Have you noticed the news lately? Besides the war “over there”, racism over here seems be increasingly rearing its ugly head. And just like this time of war in Iraq is reminiscent of the turmoil in the 60’s during the Vietnam conflict, so is the tension between blacks and whites. Did we not just read about the Jena Six? How appalling to see those old ugly themes being replayed among our youth.
It has been said that one of the most segregated settings in this country is Sunday morning church. Umm-Hmmm! Preach on, sistah. Just how are WE helping the problem resolve? After all, we need to get out of that nebulous “they-land” where we shake our heads sadly about the goings on of “those people” outside of Christendom. No, folks, we have a California-size sequoia in our collective spiritualizing eye. This issue is not an “out there among those people in the world” thing, my brothers and sisters, it’s an “in here among us Christians” thing, too.
Because I was born and raised in a part of the country where we thought this thing called racism was relegated to the history books, I got a very rude awakening when I moved to Virginia. I live in a city where black/white tension is always simmering, and in my estimation, it is moving toward the boiling point. While I know of a few well-integrated churches, the surface has not yet been scratched. And wonder of wonders, God orchestrated circumstances and placed a call on my life. God called me out of my complacency and sent me a partner to stand with me against this grievous thing called racism. Let me tell you how that happened.
For several years, I had a counseling office in a white upper middle class church in my community. This church was kind enough to offer me an office free of charge, which in turned gave me the opportunity to provide services at a very affordable rate, and often free of charge, to those in need. Then one day a lawyer-acquaintance asked me to see a client of his. He thought this woman was a little crazy and he wanted to get some help for her immediately. Well, this very frail, thin African American (this is the politically correct name) woman came to meet with me. She could barely make it up the church steps, as she was bent over and needed the use of a walker and leg braces for support. I found out that she is a committed Christian and that her family is prominent in their local church. We connected almost immediately as sisters in the Lord. I then found out that my client has been in a difficult marriage, but that despite her belief in the sacrament of marriage, she was struggling to stay with her husband. As she described this man, I realized that he was flagrantly paranoid, and history revealed that he was a Vietnam vet who served as a sniper. He refused help from the VA (the hospital for veterans), and subjected his family to his mental illness for all those years.
My client’s sickness was stress-related to a great degree. She has a chronic pain disorder that is greatly exacerbated by stress, and she was living in an extremely stressful situation where her home was never a sanctuary for her. Her church saw the answer as “God hates divorce”—end of story. She had met with the pastor on several occasions, only to be admonished to go home and be a good wife to her husband. Her sickness and stress were literally killing her. She was heavily medicated yet was still in a great deal of pain. In essence, her sympathetic nervous system had gone awry due to an injury (this is called RSD, Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy.) Therefore her nervous system sends messages to the brain that essentially cause both physical and emotional pain.
The process of this woman’s healing is a very long journey, and over the years, we have become friends. God used this “circumstance” to build a lifelong friendship and to birth a ministry. It’s amazing. You would never recognize the woman I described above in my friend Adelaide (whom I affectionately call A.) today. While she still has periodic setbacks and some painful, dark days when her body doesn’t cooperate, they are becoming shorter in length of downtime with a longer period of time between attacks. We are working on her living within her boundaries. A. gets excited about our work and tends to overdo.
In short, when I met my friend A., God began to lead me out of the church setting and into my community. Adelaide had to overcome a lot to come to see me—a white lady in a predominantly white church in a white neighborhood. It must have been a “God thing”, because it makes no sense otherwise. We laugh about it now, and she confesses that she was a desperate woman, but had little hope that “someone like me” would understand “someone like her”.
But guess what happened? In coming out of my whitebread church and into the community, I began to experience racism coming my way. Hey, God! Now that’s not funny!! So God allowed the shoe to be on the other proverbial foot. Seriously, one of the largest mental health insurance providers in our area initially rejected me as a psychologist on their panel because—I’m white. The representative said that they need black psychologists in my city—and they might have considered me if I were at least Hispanic! Yes, she DID say that! As my husband says about the things that happen to A. and me—“You just can’t make this stuff up!” Well I decided to get my friend A.’s help in contacting black churches in the area on my behalf and without having to send one letter, the company decided they would allow me to provide mental health services to their insured folks after all.
Well guess who I obviously needed alongside me in my company—you guessed it! I now needed A. to help make inroads with many of the “powers that be” in my community, because many of those folks are racist and in power and black—and I am not.
But, folks, God had been ahead of us the whole time! A. is an ordained reverend, yes she is! As a minister, she gains access and respect virtually everywhere—the legal system, social services, public services—everywhere! So together, we get things done! She validates me, and makes it safe for African American clients to come see this white woman. Our practice is well-integrated, and we’re making a difference in our community, just like God had intended. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still hard at times, though. Why just in the last week or two, we had a visit from a representative of a local TV station who heard about us (isn’t that sad? we’re news!) This lady offered to give us free time on TV because we’re so “unique”, and then hopefully we would agree to buy further commercial time from the station. Well, we had no sooner finished our meeting together, when she casually asked my friend if she could meet with her for a few minutes before leaving. I had to get back to work, as a client had arrived. And guess what? This woman (a black “Christian” woman) told my friend that she really wanted to promote only her, and then further admonished A. to (and I quote) “Get out from under the thumb of that white doctor.” Wow.
It obviously happens the other way, as well. A. covered the receptionist’s desk for me a time or two and a black couple entered. And what did he say to my friend? “Oh, I didn’t know that Dr. Thomas has a black receptionist!” Now what does that mean???
Don’t use the term “reverse racism” to me. Folks, racism is racism is racism and we need to stop it. God has called A. and me into ministry to prove that Ebony and Ivory can live side by side in perfect harmony. Sing it Paul and Stevie—there was a black and white pair that made that song a hit—cool, huh? And pray for us, will you? A. and I have the added distinction of being women, too—that’s a whole other battlefield!! Lord, help us and give us strength as we minister—ebony and ivory–side by side—we CAN.
Ebony And Ivory
Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder-1982
Ebony And Ivory Live Together In Perfect Harmony Side By Side On My Piano Keyboard, Oh Lord, Why Don’t We? We All Know That People Are The Same Where Ever We Go
There Is Good And Bad In Ev’ryone,
We Learn To Live, We Learn To Give
Each Other What We Need To Survive Together Alive.
Posted on October 12, 2007
by Dr. Rebecca A. Thomas