When Online Friendships Reveal Your Canon

So my last post was about some of the wonderful people that I’ve met online and interacted with. People whom I’ve never met in person (other than one of them – yay Susan!) but with whom I have had many conversations. People who encourage and inspire me. The post actually got retweeted several times.

I was re-reading the post yesterday (does anyone else do that? Read and re-read your latest post? I am usually praising myself for my awesome words checking for typos. Yeah.) So anyway. When I was re-reading that post, I noticed something:

All of the people I mentioned were white, Christian women. 

Whoa.

So I begin to go into defense mode . . . Wait! I read blogs by men! I love Micah Murray, Mike McHargue, Derek Flood, Ben Moberg, and Fr. Stephen Freeman.

Yes. And they’re incredible writers. And they’re all white men. 

And I read blogs by women of color! There’s Osheta MooreAustin Channing Brown, Marvia Davidson, Mihee Kim-Kort, and Christina Cleveland!

And I couldn’t name anymore. (And I only subscribe to ONE blog of the five that I named.)

And I loved Rachel Pieh Jones’ post 5 ThingsI Learned from Islam! And I’ve read Sarah Ager’s blog before!

But that doesn’t mean I know what it’s like to be Muslim, or that I’ve reached out a hand of friendship and understanding to people from a different religion than mine. 

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If I claim to seek the image of God in all people, then . . . I need to seek the image of God in all people. 

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I’ve started using the word “canon” to describe my own personal compass, my collection of stories, both mine and other people’s, the beliefs and ideas and experiences that shape me. For example, I told someone the other day, “I just started including the stories of my gay friends into my canon.” What I meant by that was that I stopped dismissing their stories because they were “wrong” or “unlike” me. I started listening.

My canon now is different from my canon when I was 26, or 16, or 6. It’s grown a lot. But it hasn’t grown enough. If I only widen that canon enough to hold people who are exactly like me (i.e., white, privileged Christian women), then it is not yet big enough. My vision is still contained to those same old telescopic lenses through which I see the world, and I am still putting uncomfortable things at arm’s length.

The death of Mike Brown has rocked Twitter this week. Yet it hasn’t made the rounds on Facebook, and I had to actually run a search on Yahoo and Google to find the headlines about him today. In case you missed the story, Mike Brown was an 18 year old black man who was doing nothing more than walking in the middle of the street. After a brief confrontation with a police officer, Mike cooperated and was standing with his hands up, and an officer shot him multiple times, killing him.

My canon expands. 

What must it be like knowing that you must fear for your life simply because you are black? 

There are several hashtags floating around Twitter, including #MikeBrown and #Ferguson, but the most intriguing one was #IfTheyGunnedMeDown. These hashtags include side-by-side pictures of people asking which picture the media would show if they were gunned down.

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And then there was this one from a white girl:

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My canon expands. So not only has a black kid been killed for no reason, the media has portrayed him as a good-for-nothing hoodlum just because he’s black.

What must it be like knowing that you’ll never come out on top, you’ll never be trusted?

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The internet has given me friends, yes. And that is something to celebrate. And to be fair, many of the friends I mentioned in my last post are regularly challenging the status quo and seeking racial, cultural, and religious understanding and reconciliation.

The internet has also given me a sobering awareness of my own race and privilege, of my own pride and power. Wrapped with that, though are the voices and stories of those outside of my realm of experience – those who are racially, economically, culturally, sexually, and spiritually different than I am. And yet somehow it feels like we are connected by our deep desire to live full lives in the spirit of peace.

I can’t control the fact that I’m white. And I won’t pretend I know what other people go through. When I was a kid, I used to wonder why God put me – my spirit, my person – in this body, with this family, in this country. But now I know that if I were in a different body, I would most likely be a completely different person, shaped by different circumstances.

So what can I do?

The first step is to listen. To open my eyes and ears to stories that might stretch open my canon.

Even that is a challenge, because I don’t want to turn this into a diversity parade, like I have to have “token” black/Asian/Muslim/etc. friends. I once heard an interview with Mindy Kaling where she said that she was tired of being asked about her race, ethnicity, and weight. She really wanted to talk about her craft. But it seemed like people were always pointing out how different she was from the “norm.” In a great post from this blog, James wrote that you know you have white privilege when “You can excel without being labeled a ‘credit to your race’.”

I realize that I have no credentials for this, and I will probably do it wrong, but:

What I want is to tear down the “norm.”

And it starts with simple changes to my own small life.

Like reading the hashtags about Mike Brown. Like lighting a candle and saying a prayer. Like adding a few more people to my internet “tribe.”

9 comments

  1. Jean says:

    Great post! This afternoon I heard an interview on NPR with an African-American pastor of a church in the town where Mike Brown was killed. He shared that his father texts him each morning to tell him that he loves him and to remind him to be careful. He emotionally spoke of the conversations that African-American parents have with their young sons so that their sons will know what to do if stopped by a policeman. Even as a highly educated middle-aged African-American man who is married and has two children, he spoke of the fear that he has for himself and for his children as they cope with racism in America.

