I only remember having one conversation with my father about race. When his enlistment in the United States Marine Corps was complete, he returned home to Minneapolis, found work, and married my mom. As a veteran, he was eligible for benefits that included the GI Bill, which he used to purchase their first home. Mom and dad began building equity, and a couple of years later, they bought their second home. We moved again when I was in 8th grade, investing equity from the first two homes into the third, larger home.
With that equity, and access to money they had saved, they were able to send me to college. With the advantage of a college education, I was able to buy my first home when I was 25, and the cycle repeated itself. My dad worked hard throughout his life to provide for his family. But I can also draw a direct line from my dad’s receiving those military benefits to who I am today and how I, and now my family, live.
My dad told me that he knew African American men who served in his unit, who having been honorably discharged were told that they did not qualify for the GI bill or other financial resources because of their race. My dad told me with some sadness that those Marines couldn’t buy a home and had to rent instead. They never built-up savings and equity. I sometimes wonder if their daughters and sons had the same opportunities that I had.
This is a part of my story.
This past Monday night, I attended the “public comments” time of the Owatonna School Board meeting. While Critical Race Theory was not on the school board’s agenda, people came to exercise their rights to speak both in favor of and against it.
I noticed that comments made by those who opposed Critical Race Theory in the schools described it as being driven by an agenda, or some conspiracy. I heard both anger and fear in the comments. Unfortunately, anger was misdirected at our school board, a group of caring people who give of their time and energy because they love the young people of this community, and they love our schools.
I’ve tried to learn more about Critical Race Theory (CRT). In my study, I’ve learned that it is neither agenda driven nor conspiratorial. CRT is a framework. It is a way of looking at our story and realizing that there may be more going on than first appeared. In the past, events may have happened that we did not cause, but that positively or negatively affect us, and our neighbor as well.
Critical Race Theory is not about politics, blame, shame, or guilt. It is a way of learning how to look honestly at our story as individuals or as a nation and being encouraged to wonder about the effects of events and systems from the past. It is an opportunity to ask questions and to look for wisdom together.
In my faith tradition, Jesus never tried to approach or understand people at only face value. When he encountered his disciples, or the woman at the well, or the woman facing judgment, or Zacchaeus up in the tree, he knew them. He understood them. He asked probing questions and he looked at their whole selves. He knew their whole story.
Critical Race Theory is all about knowing our story. Our whole story. It is about learning ways to look at all the things that contributed to our past and understanding how they affect our lives today. And of looking at the history of our neighbors, and understanding how that history, sometimes hundreds of years of history, affects their lives today.
Jesus asked probing questions, listened, and looked at the whole person. Why would we not want to do the same? Jesus understood those around him. My hope is that young people in Owatonna have the opportunity to learn about and understand their neighbors, especially those who are different from them.
Critical Race Theory is simply a new way of looking at our history and at the world. It is a method of learning. And learning more about our story, about our neighbor and about our world is never a bad thing.
There is nothing to fear.
This column first appeared in the “Pastor’s Perspective” column of the Owatonna People’s Press on Saturday, September 4, 2021