My experience suggests that white isolationism harms more than world peace and racial reconciliation. It diminishes the lives of white Americans.
I grew up so far out in the country that Astoria seemed like a big city. I seldom encountered black or foreign people. A quarter century after graduating from high school my friends were more interested in wine tasting and yoga than in beer drinking and hunting. But they were still overwhelmingly white.
That changed when my wife and I adopted a black infant. Our adoption counselor told us that black Americans would sort of adopt us, would help us to raise our son—and that we would need their help.
So we moved to the cosmopolitan neighborhoods of Northeast Portland and its interracial schools, churches, and other organizations. Peter and I even visited West Africa. Our counselor was right. Black friends and strangers have helped us every step of the way and are as responsible as we are for Peter becoming a compassionate, resilient, and delightful adult who makes himself at home where ever he finds himself.
But something else weird and wonderful happened while orchestrating our son’s multi-racial childhood. Black Americans and Africans greatly enriched my life, too.
First revelation: black people didn’t expect me to fix or even apologize for racism. Through both friendships and structured dialogues I’ve learned that most people of color just hope that I’ll listen to and be honest with them. In doing so my own sense of humanity and community has deepened.
Second revelation: working with diverse people to make the world better is a blast. Going to Africa introduced me to school administrators and teachers who fight impossible odds on behalf of their students every day—and at the end of every day thank God for that opportunity. Their joyful dedication presents me with a choice: do I treat my privileges as entitlements to be protected or as gifts to be shared? So I now head up a nonprofit—Yo Ghana!—that links some 2,000 students in Ghana and the Pacific Northwest who are learning from and about each other first hand. A student from a mostly Muslim school neatly sums up our mission: “If we choose to, we can make the world a smaller place.”
What will you choose to do with your fears and your privileges in 2016?