Stories matter

Published 9:25 am Saturday, August 23, 2014

by Andrew Book

I am a white male. I expect that most of you know this, but it is still an important statement to make because both my race and my gender impact how I see and experience the world. I did not always realize that being a white male shaped how I saw and interacted with the world. I grew up in Atlanta and attended schools that were carefully balanced to have racial diversity — but I did not know it at the time. I grew up with friends who were white, black, Asian and Hispanic, and I didn’t think much about it.

I just did not think that race was a big deal. It took me a number of years before I realized the only reason race was “not a big deal” to me was because, as a white male, I enjoyed the privilege that came from looking like the people who had much of the power in my world.

My first experience realizing how much race still impacts our world came when my wife and I moved to India. Instantly, I went from a world where my skin color was “no big deal” to a world where my wife and I stood out in any crowd. It did not take us long to learn that there are rules for people who look like us. We had to send other people to do most of our shopping. There were certain places we should not go. We should not call the police to report a crime. While we had many wonderful experiences in India, I remember more than one moment feeling some combination of frustration, anger and helplessness in the face of the assumptions people made about us.

We lived in India for nine months. Nine months is nowhere near the lifetime that many people spend in communities that give them labels they cannot escape, but nine months was enough time to change how I see race. I realize now that it is a luxury for race to be “no big deal.” I realize now that it is not just someone’s imagination that makes them believe they are being treated differently because of their race. I also have been able to recognize, to my shame, that I make a lot of assumptions about other people based on race.

As I look back on my childhood now, I am able to see some of the challenges that my friends faced due to their race, but most of those challenges will forever remain hidden to me because I never asked. I just assumed race was “no big deal.” I hope I can do better now that I know better, because we all need someone to share our story with. We all need someone to believe us and care about the struggles in our lives. I hope you can be someone who listens and shares your story. Regardless of whether race has been “no big deal” or a major part of your life, I hope you will be able to listen and share your story with someone who looks different than you, because knowing our stories matters.

The Apostle Paul once wrote this about the major racial divide in the early church (between Jews and Gentiles): “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 CEB)” Unfortunately, 2,000 years later, the church still struggles with the racial divides that have been destroyed by Jesus. As a leader in the church, I want to ask for your forgiveness for the ways we have failed to lead those around us past racial divides. We need to do better-all of us together. We need to know each other, to share our stories, to believe each other, and work to truly be one people.

Will you join me?

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or