“Look beneath the surface; let not the several quality of a thing nor its worth escape thee.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
I remember once leaving a party, held at the house of some friends from church, and being told, “You shouldn’t use the alleyways to get home.” I had not been living in the city long, and I was in my early twenties. Everyone else at the gathering would have been older than I was, and most of them were white. All these years later, I no longer remember why we had gathered over a meal, or who was present; I only remember their concern over my well-being and their counsel that I should walk home by the well-lighted streets of our downtown neighborhood.
I also remember being in the church office and being asked, “Why are you wearing your nametag?” Again, I don’t remember the particular circumstance of the day—just that I was the only black person on the staff at the time, and the only man. It was an innocent enough question; and yet it stuck with me in its unknowing simplicity.
You see, I didn’t have any fear of walking home through the alleyways all those years ago. As a young, black man, I was one that other people would be wary of in the dark. Other people would see me approaching, wearing my hoodie in the darkness, and they would clutch their purses. They would cross the street. They would not offer any “hello” in response to mine.
And when you’re the only black man in a sea of whiteness, it doesn’t matter that you’re on staff. It doesn’t matter that the keychain around your neck has the keys to every locked door. It doesn’t matter that the parking lot is well-lit at night. Purses still get clutched, and people still cross the street, and hellos still get lost in the void. My nametag is my validation and my shield.
People who know me personally often express shock and disbelief when I speak these truths to them. Because they know me. But you shouldn’t have to know me to be unafraid.
Holy God, Holy Spirit of Life that breathes within us all, help us to experience the other and to be unafraid. Let not the bountiful ways that we are different cause us to be wary of one another, but teach us to be mindful of the glorious array of humanity and to celebrate our worth as people together.
Photo copyright Beth Tate CC0 1.0