The Curse of Being Present Yet Unseen

It was somewhere between 2011 and 2013, I’d guess. I was married but didn’t have any children so it was easy to agree to middle-of-the-day activities. I served as an elder in my church and volunteered, along with another elder to take Communion to someone who couldn’t attend our worship services.

The other elder was a PhD student. I was a campus minister. We meet on campus and carpooled, portable Communion set in tow.

As soon as we arrive, we let her know why we were there. “We’ve brought Communion!”

We were excited, grateful to share in this way. We’d verified the time and day beforehand. And yet, it seemed as if she wasn’t expecting us and wasn’t that thrilled to see us. It was weird. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but odd things happen all the time–you just keep moving. The student was far more verbal than I and he quickly engaged her in conversation about other things. I chimed in here and there.

She mostly looked at him, engaged with him. Yeah, it was weird. But we said we’d go and we were there and if she didn’t want Communion, at least we could have a good visit.

She was in her mid or late 80s. She talked a bit about her husband, about how the neighborhood they had lived in was right beside a golf course. The area had changed a lot since then, she said. Her memory lane trip seemed to be a good thing for her spirits. Truly, she livened up a bit and maybe it was during that time that we offered again to share in Communion. Once again she declined.

As she talked about the golf course, her husband, and their former home, she casually mentioned that there was a colored caddy.

Lightbulbs flashed in my head.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh. That’s it, I thought.

The caddy she spoke of was not a storage container. Oh no. She was talking about a man who carried the golf players’ bags and clubs. The man was Colored. He was MY color.

She didn’t say anything bad about him. In fact, everything she recounted was as pleasant as the sunshine that gently brightened her room.

It didn’t matter, though. Pleasant wasn’t enough to shield me from the truth–while she was comfortable with a Colored person carrying bags and clubs, she wasn’t at all comfortable with a Colored person serving her bread and grape juice. In her mind, we were not all equal before God; there was still a level of slave and free. I wasn’t free to do spiritual care. I wasn’t free to officiate this humbling ritual. I was only free to be there because she didn’t know in advance that someone with my color would show up.

Maybe I should have left my fellow elder alone with her, stepped outside for a while so that he could attempt Communion one last time–after all, she had requested it. Leaving the room didn’t come up as an option in the moment and if I could do it all again, I’m not even sure what the right thing would be.

It definitely didn’t seem appropriate to say, “Actually, we go by Black now.” To offer up any correction or confrontation would have clearly been a misuse of time. The chances of changing the mind of someone in their 80s didn’t seem possible then nor does it seem possible now.

I share this story because when we talk about racism or raciallly-driven problems, we typically look for evidence of the problem in very explicit moments such as when someone uses a racial slur. When a person of color says they’ve been mistreated because of their race or that the weight of race is heavy, we then ask, “When has that happened recently?” and we expect to hear about blatant hate in order for the experience to be valid.

The reality is that there are more stories like mine and those are everyday, realizing that someone who is White doesn’t like what they see, doesn’t respect who they see, is deeply uncomfortable with my presence unless I’m serving them food or carrying their bags.

I’ve gotten used to that race-sense, knowing right away if a White person isn’t used to being around Black people or if they’re not used to being equals. They look past me. It also happens with people who aren’t White…racism isn’t just Black and White.

So no, the last time someone called me a ****** wasn’t yesterday. A troll on a Zoom call did, though, a few weeks ago (a story I probably won’t make time to retell).

What has been constant for most of my life is not being seen by someone who doesn’t look like me and the awful ripple effects of another’s learned discomfort and, sometimes, hatred, create. This is a racially-driven problem that’s extremely difficult to confront especially when we insist on not seeing each other as we are.

I want you to see my skin. I want you to see my features. I want you to be able to tell me apart from my younger sister. I want you to see me as worthy. I want you to see me as equal. I want you to see me as gifted. I want you to see me as smart. I want you to see me as able. I want you to see me as someone you should respect.

I want you to see me. Not as the “good black” or the “articulate black” or whatever terms you implicitly use. I want you to see me as intrinsically valuable without having to quote a Bible verse to try to prove it. Act like it. See me. See me.

See me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s