My dad told me this story about my grandparents and their interactions with farmworkers in the 1960’s. My grandpa would hire workers during the summer months to help with baling hay or weeding out fields.
Some of these workers were African Americans.
It was a standard practice of farms during that time to have the hired help sit outside on picnic tables instead of inside the kitchen with the family.
My grandmother staunchly opposed this practice. She always invited every person inside to sit at the table to eat and to rest.
“They’ve worked just as hard as everyone else,” she would say.
Both my grandparents believed every person deserved dignity and equality.
Everyone had a seat at the table. Everyone was heard.
This is the visual that I hold in my heart when I think about interacting with people from other backgrounds, religions, races, and creeds.
They are working hard like me. They have a family like me. They have dreams and goals like me. They want to live in peace and freedom like me.
Something else troubles me, though, in light of recent events in the United States, and in retrospect to other events which have consistently occurred in my country for years.
It is the thought that people of color are actually working harder.
They have to think about how they look wearing a hoodie pulled over their head.
They have to take extra precautions when driving.
They second guess going for a run.
They feel unprotected in society.
The list could go on and on but I won’t pretend I know every fear that my brothers and sisters as African Americans, Latino Americans, and Muslim Americans experience.
They have their own voices; it is time for me to listen.
When I need an example of how to be around people, I look to Jesus. In His time on earth, before He said any words, He listened. People knew that about Him; that’s one of the reasons they flocked to Him. The marginalized, the under-dogs, the outcasts, the misunderstood—those are the ones who followed Him and who gathered around His table.
The rich and famous and privileged certainly didn’t like it when He broke bread with people that society disapproved. Jesus didn’t care what they thought of Him. He called for justice, for truth, and for mercy.
He demanded change.
I agree with Jesus. It is time in our country for justice, for truth, and for mercy. Clearly there are roots of racial prejudice that run deep. My country has to change. Until every person is treated with dignity, respect, and grace, the work isn’t done.
It is time for privileged to invite the disadvantaged to the table where there is plenty.
It is their turn to be heard. The privileged need to step back from the microphone.
“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In order for me to understand, I have to listen to the voices of those around me.
My brothers and sisters deserve, as children of God and as Image-bearers of the Divine, to have a space in this world to dream, to speak, and to feel safe.
It’s time for them to stop working so hard.
And it’s time for the privileged to do the work instead.