Sunday, November 6, 2011

White Hug, Black Handshake

So it's time to shift this blog. I kinda knew it was coming since my Brazilian jiu jitsu blog has shifted recently too to more of a business focus.

I'd still like it to stay relatively focused, so I'm taking a step back from one topic that I think doesn't have much left for me to explore personally...singleness. Not that there isn't more to discuss, but I've come to a few "conclusions" that don't think merit too much more writing...

  • God doesn't intend for everyone to be married, regardless of what family, national or church culture says
  • The social and church focus on marriage flies directly in the face of the many Biblical examples of singles serving God
  • Christians are just as susceptible to marrying for social, superficial and downright stupid reasons as non-believers, and we're subject to the same repercussions (though God can help you through)
  • Neither status is inherently morally superior to the other and both offer special opportunities for growth
  • We segregate too much
  • Neither understands the other well and everybody needs to talk more 

In its place, I want to address race. Why? Because churches are insanely segregated (something I think is culturally based, but I think we as Christians should be able to grow past) and I have some unique experience in the area. For the past 25 years, I've been "the Black one". I now attend a predominately White church and went to predominately White, Christian elementary and middle schools. I hung out with some Christian groups in college and again..."the Black one". At the same time, I attended predominately Black churches for the first 25 years of my life, and got to see "the White one"...the converse of my experience...played out a couple of times.

Second "Why"? Because I've heard the whispers and comments and assumptions that easily could drive people away. Both groups believe their cultural take on Christianity is outlined in some unknown book in the Bible, and both go to extra effort to maintain those "scriptures", speaking their prejudices openly and alienating (sometimes I think intentionally) those that are different.

I've thought about it since I started this blog and while I didn't intend to write on race when I first started, I've always wondered how I would kick something like that off if I did. I figured...why not start with the first thing an outsider would experience entering a church? The greeting.

I think it's pretty common knowledge, but greetings (and the inherent personal space) are highly cultural. From contact-less Japanese bows (best greeting ever IMO...but I'm not a big toucher and am a bit of a germaphobe) to Latin kisses, they run the gamut. The tricky part? Perception and adjustment. If you're not used to contact, you will see higher contact cultures as invasive. If you're used to more contact, you'll see a group as cold and removed.

So yeah...the hug. If I'm wrong, correct me, but I don't think White Americans were always universally huggers. I'm sure there's some corner of the country out there that makes a habit of hugging people they've known for all of five seconds, but I'm going to say it's a relatively new development. I noticed it popping up in churches the same time I saw it in business (the day my CEO hugged me totally caught me off guard). I've accepted them as one of those things minorities learn to adapt to. Part of the whole "minority rights, majority rule" or "when in Rome" deal.

Just as I learned the cheek kiss during my days dancing salsa, I've learned to bow when visting my brother in Japan. Neither though, like the hug, will ever be comfortable or natural. I was raised in a Black family and a Black church, and hugs for me will always be reserved as a signal of familiarity...not necessarily deep, long-term or profound, but I still find it weird to hug someone I've never said more than "hi, how are you doing" to. When I started attending a Black church in Orlando during college, there were very few hugs because hugs are "special" for Black people (I'd dare to say even outside of the US). We're more handshakers until we've talked a bit.

So what's that mean? Nothing and everything. Religion and faith are highly personal and comfort is a big deal...but...

I read a piece a while back written by an organizational consultant who was called in to a women's organization who wanted to attract more racial and economic diversity. The consultant made suggestions about making meeting times that were accessible to women that worked. She recommended opening health and beauty discussions up to racially diverse products and health conditions that affected Black, Latina and Asian women. After acknowledgement of their validity and brief discussion, all suggestions were politely and softly rejected. Why? Because the board was concerned that their current members would inconvenienced and uncomfortable.

And that's what I think almost any discussion of race in the church comes down to. Comfort.

New people are uncomfortable walking into a strange church. Current parishioners are uncomfortable with demographic shifts. I've heard it all. "You know she's just here to get a Black man." "Every time I come there's more of them here." Statements of discomfort and fear of change. Since there is such a strong social component to church attendance, I don't think it's possible for an organization, or individual visitors to get past those issues unless the possibility of discomfort is accepted or even embraced as a component of Christian growth.


  1. The only problem with this post is that it is too short.

    I do not attend a church and did not attend a church growing up, though I attended a church for a spell in high school at the urging of my high school boyfriend. Turned out that despite the fact I was a polite, respectful young lady, his parents told him I might "bring him down" with my evil non-attending ways. At the time I didn't think much of it, but looking back at my then boyfriend's parents I am incensed at their very non-Christian response to my young self.

    And the race issue. Good grief I need more time to write something even remotely intelligent about race. Email?


  2. Dagney...that's crazy. I would the the fact you were willing to attend would have been a source of happiness for them, but I guess they wanted their son dating a certain "package" as opposed to a person.

    Ha...go ahead and shoot me an email (I think I sent you one a while back about some jiu jitsu stuff). I'd love to hear your take on it.

  3. ...and when did you go to brown?!?! That is so amazingly huge...Congrats!!!

  4. yes, I believe Christianity should be moving against comfort...and embracing this discomfort...

    1. Yeah...tackling our human frailties head on.