I had a taste of being judged by the color of my skin. Just a small one.
I was a summer missionary in Mexico. My partner, Tom Nash, and I were catching on a bus to take us from one mission outpost to another. We boarded, and scanned for empty seats. The only pair of empty seats was in the back of the bus. Conversational buzz was replaced by energized whispers.
As we made our way down the crowded aisle, it seemed like every pair of eyes stared with the unspoken message, “Who are you and what are you doing on our bus?” We obviously stood out, our skin and our hair being much lighter than the rest of the travelers.
We were still making our way down the aisle, when the bus lurched forward. My momentum disturbed, I almost fell into a woman’s lap. Forgetting I was in a country where English was not the first language, I quickly said, “I’m sorry,” only to be met with a puzzled look.
We finally sat down on the back row of the bus, squeezing in with six other men on a bench built for five. There was no open hostility, but there were no smiles or friendly expressions. We were more than outsiders; we were “other.”
The man next to me shifted to position his back toward me, and spoke to his neighbor. “Norteamericanos,” he said. I was majoring in Spanish, but my classroom knowledge wasn’t required for me to hear the contempt in his voice. I was walled out, shut out. This man did not know me. He did not know why I was in his country nor why I was in his space. He was judging me based on my race, on the color of my skin. He already decided who I was, and what place I held in his esteem.
The next fifteen minutes passed in uncomfortable silence. The whole rattling bus seemed enveloped by a blanket of silence. Mercifully, we reached our stop, again making our way back down the crowded aisle. I’m sure it was my imagination, but as the bus doors closed behind us, the voices on the bus resumed an animated chatter.
That day, I was racially profiled. I was not a person, I was a category. This happens everyday. Neurons race through our brains, pulling together memories and words, and we assess people before we blink our eyes twice. I do this. You do this.
In our country, police officers have to make snap judgments about life and death. They don’t always get it right. Old threats, old fears whip through the brain. A trigger is pulled and innocent people die.
In our country, people with certain skin tones live with a fear that others do not know. It is the fear that simply because of a thought in someone else’s brain (a thought that could be incorrect), they could lose their lives. That kind of fear, over time, will cause you to react, even to overreact.
All of us – all of us – need a rewiring of our brains, our memories, our fears. This requires more than therapy; this requires God changing our broken brains, our broken souls.
This is why we are told to meditate on scripture, on the words of Jesus. We let his words, his thoughts, absorb our words, our thoughts.
So let me leave you with three sentences from Jesus:
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“Love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you.”
Jesus really does have the answer.