One such example of choosing who I would dialogue with came from joining a student group devoted to racial reconciliation at Duke Divinity School. That group helped me consider this tension – between my privileges and my interaction with the world – within a trusted community. Each week we gathered to hear one another’s stories. At one meeting, a Black woman, “Nell,” shared what was in her estimation a rather small slight at a tire store earlier that week. Nell entered the store to find the counter unattended. Moments later, a white woman walked in too and waited for service. When a white employee eventually emerged, he turned to the white woman and asked how he could help her. The white woman replied that Nell had arrived first and should be served. It was a small story, one that many might dismiss as insignificant, but Nell’s last words, delivered with exhaustion, not malice, stuck with me: “I do not wake up every morning thinking about being Black, but everyday someone reminds me that I am.” An ordinary interaction had become the occasion for suspicion and hurt, because too often Nell had received disrespect. She lived beneath the veil.
It was a sacred moment for Nell to share her story with us, to expose her daily slights so that we might mourn with her. A slight, like suffering a papercut is a small injury, relatively speaking, but several papercuts a day would drive me into madness, particularly realizing that some people sought to do more than nick me. I learned in those moments among my group to sit, listen, and share, rather than trying to do what we white men always try to do: Fix things.
From “Know Your Place: Helping White, Southern Evangelicals Cope with the End of The(ir) World” by Justin R. Phillips