Remembering with a New Mind: Racial/Ethnic Autobiography as Discipleship Praxis (Pt 1)
I remember when I found out I was white.
I played soccer all growing up. The sport was full of life for me, but I dreaded Shirts vs Skins scrimmages. If I was on the Skins team, soon as my shirt came off, the kids would start pointing out how pale I was. Overtime, the nickname “Casper” settled in. And I hated it. I hated how pale I was. My glowing skin never felt like a positive. I was too white. Ugly, odd. I remember even telling friends and family that I wish I was Black (which is another story).
Here’s where the complexity comes in. Looking back, my growing self-awareness that I was “white” is distinct from comprehending my “whiteness” as a privileging social construct projected into me from birth. I knew I was “white” in the sense that I knew I was pale. But a sense of race-consciousness, and the advantages this conveyed to me, was still a decade and a half off.
The dissonance between these two impacts of my pigmentation is hard for our minds hold, reared as we are in “either-or” Western logic. But for me, it wasn’t “either my white skin is good or bad.” It wasn’t good to be picked on at soccer practice. It wasn’t fun feeling embarrassed at swim parties. But I clearly benefited from two grandfathers that entered the middle-class thanks to the college and mortgage support from the post-WWII GI Bill — money from which Black vets were excluded.
It’s the process of re-remembering our stories and our family’s stories with a new mind, awake to God’s will for shalom-justice and awake to the social-historical dynamics, that I want to call us to as part of our process of discipleship. If we are “transformed by the renewing of our minds” and if we receive a new mind when we become followers of Jesus, then we need to train ourself to turn the altered lenses of this new mind onto our own stories. The challenge is to think through our autobiographies, conscious of race, gender, wealth, sexuality, and other place-of-origin on one hand while layering these with theological considerations of God’s character and mission on the other.
This is a life-long journey, but I don’t think our sanctification can adequately progress without it.
Writing an Ethnic Autobiography
The authors of Churches, Cultures, and Leadership challenge readers to recognize how our ethnicity and our growing up experiences of race and ethnicity influence how we lead and relate to others in general. They offer the following questions as a guide for re-remembering our stories in context of the barrier-breaking, justice-making love of God, the history of racial injustice in America, and the culture of white-supremacy we were all raised within.