On Being Made Blind

My last post on NALT almost had more page views than the entire blog up to that point. I don’t know where everyone came from, but thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts. That post was also probably the only time I will ever post something that timely. The thing that caught my attention today, for example, is already five days old.

This morning, an article from the New York Times opinion blog slipped over from my reading into my prayer in a way that I thought was worth sharing. The article is George Yancy’s Walking While Black in the ‘White Gaze’. It’s a bit long, but merits your attention. I don’t think it says anything particularly original, but it is a very good primer on the omnipresent violence of racism and its effects on persons of color. He explains how the mere fact of a black body is seen by white people as threatening and offensive. This “white gaze” inflicts violence on black people by even when it does not lead to physical violence:

Black bodies in America continue to be reduced to their surfaces and to stereotypes that are constricting and false, that often force those black bodies to move through social spaces in ways that put white people at ease. We fear that our black bodies incite an accusation. We move in ways that help us to survive the procrustean gazes of white people. We dread that those who see us might feel the irrational fear to stand their ground rather than “finding common ground,” a reference that was made by Bernice King as she spoke about the legacy of her father at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

The white gaze is a vision that determines what it is seeing before the object is even fully in sight. The awful story of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman is only a particularly egregious and fatal example. Trayvon never had any chance to be anything to Zimmerman other than a threat and a criminal. As soon as he saw black, Zimmerman’s brain made Trayvon into a criminal. The white gaze kills.

It goes without saying that the white gaze is a false vision. It is a distortion of vision that is the baggage of history with which we white people are born (everyone is born with the baggage of history. Read Romans 5). So as I was praying this morning, this piece came into my mind, and I felt myself led to reflect on John 9:39: “And Jesus said, ‘For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.'” I remember that this verse puzzled me in my youth, and was something I continued to struggle with as an adult. Like the Pharisee who responds to Jesus a few verses later, I wonder why anyone who can see perfectly well would want to be blind.

But what if my vision is false? It is a distortion. It kills others by constraining what they can be, and it thus it kills me and constrains what I can be. If that is the case, then what Jesus says about blinding those who see is not a threat, but a promise of deliverance.

I believe that God’s promises are there for us to claim them. And so I claim this one. Lord Jesus, blind my false vision. Deliver us all from racism, both victims and perpetrators. In your name, I ask for your true vision. I ask this for myself, for my whole country, and for the whole world.

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