So, while I was on the plane processing all of these differences between my two worlds, I was simply astonished to overhear a conversation between two American women in front of me. These women did nothing but complain about the service they were receiving on the plane. I could hardly contain my delight at the little tarts and cheeses brought to me by Air France employees! But these ladies were berating a poor flight attendant because they ran out of chicken. I was struck by the flight attendant’s courtesy as she respectfully explained the situation. The passengers were accusing her of being rude, but they were actually the ones who were way out of line.
When the manager came over these two women unjustly slandered the flight attendant and then said, “We have to ask ourselves if we are being treated this badly because of the color of our skin.” I realized at that moment that these two women were African American, being served by a white flight attendant.
I watched every interaction between this flight attendant and the ladies and saw they were treated with respect and courtesy. Further, in their yelling frenzy, they neglected to realize that they were not the only ones that did not get the chicken they requested. But now these women are going to write on Trip Advisor about how Air France was racist. This is injustice and it is not right.
This leads me to observe something about my home culture that I did not see in the other cultures I have experienced. Namely, it is the thinking that “If I feel hurt, I was hurt.” If my feelings were hurt or if I felt wronged by someone, then I am the judge and jury. The perceived offenders are found guilty without a trial. All objectivity is lost and I am now the victim.
These two African American women were not victims in this situation; they were victimizers. They slandered a woman to her manager and then wrote dishonest reviews about Air France. They were guilty of ungratefulness, entitlement, and racism. They assumed that because this lady was white, she was not serving them well because they were black. This is judging her based on her skin color and (based on everything I saw and heard) this judgment was not founded in reality.
We Do not Deserve Chicken
The other night when we asked one of our language partners what makes him happy, he responded, “When I get to eat.” He said that he was thankful to the Lord when he did not have to feel the pains of hunger. He sees every meal as a gift from a kind, benevolent God. And he is exactly right.
We as God’s creatures are sinners and offend God every day and then we think we deserve some of his food? Does the mistress have the right to go to the wife and demand a plate of chicken? No! She has greatly offended the wife, broken her heart by stealing away the affections of the husband, and thus she has no right to make demands. It is the same way with God. He created us for his glory and we squander our breath complaining and slandering his other image bearers. Do we then presume that we have the right to approach God and demand that he feed us? We have no such right. Every sunny day, every flower, every delicious meal, every good night’s sleep is an undeserved gift from the hand of a gracious God. We, no matter our skin color, do not deserve chicken.
We are called to love, even the racist
Jesus was a friend of sinners. And he was not just a friend to people who had “culturally approved” sins. He was a friend to the racist, the bigot, the sexist, the rapist, the narrow minded, the proud, the authoritative, abusive husband, the homosexual and the “homophobe.” Jesus invited and still invites all sinners to come to him be cleansed and forgiven of all their vices.
As whites living in Africa, Jesus calls us to love the store owner who, as soon as he sees our skin color, jacks up all the prices. He calls us to love the man who tries to convince us to sleep with him after we have repeatedly asked him to leave us alone. He calls us to love, from our hearts, people who make unfounded judgments because of the color of our skin without knowing us at all. He calls us to pray for those who hate us simply because of our religion or convictions.
So, I call the victims, or the perceived victims, to love the racist. People are going to hate you, or try to use you, because of your skin color. But what are we going to do about it? If we want to follow Christ, we need to love, from our hearts, those who mistreat us.
Feeling Victimized Does Not Make Us a Victim
There is a proverb in the Bible that says, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Prov 18.17). If I had read my fellow passengers’ review of Air France without having been there myself, I could have actually believed that they were mistreated. But I would be making a premature judgment. According to this verse, judgments cannot be made until both sides of the story were heard and witnesses are even brought in.
The depth of my feelings of hurt and betrayal should not be the considered the scales of justice. Also, we cannot assume a person’s motives definitively unless they actually tell us their motive for their behavior. Maybe someone in the market is being rude to me because I am white or maybe they are being rude because they have never known a kind person in their life. Maybe the police are demanding to look through all my belongings because they want to know what kind of stuff white people have or maybe they are somehow actually convinced that we may have ties to a Nigerian terrorist organization.
Just because I feel as if someone is mistreating me because of my race does not mean they actually are mistreating me. And when I make assumptions of what someone might be assuming about me, I become guilty of the very sin I hate.
I do not know what these women have endured in the past. I do not doubt that they have faced racism and been mistreated because of the color of their skin. Racism is a genuine and sad reality of our fallen world. I have tasted of this sin in my time here in Africa and I too am tempted to read others’ actions in light of such experiences. But to do so is to allow the racism that we hate to take root in our own hearts. It also draws our attention to our “rights” and what we “deserve” instead of to God and others.
If we live thinking that we are entitled to food, shelter, and being treated in a certain way, we have totally forgotten that we have offended a holy God with our sin. We have forgotten that we are charged as guilty and have no right to hold others to a standard that we ourselves have fallen short of. If we live only to love those who never wrong us, we will have nobody to love and will end up bitter and alone. And finally, there are times when we will feel wronged by others, but we simply need to forgo our feelings and let them be “innocent until proven guilty.” We should not pretend to know the motives of others and unless their motives are loud and clear, we can experience the freedom of giving them the benefit of the doubt.
My experience on this plane has opened my eyes to the fact that when dealing with racism there are actually two sides that need to be exposed and condemned. Racism ought to be called out, exposed, and decried as injustice to those created in the image of God. But we ought to also condemn those who cry “racist” as a means of self-promotion. We ought to listen to both sides of an argument and seek wisdom to discern the truth. And above all, in every circumstance, even when racists acts are committed, we ought to love.