This past week, Henry and I watched an illuminating and disturbing documentary entitled “Driving While Black.” It chronicles the advent of cars and freeways in America and the impact of both on the Black experience in this country. As we continue to co-facilitate the antiracism discussion at our church, I find more to learn and grieve over regarding this America that has never been as good to all its citizens as I was taught to believe it was.
Decades after my high school experience, I have to admit that I recall practically nothing from inside the classroom. At some point, when asked about those years, I developed the shorthand response that in high school I learned to “write an essay and program a computer” (and the latter was only because of a special magnet program downtown!). I know I did learn more, but somehow the social lessons have remained more fully in my consciousness than the classroom exercises.
Consequently, I don’t recall what, if anything, I learned about the Black experience in my history and social studies classes. I think (hope?) that if I’d learned about the deep inequities and regular lynchings that took place in this “great” country of ours, I would have remembered that—but I don’t. On the other hand, it might have been more than my sensitive soul could yet bear.
I do remember some of the social lessons I learned about differences in cultures because I attended a high school that was largely Hispanic. I remember very different social priorities and attitudes toward family life between white and Hispanic students. I remember different clothing, different foods, and different beliefs in possible futures (with most of the whites expecting to go to college, while most of the Hispanics did not).
Henry and I have also been watching another series entitled “Latino Americans.” The first episode was especially poignant for me, having grown up in New Mexico. I knew that the large Spanish land grants had mostly disappeared, but I didn’t realize how thoroughly Hispanic Americans were driven from their ancestral homes across the entire southwest by encroaching white Americans. We whites didn’t just displace Native Americans.
I feel like I’m back in school, in a very real sense. I also recognize that lifelong learning is important. I’m a firm believer that there’s always more we can learn. What I’m recognizing at this stage in my life is that not all the learning is pleasant! There’s a lot to grieve. There are also opportunities to put that learning into practice, with the intention of making America a better place to live for all its citizens.
Fortunately, God provides respite. I’ve also just finished two weeks of teaching and group facilitation for the Hesychia School of Spiritual Direction, which has refreshed my own ministry of spiritual guidance. It’s given me opportunities to see the Spirit at work and celebrate how God is always with us, no matter how great the challenges can sometimes seem. I’ve also spent time (as I mentioned back in August) with some stunning autumn photos I took a dozen years ago in New Mexico. I will share a few this week on Instagram.
What are you rediscovering about America in 2020? What concrete intention might you set for making your city, state, or country a better place for all its citizens?