What Public Transportation Teaches Me About Jesus

So, Harvard is always doing crazy things…like producing Presidents and accepting 50 year old mothers who have 11 children. But they are also good at thinking.

That’s why it’s not surprising that they came up with a way to unveil our hidden racism and prejudices through their Implicit program: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ – if you have read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell then you know about this research. Last week I decided to take this little exam, knowing that I would defeat the odds. After all, I love Jesus. I’m not racist.

Oops.

Not only did this test prove me wrong, I knew it was proving me wrong while I was taking it.

My heart kept sinking further and further every time I could not get my finger to click fast enough when an African American face popped up on my screen. So, while I am not a conscious racist, here was hard data to prove the contrary in my subconscious.

And then there’s the anecdotal evidence.

I have a 8:15am Ethics class to teach every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. In order to get there on time, I get up at 5:30am, take my car to the rail station, take the rail to the bus stop, and the bus to the university. And for almost 3 hours on 3 days a week, I am the minority. The fear I have felt, the soft judgment I have lobbed, and the unconscious hand on my wallet when I get on the bus back up what Implicit had already told me.

I am afraid of the other. Instead of regarding the man with 8 tattoos and a bandana on his head as a person with dignity, I have conceived of him as thattype of person. Instead of viewing the bus as a space full of diverse and wonderful human beings who are mothers, fathers, brothers, all of them with aspirations, love, and hurts, I had viewed it as a hostile environment full of one person: the “other” and “the one who can’t be trusted.”

As I reflected on this, I recognize that my thoughts and feelings have nothing to do with my theology, philosophy, or moral makeup. I obviously believe racism to be against a Kingdom ethic. I get visibly angry when I see explicit persecution. My beliefs are not the problem. The problem is my geography. I am simply not around people not like me. I live in the suburbs, making sure that I am not in the minority. I eat in places where people are like me. I make friends with people just like me. Or what’s worse: I find places that are superficially different than me (I am so Kingdom-oriented: I have eaten at that Vietnamese restaurant with my white friends like 5 times) and then I parade myself as a lover of diversity.

And in all these ways, I am nothing like Jesus. This is what Christianity means by the Incarnation. And this is why I fight for that idea and all the messiness it creates. If we believe we can love like Jesus from afar, then we have rendered the coming of Christ a waste.

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7 responses to “What Public Transportation Teaches Me About Jesus

  1. Been thinking about this post all morning… very thought provoking and challenging. When I start to think about possible actions I could take to combat this in my own mind, I find myself in the same position as you were on the bus. I think of my family and how unsafe it would be to live in a place where I am a minority. I would love to hear some thoughts on how to combat this problem through action.

  2. I couldn’t connect with you on the racial side of it. Where I feel uneasy is on the social side of it. It is hard for me to know what to think of that. I do put my wallet in my front pocket when I ride the subway in Philly. I guess/hope that is just good sense. Chances are that people that are not wealthy may have to steal to get money. I have been having my heart tugged on to help homeless and needy. I have done some, not enough, and hope that situations come up that I can be empowered to help that one that would otherwise steal my wallet. By the power of God’s Spirit.

    The action(s) I have taken to not be racist is really none, but live life. Nowadays I don’t see the races as anything different from one another. There is a story that is parallel to this. When we were going through the adoption process for our Chinese daughter there was a class what I called “politically correct things to do”. One of the suggestions is that we befriend asian people. I thought that was a racist thing to do and silly. I have prayed about it and have had the understanding that God will allow the situation to “take care of itself”. Seven years later and I have natural relationships with asian people in ways that are so much more healthy than the relationships I would have had only because I planned to, only because they were asian. I think racism is a tricky thing. It cuts both ways. If we TRY to not be racist we will be, by doing things still because of race.

    Those tests are interesting. I had to take a few before getting to the black/white one. I got – “Your data suggest a slight automatic preference for Black People compared to White People.” Before, I did think this is one of my strengths. I guess this is why it is hard for me to understand when people say there is still racism in this country…

    • Good points Mike, that’s probably where my fears stem from too — the social aspects. I have lots of non-white friends out here in the suburbs, and my kids play with non-white friends in our neighborhood and in other social groups. So the issue, at least for me, doesn’t seem to be race. It’s the lower income areas where I find myself tensing up and worrying for safety, potential crime, etc.

      • I would agree with both of you that most of my “conscious” fears are not about race but socio-economics. Unfortunately, for most of us, those two are difficult to separate sometimes.

        Jason – I am still pondering your questions about actions. I think I will ponder what my family will do to try to combat this in our own lives and will post our ideas. Stay tuned – and let me know if you have any good ideas too!

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