    I am a Caucasian who has never feared the police. My parents never feared for my life if I was stopped by the police. I have had a privileged life. I did not choose to be Caucasian. Mike Brown did not choose to be African-American. Why can’t we all be color blind and culture blind and respect one another as children of God?

  2. Anzie says:

    Hi Karissa!
    Great Article and I agree with you on how you can learn by reading up on the issues surrounding the current news about Michael Brown.

    This article on CNN spoke about Black parents having “The Talk” with their sons and daughters, but mostly, young black men and how to protect yourself. How to act, and dress even. It’s pretty intense.
    http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/15/living/parenting-black-sons-ferguson-missouri/index.html?sr=fb081514blacksons530astory

    I can only speak on my personal experience when it comes to the racial divide in America. Me being Asian, but having a lot of black friends, I learned a lot from listening to them and understanding their culture. But me, even being a well educated Asian female and living in the South for a while, I encountered some mean stares and derogative language. My heart aches for the things that my black friends had to go through, whereas people such as yourself and myself, didn’t have to necessarily grow up with the things that they were taught as young children.

    Now that I have a son that is “Blasian” (Black and Asian) I feel the need to at least open up a dialogue about this subject when he is older. Granted, he does look Asian exactly like my dad even, but he’s part black too and he needs to be equipped and be ready for any intolerance that will come his way. If we live here in the states and things are going the way they’re going, it most definitely is a cause for concern, but all we can do is pray and pray fervently and continually. Pray for our younger generation and pray for understanding during this time for everyone. Always pray over your kids.

    • kksorrell says:

      Anzie, I really appreciate you bringing your experiences and perspective to this conversation! You are very wise. I hope that Solomon will experience acceptance and equality.

  3. Hannah C says:

    I grew up in the south with a mother who was raised in inner city New Orleans. When she played volleyball in middle and high school she was called, “the cream of the team”, not because she was amazing at volleyball, but because she was the only white girl. She has so much spunk and soul to the way that she lives because of her upbringing. She’s a Zumba instructor and LOVES dancing, R&B, and Rap. She has long been mustering up the guts to join the gospel choir in my hometown. She’s basically a light-skinned lady with an African American soul.

    However, her upbringing wasn’t just dance parties and volleyball tournaments. She learned that she had to be shrewed, cautious, and suspicious of most people around her because she never felt safe. As a little girl, once I knew what sex was she immediately followed up that conversation with one about rape and molestation. Yes, heavy topics for a young child, but for her this was the reality she grew up in. I remember learning that if we were coming out of Walmart after dark, we were supposed to have our keys in our hand, walking VERY purposefully towards our vehicle. My mom taught me to glare at men who I felt threatened by (AND those I didn’t – LOL) and look them directly in the eye. I’ve seen my mom turn into a near-demon when her family has been threatened in anyway. Fear was an emotion that dominated her motivations in training us sisters for life. It’s not something that she consciously chose, but rather an outcome from her reality being raised in inner city New Orleans.

    Obviously there are MAJOR problems with how our society handles racial tension. We definitely are a melting pot – and the basis of that fact is totally awesome. That we are creating a place and country under the premise that it doesn’t matter what your skin looks like – what matters is how you treat people. The reality of being a human sometimes, especially when people (of all colors) DON’T treat each other well, is that this is a HARD thing to do. It’s beautiful when it works, in those moments when it REALLY doesn’t matter what you look like. But we obviously aren’t “there” yet. After a week or so of watching the tension unfold in Ferguson, I have NO idea what our nation needs to “get us closer” to actual unity. The black community doesn’t feel support or empowerment and they are pissed and the whites are just either oblivious or just scared to get involved. It sounds like a super unhealthy relationship to me. Each side is super sensitive to any offense or the potential for offense. Any I wish the topics that are bringing all this to the surface weren’t so heavy. Wouldn’t it be nice if it were just food preference? Or music differences? But its HUMAN LIVES that are being lost or are at stake. Pretty darn important I’d say.

    I don’t have any answers. But I my spirit FEELS this deeply. The wounds, pains, deaths, confusion, anger, fear, and resentment. I want to know what is the Spirit of the Age, and what is the Spirit? (C.S.Lewis or Sheldon Vanauken – I can’t remember which once talks about this).

    Geez. I just wrote a novel. I think I needed to get all that out :)

    • kksorrell says:

      Hannah, your comments are a great addition to the conversation. Racial tension occurs on many levels in our nation. Your mom sounds like an amazing person. I hope for reconciliation and renewal, but like you, I’m not sure what to do to get there.

  4. Lolll I love this post. Not gonna lie, i’ve been trying to flex my blog reading muscle more into the men, other cultures realm and haven’t been doing a good job so this list is actually super helpful to me! :)

    PS: found you through my buddy, Tayo Rockson. You did such a great job on the podcast interview

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