“Beautiful, White, Rich, American”
Here is the text from my new friend Vlad* when we were discussing why I live here, how I relate to Russians, and if I could ever gain trust in any relationship here.
“For Russians maybe it hard to find something common with you”
“for them you are Beautiful Rich White Woman from USA”
I think when he wrote those words to me, the utter starkness of their truth**, the unveiling and unmasking of a reality most of the world sees--everyone except me and others like me--became an emotionally seismic event deep inside my soul and psyche. I held my phone and couldn’t breathe for a few seconds. It was as if I was slapped in the face. Stunned, blinking hard and fast, my mind began to race to find something to say--anything--a justification, a prop to bring my safe little bubble world back into its correct orbit and axis. I waited for the answer to come.
Nothing came. I was empty. I could not deny the truth of what he said. He utterly nailed it, this Russian millenial I met at a local video game store. In his fearless honesty he gave me a tremendous gift. With those two simple sentences, he held up a mirror and said, “See not what you want to see, and always have seen, but see yourself through someone else’s eyes. The eyes of people you claim to love and hope to reach with love. See, and know the truth. And the truth just might set you free.”
For the next few days his words kept popping up in my mind, over and over. They were like irritating grains of sand in my closed, formerly safe shell. His description unnerved me, that dart he threw through WhatsApp that hit the tiny red center of my core worldview. Even as I could recognize the cold truth, my mind still at times tried so hard to fight for the familiar warmth of justification. I remember thinking, Should I actually try to defend myself or disagree with him? Do I want to explain why those things “shouldn’t matter” and use my sense of individualism to point out that “It’s a person’s behavior that counts!” and he shouldn’t lump me in with all those other “rich, white Americans?” After all, I moved here to this crazy place with my entire family, I can’t possibly be just like the rest of them! Can’t he see that?!
Fast forward a couple weeks and yet another incident occurs to poke a hole in my safe little bubble world. This one is even more painful and devastating, and yet upon the heels of that admission comes the rather interesting acknowledgment that I see now it has even more potential to help me grow. My friend who has developed a mixed race group chat for encouragement and accountability texted me and asked if she could talk with me about a potentially racially insensitive comment I had made in the group chat. As you can imagine, my heart hit the floor. Again, the same reaction came: I was stunned, slapped, and spinning off my axis. My friend in her wisdom wrote [and I’m paraphrasing]: “Hold off on reacting. Don’t be defensive. Think and pray. Learn and grow.” She sent a video about White Fragility*** and asked me to watch it and think about it.
If Vlad’s text was like irritating grains of sand, this was more like tiny stabs from a very sharp knife. I walked around for a day living “normally” on the surface, but inside I was in turmoil. My mind wanted to lash out and ride the waves of anger, resentment, and defensiveness. And along with those and worst of all was what lay underneath, churning those waves continuously--that mighty demon of shame. But her advice of “don’t be defensive” became an anchor holding me when I threatened to spin out and let shame take me too far away from the safety of God’s presence. I came back to it over and over. “Humility means I don’t need to defend, I need to listen,” my heart whispered in the night. I tried to still my soul and wait. I looked to Christ and breathed deeply. I forgave, I let go, I refused shame an entry. I waited some more. I asked for Christ to shine His light on new truths--certainly not new for Him, but for me. I both walked and wrestled through the experience. I am still walking and wrestling at this very moment.
This I know beyond a shadow of a doubt: we constantly crave and unconsciously look for experiences and people who will confirm and agree with our view of the world and our deeply ingrained, unquestioned, and unchallenged beliefs. It took two honest, brave souls in the last few weeks who were willing to challenge my personal status quo and way of viewing the world and put me on a new path to see with new eyes, and to gain a more spacious and more humble heart.
Now normally comes the part of the blog that I give you my “wonderful wisdom” and “sage advice” and tell you, in conclusion: “This is the way, walk in it! Here’s the signpost I have for you! Look at me with all these amazing answers!” I am sorry if you’ve read to this point expecting something like that, for you may walk away disappointed. I don’t have answers for you. I don’t have answers for myself. With many tears lately I have faced this truth and realization that my utterly privileged life has caused a rift between me and most of the world, and my pretense at acting like I understand them and can commiserate is abhorrent and offensive. This is literally where I am at right now. This realization and that’s it. I think there will be more to come, but right now, I just need to sit here for a while and soak it in. If I try to move too fast through this, I will surely lose the incredible pearl that is yet beginning to form. And this is way too important to throw away. As a matter of fact this pearl may be so valuable that in the end I may sell all I have to buy it, who knows.
I admit it: I used a provocative title and gave you very little to provoke. (Although some will find something anyway, I have no doubt.) I simply shared my experience, and that’s it. I didn’t call you to the carpet, I called myself and let you watch. It’s vulnerable and painful and even would be shameful if I wasn’t so convinced it’s actually right. I do want to end with an invitation however. Let the uncomfortable, the different, the frightening, and the “other”--whoever and whatever that may be--into your world, and let them sit at the table. Listen, ask, wrestle, define, search. Remember that unquestioned and unchallenged beliefs and worldviews are not in the end childlike faith but rather childish. Hold onto the anchor of humility and let your defenses down so you can learn and grow.
Iron sharpens iron only when it clashes.
And if this blog has the same effect as my friends’ texts, I can’t say I’ll be disappointed.
* Not his real name
**Ok, so the “beautiful” and “rich” part may be debatable, depending on your definitions...but I trust you get the point
***https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45ey4jgoxeU&t=1363s It doesn’t matter who you are and what background you come from, and it doesn’t matter if you agree with every point and conclusion or not, this video will challenge you to engage in a subject that is so deeply important in our nation’s and world’s history.