Deconstructed food is all the rage these days. It involves separating the components of a dish, and presenting them together. You can have a deconstructed cake, salad, or main dish. Any food item that is usually mixed together can be “unmixed” and served in its separate parts. Chefs will tell you that the way to do this is to boil a dish down its core and then to rebuild it from there. A pot pie might be deconstructed as a piece of bread or pastry, served with some fresh peas and carrots from the garden, some roasted chicken and a dipping sauce. The idea is for the diner to be able to taste the ingredients separately or to put them together in their own way by selecting what parts they want to try. When food is deconstructed, the chef is forced to think of it differently, so it brings new ideas to the plate, literally.
The same applies to our thought processes and belief systems. I am doing a book study which is requiring me to deconstruct my ideas on racism. How do I deconstruct parts of my life that were formed before I had conscious thought? How can I break down elements of my belief system that developed, not by words spoken but by actions internalized? Like pulling apart a classic dish, I have to determine what makes it what it is in the first place. What are the components of the foundational frameworks for my life? Which ones are the most important? Which ones should be highlighted, which ones dropped?
I must tell you, it is a deeply personal work and only I can do it. No one else’s opinions, suggestions, or beliefs matter in this kind of work. I wish it was as easy as a few soundbite sentences typed into a social media box, but it’s not. No, this work requires me to untangle my underlying beliefs. The ones I picked up in childhood and built my life upon; to hold them up to the light, now that I am an adult, and discern where they are faulty; to determine which ones are misaligned with my faith. To do this, I have to admit where I am wrong in my thinking. I have to open my eyes and soften my heart.
As a woman of faith, I have to be willing to let God show me the truth. I cannot be offended when he shows me something dwelling in my heart that is ugly. He wouldn’t have put his finger on it if it wasn’t important for me to see. As the scales fall from my eyes, I must resist the urge to get defensive and self-protect. Why would I want to protect myself from God, anyway?
Because I am afraid of what I will find if I see the truth and the possibility I will be ashamed of myself. I am scared to admit there might be some places I have been wrong and misguided. I am worried I might have to change. There it is. The core of it. Fear of changing the way I think about things. Unlearning assumptions. Seeing the worldview I am so confident of, and then having to unlearn it because my confidence is ill-placed. Is that even possible?
The word racist conjures up an ugly picture of someone who is hateful. Someone who calls names and feels rightfully entitled to do so. It is an offensive word to me. It offends my ears and my heart so much so that to apply the word to myself is physically painful. It causes cognitive dissonance. It is difficult to reconcile my perception of myself as a caring person with the ugliness of the word racist.
When I was a little girl, our family hired a maid named Odessa. She worked for us for years and she was a part of our family. She came to my wedding. I remember when her husband died, meals were prepared for she and her family, just like we would do for any other family in the same situation. After that, periodically, my dad sent some of the men who worked for him over to do work on her house or in her yard. We packed up clothes to give her. In my mind, we were helping the widows and the orphans. That is what it says to do in scripture.
So now, all these years later, I am conflicted that systemic racism was happening in my own home. It didn’t feel like the picture of racism in my mind. It felt like charity. It felt like taking care of one another.
Clearly, she was a poor black woman, working for a well-off white family. Clearly, that was part of the racial foundation of my childhood. Clearly, I took in thoughts of black people needing help in order to make it. I am just now realizing, I was not allowed to go to her house because it was on the “other side” of town. It was considered dangerous. I never understood what that meant, until now as I am deconstructing my childhood. Yet, it shaped my views and beliefs.
I gleaned we are to help the less fortunate. I also gleaned that black people were the ones who needed our help to survive. The belief that the places they live were dangerous for white people to go to, fell into my head as well. The idea we were somehow superior was not spoken in our home, but it was acted upon. The idea I needed to protect myself from black people was planted in my little girl heart, and so was the idea that helping others was my role as a white person.
I did not antagonize anyone for their race, but I did pre-judge them. I had the belief our roles were set for us. However, it felt like I was sharing my privilege, not abusing it. When I hear cries of systemic racism, I feel defensiveness rise up. That was my first clue on where to look. If I want to defend myself, there is likely something ugly hiding in the shadows. If I feel the need to explain myself, my pride is squirming, trying to hide from the spotlight being shined upon it.
I want to believe these thought patterns have been removed from my framework. I want to root out any that might still be residing unnoticed in the corners. When the news breaks my heart into a million pieces, I only want to reconstruct with the ones that are useful. To reconstruct, will only happen when I first allow my heart to be deconstructed.