Editor’s Note: This post is part of the Red Letter Book Club, featuring Bruce Reyes-Chow’s latest book: But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations About Race.
After reading this book, I now deeply respect Bruce Reyes-Chow more than I did, if that is even possible (we are bordering on mancrush, here), he was able to articulate things in a clear and concise way that does not end the conversation but helps build a framework to begin the conversations, I feel like now I have at least something to start with when conversations about race, or the other, come up in my very white, very Midwestern context.
I self-identify as a white, Appalachian, male, I am married with two kids, I have two masters degrees, and was raised very comfortably in the middle class. I was born in South Carolina, went to elementary school in Georgia, and went to middle and high school in Texas. I am a person of privilege.
The first person I have recollection of hanging out with was T.J., my dad was his mentor in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program in the late 70s. In elementary school, my friends were Peruvian, Indian, Greek, Anglo, Korean, and African-American. When I was in middle school I played on the basketball court at the play ground with mostly black dudes from government housing, with all that diversity and with all that experiences you’d think I’d know how to talk with folks who were different or of a different race than I. You’d be wrong, for a large portion of my teens and early twenties I was an out and out racist. Slurs, bigotry, and condemnation were the name of the game. I used all the previous information to argue that I wasn’t, I was lying.
Luckily through many interactions, confrontations, and soul searching I realized, I remembered where I had come from and what I had been taught, that we are all God’s children worthy of respect.
Last summer I attended a gathering of religious types in Corvallis, Oregon called Wild Goose West. During my preparation for that gathering I read that Bruce, a friend and someone I’ve long admired, was going to lead a session on race I thought, “Well, not going to that.” I thought I already knew about how to talk to people about race, I’m good. That’s not for me, maybe a more timely issue.
Then I began reading another book called, The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander and my pretty, little bubble of liberal, white privilege was shattered. About one chapter in to Alexander’s book I thought, “Damn, should’ve gone to that session with Bruce.”
I then heard through the social media grapevine that Bruce was writing a book on race. I think I was one of the first few people that donated my meager sum to the project. I couldn’t wait to read it, because…1) I deeply respect Bruce, 2) Bruce often is able to articulate things in a way that I have been unable to (see # 1), and 3) I felt a lack of knowledge on how to approach people when talking about race without sounding like a blowhard, a bleeding heart, or an idiot.
This book is, providentially, timely in my own world and the in the larger community with the conversations revolving around the George Zimmerman verdict, DOMA, Immigration reform, and institutional racism being batted around on social media, in coffee shops, and on street corners.
Just this past week, I was at a gathering of religious folks, mainly Presbyterians, where I heard many comments that began with “Well, you know those [insert group here]…” (The groups ranged from Africans, African-Americans, Hispanics, and, even, Catholic priests.) Now I don’t believe that any of these people were racist or malicious, but I do believe that they were unaware of how their language was being heard by others. I was thankful that I had read this book because I noticed my own language issues and I could then steer the conversation into a more productive place or at least acknowledge that we were in headed down a dangerous path.
I would encourage anyone, young and old, religious or not, well versed in conversations about privilege and those that don’t think it exists to read this book. This book will not answer all your questions, it might not answer any of them, but it will begin the conversation and, hopefully, provide you an opportunity to make amends, to move forward, and to begin the healing work of reconciliation that is much needed in this world.
Greg Bolt is originally from the Southeast and attended Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC where he received a Political Science degree. He attended seminary at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA where he met his wife, Heidi. Greg is now the pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Nebraska City, NE. He is an avid West Virginia University sports fan and is willing to talk about most things with anybody. He’s also a social media junkie.