country is built for people like me. It can be challenging to tease out the cultural norms when you are sitting comfortably within that very culture.
One lesson I learned long ago that I would like to share with you is the importance of understanding cultural nuance before pushing our views onto others.
Almost 15 years ago, believing that my thoughts matter (as we should all believe), I engaged in a Facebook conversation on a friend’s page about women wearing hats in church. I was super excited to share my newfound knowledge on the cultural norm during Paul’s time that caused him to write that passage in 1 Corinthians 11:5a, “But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled brings shame upon her head.” (Side note — an uncovered head signaled you were a prostitute, which is part of the reason.)
I had deep feelings on this issue as a Catholic feminist who saw the wearing of a mantilla at Mass as outdated and unnecessary and so I dove in, expounding eloquently (or so I thought) on all I had learned.
Except I ignored two important aspects of my friend’s experience. She was not Catholic and she was Black. Black women (Catholic or not) have their own beautiful reasons for wearing hats to church and I was oblivious. It was absolutely not my place to insert myself into their conversation.
She and her friends were kind to me, something I probably did not deserve, and I learned an important lesson that day. Before jumping in with answers of certitude, it is important as a human (and, especially, as a white Christian) to understand the nuance of the conversation.
This is a mistake I still make today because I have been conditioned to believe that my experience is the norm, but I am trying. One easy (and fun) way to shake up your beliefs is to find shows or movies that highlight a cultural experience other than your own. Our family loves watching The Neighborhood together and next on our list is PBS’s new documentary, The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song. We cannot wait to dive in!
ps – I feel differently these days about wearing a mantilla at Mass, but that is a conversation for another time.