I believe that many in America today live under the delusion that race no longer plays a role in our lives as Americans. This delusion shrouds the minds of mostly white, middle to upper class folks because those of different ethnicities know too well that race (or as I prefer to call it ethnicity) plays a significant role here in America. Don’t believe me? Imagine yourself as a black man in Missouri.
The reality is, is that we are still a very segregated and racist culture. Sunday in America is still the most segregated day of the week, which saddens me. It saddens me, because if we are truly going to attack this issue of racism in America, it has to begin with the Church. We have to be the model that there is a way to have healthy diversity within a group of people.
Let’s take Pittsburgh (my city) as an example. This city is a very vast tapestry with many different ethnic backgrounds weaved into it. Pittsburgh houses refugees from Napal, it has refugees from Africa in many different areas as well as a wide mosaic of ethnic diversity. Yet, here we silo off. All ethnic groups segregate out and stay within their own grouping of people who look and talk like them. What if we decided, a few of us from each ethnic group to come together to experience the tapestry from which we live in?
Many people would declare: “I’m not racist, I just like to be with people of my own culture, who understand me and what I go through”. I totally get that, I really do. When I moved from Akron, Ohio to Pittsburgh, Pa I understood for the first time what it meant to be more in the minority than ever. I attended an inner-city Middle school and high school here in Pittsburgh. I remember having that feeling of wanting to be with people who looked like me. Yet, as I engaged the tapestry that changed. I changed. On my inner-city football squad (then the Northside Saints), I was christened: “Graham Cracker Ca”. Although on the outset that may seem racist against me, in many ways it was an honor. I asked my friends on the team: “Why do I have to be a cracker?” They all laughed and declared that Graham Crackers are different from saltines…because they have some brown laced in it. It was then it struck me that I have changed. My ethnicity clearly was still a part of me but I was living well within the tapestry, the beautiful connectedness of different fabrics was taking place in my life. We can segregate completely and be two separate images, or we can be distinctly different yet woven together in the manner of a mosaic tapestry. It’s not a fully separate or fully blended reality, when we engage ethnic diversity it becomes a tapestry.
This weaving into a tapestry rather than being “segregated from” changed my whole life. I began to realize that white privilege is real. I began to realize my own racist ideas and my own wrestling with labels and judgements based off of how someone was dressed. Being weaved in exposed me for who I was: a racist. Even though I didn’t think I was…I actually was.
I truly believe that this weaving is the only way we can truly break racism in the church and further out into America herself. The ideas of other ethnicities that we all hold to will shatter. The images that we have will crumble. We can learn so much about life as well as about ourselves by weaving and engaging in the tapestry. We will need to make ourselves uncomfortable as we venture down this road. We will need to begin to purposely make friends from different ethnicities, but we can’t weave into the tapestry without connecting ourselves to others. Racism will never end just by talking about it. People can talk all day long about ending racism, but if they don’t do anything it’s pointless. Many people feel like “the conversation on race has come a long way” but note it’s still a “conversation”. That means it’s really not gone much of anywhere. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream wasn’t just for the outside of people to change, but rather the inside as well.
When one engages the tapestry of diversity you will find that you know so little in yourself and your own ethnicity about: God, art, music, love, language and life. I was (and still am) amazed at how much I learned about all of these things by simply engaging the tapestry of others ethnicities. Not studying them, but living life on life with them. My knowledge was so plain, so one directional and still is in many ways. That’s why I need the tapestry. God designed it this way. Heaven will be the beautiful mosaic, why not start now? If you imagined heaven as all white hipsters playing drums and doing beat poetry, your vision of heaven is too small. If you imagined heaven as anything different than a mosaic tapestry of life…you’ve missed it!
Let’s not simply be people who have conversations about racism, let’s be people who live differently. Let us all enjoy and engage the vast mosaic picture that God has painted. Let’s all be woven into the tapestry of heaven. It’s not a melting pot where we are all blended and miss the ability to be distinctly different, it is our distinctly different selves purposefully attaching our lives to the lives of others who are different as well!