More than two decades ago, when I was a new Christian, I attended a Bible study a few streets from my home in a neighborhood overrun with drugs and sex workers. On one occasion, the topic switched to racism, and the hostess asked if I, a Native woman, had ever personally experienced racism. I didn’t know what to say. Until recently, I believed that any racism directed at me was well deserved. I silently asked Jesus to reveal any racism directed toward me so I could be more attuned to it.
After the study I stayed to visit until after dark, then took a shortcut home to avoid walking on the main drag, where I might be mistaken for a sex worker. I was less than 50 feet from my back gate when police stopped me. My Bible and I were searched for illegal substances and subsequently released when nothing was found. “This is racism,” I thought.
On another occasion, my son’s dog got out of the yard, and I went looking for her. I walked up and down the alleyways and streets, frantically calling her name and afraid she would get hit by a car. A car stopped, and a male voice asked if they could pray for me. I spun around to see who was talking to me. Confused, I stammered, “What? Why?”
“I pray for the wounded souls down here. Aren’t you working?”
“What? I’m looking for my dog.”
“Come now, we both know you’re really looking for a john.”
It struck me later that night that a frantic-looking Native woman in that neighborhood might appear to be out of her mind on drugs. There was nothing special about the way I dressed, but many of the women on the street purposely did not dress erotically so as to avoid detection by police. As a result, police and johns often mistook Native women for “working girls.”
Like other First Nations people, I am followed by security in shopping malls. Not long ago I was shopping in a high-end store, and after purchasing more than $200 worth of product, the cashier informed me I was entitled to a free facial. Feeling like maybe something was going my way that day, I made my way to the makeup counter, where I was asked to set my bag behind the makeup technician for safekeeping. My suspicion was aroused because I was aware a plain-clothes resource protection worker was lurking nearby, but I conceded. As I received my facial, I could sense someone moving around me, so I opened my eyes to see the store detective opening my bag to peer inside. I immediately jumped up and demanded to see the manager. I am tired of being suspected of crimes simply because I am Native.
Let us remember the casualties of those lives that have been harmed by racism. The buck stops here. Jesus has called us to love our neighbors—all of our neighbors—regardless of skin color, language, culture, or ethnicity. Jesus healed the sick, sat with tax collectors and prostitutes, refused to accuse the adulteress, and was even called a drunkard and a glutton (Matt. 11:19). Let us stop trying to sit at the tables Jesus overturned.