The New York Times recently published the diary entry of one Yale Professor Extraordinaire, Dr. Claudia Rankine. The title: “I Wanted to Know What White Men Thought About Their Privilege. So I Asked.”
Read it for yourself (if you’ve enough free articles remaining) here.
Or, if you’re short on time, and, like me, really don’t care what other people of any community think (I mean ‘ambivalence’ in the most noble way, of course), here’s the summary: Through many displays of academic prowess and charming intellectual honesty, Professor Rankine adroitly conveys earnestness. She really is curious. (Mind you, her judgement–and sentence–have already been pronounced.) But she really, really wants to learn. And so, what does she learn? She learns that White Men are aloof about their White Privilege.
Most of you know that I was an officer and pilot in the United States Air Force. As my uncle, himself a retired sailor, opined regarding my desire to join the Air Force as a pilot, “You will walk on water.” He was right. We pilots walked on water. (Incidentally, I’ve been tightening-up my understanding of the sky, and there is one very concrete sense in which we pilots do tread on water.)
That is to say, I believe this Jesus-like trait of mine is evidence that Professor Rankine would happily include me in her research sample.
Why did I read her piece if I really didn’t care what she thought? Well, I like to be a good communicator. I like to make people laugh. I like to be approachable. Mostly, I like to talk.
So I reasoned that maybe there are other “Claudia’s” living in fear of big, bad Pete. Maybe they are snooping around, cowering just out-of-sight. Maybe they are just waiting to pick up some cue that I won’t mind chatting about my not-just-internal narrative of White Privilege. I thought that maybe I could learn that if I wear the right clothing, or have the right glasses, or smile, or don’t smile, or stare, or never make eye-contact, or tap her on the shoulder as I cut in line, or have the right book out, maybe, just maybe, she’ll become courageous and chat me up.
But then, no. That’s not how fear works. Fear breathes; but it inhales only the decayed air of windowless rooms. Fear sees; but it is blinded by light. Fear feeds; but it consumes only lies. Fear is curious; but it never learns.
And so, sad as it may seem, I will be left unmolested. Because I am not afraid. But you, Professor Doctor, are.
(But you shouldn’t be! Just talk to me.)
(But watch out!)
It was the fall of two years ago, putting me shortly after my thirty-sixth birthday. I was in the midst of some men who were mostly fifty plus years old.
The particular interrogator I faced carried his ninety-seven years venerably. He was respected by all, by which I mean all jumped at the opportunity to serve him–even the seventy year olds who were twenty years his junior. Most often, if the short time I spent with him indicated anything, the service rendered was simply bringing a blanket to keep away the cold.
His topic of inquiry: Origins. Beginnings. Genesis.
He asked me because he had heard me say that I studied such things.
I didn’t know what to say.
Reader, don’t misunderstand me. I had my answer at the ready. Yet I was quieted by the emotional aspect of the stated query. This elder is about to meet his maker. Possibly that weekend. And he’s not only respecting me enough to see what I’ll say (though I have always suspected he’d cast a fool’s line), he’s maintaining his tight grip on the joy of investigation.
The content of his question eludes my memory, but it was something to do with the peoples of earth that the Bible characters met and from where they spawned. I told him, “I don’t know.” But I went on to tell him, “No one knows. Moses didn’t tell us. And we should be very careful when listening to someone who makes a claim otherwise.”
Today I will add that this, as with Paul’s comments on another profound topic within Beginnings talk, “This mystery is great.”
I couldn’t tell if he approved–of either my answer or me.
My reason for sharing this experience here is to give a glimpse into what I think is one of life’s pleasures which is unique to Christianity.