Over the last week or so I have been doing my best to listen and reflect in my own experience of life in America. It has become more and more clear to me that my experience does not reflect the experience of so many people in this world.
Of course, I have always known this. But the COVID-19 pandemic, in conjunction with the recent killings of black men and the hundreds of protests around the country, has amplified this for more than ever before.
have always been suburban kid. I grew up in the suburbs. I went to college in the suburbs. I pastored a small church in the suburbs. I, yet again, live in the suburbs.
Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with this.
But, this life has its limitations.
If one is not careful, one can live their entire life in the suburbs and think that this life is normative. Of course, we know that others live differently. We see it in TV shows, in the news and in the movies.
But unless we go out of our way, people who live differently than us are not part of our lives – “they” are always at a distance.
When this happens our lives begins to seem “normal”.
And this is the problem.
When the suburban life becomes the lens through which we view thew world, our ability to understand an empathize with those different than us becomes corrupted, broken and near impossible.
This pandemic has been hard for my family and our experience hasn’t been easy. Our kids actually miss school. Heck, we miss our kids being in school. Sports have been cancelled. Youth baseball is our favorite time of year and one of our primary outlets for community outside of our church family. This stuff isn’t easy.
Even though my wife isn’t working, we are fine financially. I am fortunate to work in a field (digital marketing) that the pandemic has only made in greater demand. While I have lost some clients, I have been able to stay busy.
The government responses of the stimulus, unemployment and support provided for small businesses has helped us tremendously. We also have yet to know anyone close to us who has died from the effects of the virus.
In short, the system worked for us.
However, I have become all too aware that our experience of this pandemic has been different than so many others in the world. I have talked with friends who work in the poorest communities in Oregon, in Navajo communities in Arizona and so many other nonprofits I am connected to around the world – the stories I am hearing are absolutely heartbreaking.
There are people who’s lives have be entirely uprooted and destroyed by the current health and financial crisis that followed. I am not placing fault or blame. It is just reality.
My point is this: It is easy to look at my experience of the COVID-19 pandemic and say “it wasn’t that bad” and just go on with my life.
But our story is not “normal.” When my family’s story becomes normal, it becomes almost impossible to empathize and respond to those who’s lives have been turned upside down by this crisis.
But, this is not only a post about COVID-19. This is a post about how people like me – who the system is working for – have a hard time showing empathy and understanding what life is like for those who do not have that same luxury.
Just as I was beginning to understand that the depths of how my experience of the COVID-19 crisis is not normative — Breonna Taylor was murdered in her apartment by police executing a warrant in the wrong house, Amaud Arbery was shot by two white men in Georgia and George Floyd was murdered by a police officer.
I was reminded again that my experience of being a suburban white man in America is not normative for huge swaths of our American brothers and sisters.
I have been lucky to have a few great friends who have shown me this over and over. But this situation reminded me all over again that those of us who live in monocultural communities (yes, like the suburbs) have the most work to do when it comes to understanding issues of race and poverty – because our lives are actually not normal.
The system works for us.
I have been slow to write anything or make any statements regarding the race crisis in America because I do not know how much I have to offer that is new.
My friends Donna Bivings Barber, Leroy Barber, Laurence Tom, Drew Hart, Jonathan Brooks and even my white friend and distant mentor, Nate Bacon – whose experience living cross-culturally has given him a unique voice – and so many others – are the people you should really be listening to.
But, I guess if I can add one thing to the mix it is a reminder and an invitation to my friends in the suburbs.
The reminder is this: The system works for us and our life experiences, while valid, are not normative for millions of our neighbors.
The invitation is this: Spend significant time learning what it is like for people of color, from people of color – who for whom the system does not work- what it is like to live in our country.
We are all connected. We are all affected by racism, poverty, inequity and injustice. When we ignore those things, the calluses on our hearts can grow thick and we are hurt by them.
One of the great lies that my community tells is “if it does not effect me directly, it does not really matter.” This attitude will not do anything but entrench us all deeper and deeper.
We need to be willing to learn outside of our own experiences and begin to break down the cultural walls we places ourselves behind.
There are resources out there, great books out there, blogs, podcasts, etc. There are nonprofits to serve in. We live in a time where almost the entire knowledge of humanity is at our finger tips and there is no excuse for being ignorant about the lives of those different than yours.
White friends from the suburbs, let’s do better.
Our life is not normal.