Growing up in New Mexico sensitized me to diversity and differentiation. When I was a child, I often heard that the New Mexico population was one third white, one third Hispanic, and one third Native American. That might have been simplistic, but by the time I was in high school, I knew I was in the minority, at least in my area of Albuquerque. The 2020 Census data shows that “my people” are still in the minority today, as New Mexico is 48 percent Hispanic, 36 percent white, and 9 percent Native American.
One of the things I’ve learned in nearly three years of reading and talking about racial equity in my church discussion group is how often we lump people together and presume a similar experience for all members of that group. My own family’s ancestors certainly proved that wrong. As I have noted elsewhere, my mother’s white family came from privilege, some crossed to America on the Mayflower, and they quickly established themselves in prominence in New England. My father’s white farming family came to America 150 years later to escape “high rents and oppression” under families much like my mother’s. They ended up in the rural South.
They also ended up owning slaves. Perhaps it was a desire for differentiation and superiority that led them to oppress others as they themselves had been oppressed. I don’t write this to excuse it, but perhaps to (at least partially) understand it.
The push toward differentiation might be imprinted in our cultural DNA. I know that many Black Americans are availing themselves of genetic testing to discover where in the vast continent of Africa their ancestors came from. On this Juneteenth, I celebrate that people whose heritage was lost via slavery can regain some sense of their history and culture through this modern technology.
I also pray that they can use this information to embrace their heritage without needing to somehow prove themselves superior over other peoples—of any skin color or ethnicity. We need a different way of thinking to thrive in this crowded world today. We need to move beyond a script where the oppressed become the oppressors, as my ancestors did.
As I’ve noted before, there is only one human race. How are you called to live into that truth today?