I was a closet racist until a few days ago. I just didn’t know it.
I didn’t know it because I was tolerant. I have never gone on a racist rant or used racist terms, even in private. It hurts my ears when I hear others put racist labels on people.
Tolerance felt wise and good. And it was, to a point.
When I saw what was happening in the United States after the riots in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore and the horrible shooting in Charleston, S.C., I decided to write an article for this column about racism and how to heal it. I wanted to contribute something helpful, and after I prayed about the problem it came to me to address head-on the issue of slavery, which has so badly stained American history.
It turned out to be a powerful approach. I know because of what happened to me as I continued to pray about this.
I began drafting the article from the basis of a central teaching of Christian Science – that each of us is in reality an individual, spiritual idea of the one divine Mind, God, reflecting God’s beauty, intelligence, and holiness. No one’s true self is enslaved in the flesh, with its legacy of sin and death. We are all, by divine heritage, the free expression of the limitless and merciful Mind, divine Love. This was what Christ Jesus came to teach and what Paul reiterated when he wrote to the Galatians: “Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.... There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (3:26, 28).
I remembered that the founder of The Christian Science Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy, had an insightful view of history. “The human history needs to be revised,” she once wrote, “and the material record expunged” (“Retrospection and Introspection,” p. 22). This had nothing to do with rewriting history the way an oppressive regime might do to justify itself. Rather, it meant humanity has a right to reject the sentence of history. None of us is a prisoner of the past, because God, Spirit, is our creator and our Life. We are not physical creatures born to mortals with certain bodily features and habits. We are all the spiritual offspring of God, expressing loveliness, spiritual strength, and grace in a multitude of individual ways. “Now are we the sons of God,” the Bible puts it, “and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (I John 3:2).
I finished the article with a confidence born of a lifetime of studying Christian Science and trying to follow Christ Jesus, and I hoped it would give some small, tangible help to free humanity from the limitation – the outright slavery – of material selfhood that shows itself in racism. I had a clearer idea of man as God’s reflection than I had ever had before, that each of us is a full, complete, marvelously capable, deeply loved and loving child of God.
And then the shock came. My view of the world began shifting, and I saw some things – embarrassing things – about myself I had never seen before. In Europe, where I live, mixed-race couples and families are not unusual, and I realized I had always been aware of, well, their difference. Without really knowing that I was doing it, I had habitually inspected the children to see which of the parents’ races was most prominent in their features. I was tolerant; I would never criticize or embarrass them in a million years. But I didn’t love them with the kind of love that recognizes someone’s true, spiritual identity.
My hypocrisy was so blatant I had to laugh. Here I was, convinced that man is spiritual, yet seeing some people as irrevocably material. The shock moved me instantly, and for the first time in my life I felt not a sense of tolerance, but a sense of spiritual oneness with all people, even those who looked different from me. All of us, in our true identity, are His ideas, entirely good, entirely spiritual and beautiful. Just perfect.
So this article is not really about racism in America any longer. It’s about me. And about love.