Thursday, November 8, 2012

I’m Being Profiled

I remember thinking, at the time of the attack on the world trade center how frightening it must be to be a person of eastern or middle-eastern extraction living in the United State; to have a Muslim-sounding name, to wear a Sikh headdress or a beard, to speak with an accent, or have connections to a Mosque. I remember thinking that I must reach out in reassuring ways to any American I know whose roots were Arabic, Muslim, or far eastern, particularly the many doctors and other health care providers I encounter regularly.

I remember, sadly, those subtle fears, pushed back more or less successfully, that there could be, among us, those who sympathize with the killers of 911 and are simply waiting for their opportunity to strike a blow against “us”. By “us” I meant “real Americans.”

It is difficult to live in a pluralistic society. For most of U.S. history it has been difficult mainly for the immigrants and “native minorities” – blacks and Native Americans. The White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants had little to fear. They were real Americans and enjoyed status, whether wealthy or poor, that minorities did not. There was plenty of discrimination within the WASP ranks. I knew because our family was at the lower end of the socio-economic pool. But better to be “poor white trash” than to be a Whop, or a Pollock, or a Jew, or a Kraut, or a Mackerel Snapper, or a Chink, or a half-breed, or worst of all a “nigger”.

But all of that is changing now. The WASPs are out-numbered, or soon will be. We used to sing, in Sunday School:

Jesus loves the little children,
All the children are his care,
Red and Yellow, Black and White,
They are precious in His sight;
Jesus loves the children of the world. 

But somehow we knew, deep inside, that He loved white children better than the rest. And more to the point, when all those “colored” children grew out of childhood, WASP society had no Sunday School songs to celebrate their inclusion in the family of God.  Instead we thought of our Christian role in militaristic, us against them, terms. We sang: 

I may never march in the infantry
Ride in the cavalry
Shoot the artillery
I may never fly o'er the enemy
But I'm in the Lord's army!
Yes Sir! 

I'm in the Lord's army!
Yes sir!
I'm in the Lord's army!
Yes sir!

It occurred to me this morning that I am now in the profiled class. First I’m White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant. But even more telling, I’m an “old white male.” Further, I am Evangelical in my religious identifications. Well! There can be no doubt, then, where I stand on any number of social, economic, political, and theological issues. I just have to be anti-gay rights, pro-life, anti-gun control, anti-big government, fearful of Obama and other Liberals, anti-science, anti-evolution, young earth, pro-Israel. The list could go on. It makes me want to duck and hide when I’m among people who are younger than 40 years old.

But the fact is that I am not characterized by the list above. I like to think that, in each category my views encompass a range of beliefs; that I can see many sides to the arguments; that I have applied my years of experience to the task of being a nuanced thinker; that no one but God Himself truly understands me; that given a fair hearing I could show that I esteem all God’s people. But no doubt there are many who think they have me pegged, just because of the years that have accumulated on my head, or the degrees that I hold (or don’t hold), or the home I live in, or the church I attend. I’m being profiled, and it doesn’t feel good.

I’m not asking for sympathy. I’m a old guy and whatever discomforts come to me are few and bearable and soon to be meaningless. But I would appeal to any who read this to put themselves in the place of others who, every day, must face the scrutiny of others who think they have them “pegged.” It is quick and simple to characterize someone based on a few observable criteria. It takes time to really get to know someone. But the reward for those efforts is that you then have met a real person; a Red, or Yellow, Black, or White person. But more, you’ve met a person whom God loves just as much as he loves you.

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