When I preached last Sunday

January 25, 2010

When I preached last Sunday I met a black man, Michael, who I’d guess to be his late 20s/early 30s.  He had happened to walk by the reader board outside the church that publicized the sermon title that my colleague and I were co-preaching: Racism in Black and White.  It intrigued him enough to come to the service in a church he apparently had not visited before.  He came with a big Bible in his hands that appeared to be well read.

After the service, Michael sought us out for conversation.  He shared his own stories of racism and his concern about how ignorant people often are about the real history of this country. A history buff himself, he recognizes the danger when people don’t truly understand what has happened in the past and how that impacts the present.

One story Michael related had to do with a black FBI agent who was driving home one evening when he noticed he was being followed by a police car with two white officers in it. Imagine the FBI agent’s surprise to hear over the police scanner that he had on in his car, that his plates were being run and the officers were suspicious.  The police car pulled him over.  “Where did you get that car?” they asked (it was clearly a nicer car then they expected a black man to be riding in). When they asked for his ID, he flashed his FBI badge and shared a few choice words. They backed off and he proceeded home in the neighborhood in which he had been driving.

Michael said he had been stopped several times while driving for no offense.

My preaching colleague, a black woman, described the intense fear she feels each time her son goes out in his car; this fear started when he got his license and continues now even as he attends college. They have a code phrase in her family. It’s “check your headlights.”  What it means is make sure everything is working so there is no excuse for you to get pulled over.  The statistics are clear; driving while black is hazardous to your health.

As a mom of a similar-aged son who is white, it’s nothing I’ve ever had to think about.   Contrast that with a black father who once said his fear is much more than just whether his son will get stopped; it is whether when he does get stopped, will he leave such a situation alive.

Today, I’m grateful for people, like Michael, who stop by and engage in the conversation about race, whether in church or on a blog. I’m interested in hearing from you.


  1. If this experience were only limited to Blacks and driving the solution would be simple enough, though unacceptable and outrageous, don’t drive, take a taxi, ride the bus. But the reality is that being a person of color, especially Black, in a dominantly White city/region leads to being brought into contact with the police at most anytime or place; there is no “wrong time” or “wrong place” for such an interaction and it is rarely “How can I help you?”

  2. Thanks for your comments, Be Suspicious (great name!) I’ve pondered the contrast between my growing up as a white youth where police were where you went for help to the experience of some youth of color where you avoid police out of fear for your safety. My son’s in law enforcement; this is not a generalist slam at police but it is an acknowledgment that some of the most harmful racist acts happen within the criminal justice system. As a white person, I have a responsibility to be asking critical questions about that – what causes and sustains such injustice.

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