I Am White

I am white. Three simple words, yet such a loaded sentence.

I was talking with a friend recently. He was getting ready to take a road trip across the country to visit family. He was traveling alone and expressed some anxiety about the trip. So I asked, “Are you nervous about the drive”, thinking the anxiety had to do with restlessness or the idea of being alone for that long.

I could tell by the prolonged pause and the look in his eyes that I was way off the mark. He responded with tears in his eyes: “I was followed home from the church again last night. Thankfully, I didn’t actually get pulled over this time.” My impulse said to ask why—why were you followed? What did you do? I’m white. I get the privilege of asking those questions. But let’s just stick to the facts. My friend and I both live in the same south Denver suburb. My friend and I both drive home from this south suburban church on a regular basis. He’s an active member there, and I serve as one of the pastors at this church. I have never been followed home by a police officer. Never. I’m white. My friend is black.

This isn’t a new story. In fact, it’s an old one now—one that’s being told and retold in our society. But my skin color affords me the privilege of forgetting that story…”C’mon, you must have done something.”

Perhaps it’s time to give up the questions, lay down the assumptions; they’ve become burdens. And my tradition of Christianity teaches me to lay down burdens. This tradition also teaches me to follow the way of Jesus, a first century Jewish Rabbi. Scripture after Scripture…Jesus is found hanging out among the mistreated, the kicked around, the neglected, the broken. He listened. He reminded them that they are not alone. He said he came so that they may have life—abundant life.

I am white. I am Christian. My friend’s anxiety about driving across the country must become my anxiety too. His tears must become my tears as well. How am I promoting abundant life for all people?

- Ryan Canaday

Ryan Canaday serves as one of the co-pastors on the Clergy Team at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Highlands Ranch.