Dear Ebenezer Baptist: I still cringe

EAR-PicElizabeth Rodriguiz,
Ypsilanti, MI.

In the early 2000s I tagged along with my husband to his professional society meeting in Atlanta. While he went to lectures, I explored the city. I took the Metro to the stop nearest Ebenezer Baptist Church and walked through the neighborhood to get there. At the church, I actually asked one of the docents if there were another way to return to my hotel because I found the neighborhood uncomfortable. The look of pity she gave me has haunted me. In that moment I saw myself through her eyes: a middle-aged middle-class white woman expecting privileged treatment. In that moment I was confronted with the racist and classist lurking deep inside me. That pitying look has haunted me and forced me to see the insularity of my life and to expand my circles beyond people who look like me. I grew up in a lower-middle-class rural area, and I worked hard to get solidly into the middle class. I know that I am afraid of being poor again; I also know that fear can take us into dark places. The temptation to claim privilege is one that must be resisted. I walked back to the Metro station that day through the neighborhood and greeted people. None of us gets better at this without other people challenging us when it’s called for. I hope that that docent at Ebenezer Baptist reads this some day and remembers.

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