I have led an interesting life. Often boring, sometimes lively, but always interesting! I was asked in a survey to list my heritage: 50% Danish, 25% German, 25% Swiss, at least that is the story we know and have been told, and on a certain level I am left with no choice but to be proud of that, because it is part of who I am. Though the body is a wondrous thing, early in my life doctors noted that I form a certain type of scar that is foreign to the ancestry I have.
Someday I plan on pursuing that to learn more about where that recessive trait comes from, but for now I accept that when it comes to race and identity there are the obvious facts, but there is much more under the surface which is both unknown, yet influential in my health and various other aspects of life. While wearing a shirt, no one can see that hidden part of my past; in public, one cannot avoid seeing the long pink scar that parallels my ribs. It is a scar I have carried with me since I was nine, and in the beginning something that caused a bit of shame and embarrassment.
I had a great doctor, though, who when I asked if it would ever go away he said “No, but just tell people that you were attacked by a shark!” I laughed and tried it once or twice, but it never worked. For preadolescent boys, the gruesome story about the surgery was pretty cool all by itself and that scar, and the story became a big part of my identity, especially since most of my summers were spent at the pool!
In our society, we place a high importance on identity, and how one identifies themselves makes a big difference on how they can live their lives. As you can see with this letter I have shared two strong aspects of my identity. The interesting thing is that both of those aspects have made some parts of my life much easier, and in others they have closed doors based solely on other people’s perceptions.
When you are turned down or rejected based on ability it is one thing, but to be rejected based on the perception of another person is a very different thing. I like to say it is the difference of hitting your thumb with a hammer or someone reaching into your chest to crush your heart!
This is why, while I am not Black or Brown or even “ethnic,” the Black Lives movement is important. This movement spurred many to ask why it is that we let bias and prejudice run our society? Why are we so quick to label one group good and another bad. For me, I see this as a great injustice, forcing one to change their identity from being a gift, to being a burden or from being something of pride to being something of shame.
No matter what our background is we all feed into the stereotypes. This means that even with our best efforts we have judged others negatively based solely on perception. And if people are never allowed to find a positive understanding of their selves, how are they ever going to break those stereotypes? It almost becomes its own prison not allowing many to develop a strong positive identity. This is why we have to recognize all people equally and help all to develop and grow in their faith and live in the fullness of who God has created them to be and work for justice so that all are accepted equally!
At the end of the day some might ask why I, a male of central European descent, of a privileged status in our world be so passionate about the Black Lives Matter movement. Well, for me, it is simple: I would not be who I am today had people not helped me accept all the aspects of my life and identity and to see each one as a gift, even the ugly painful scars! We have a responsibility to all of God’s children to do the same for them, welcoming and accepting them for who God created them to be, not on who we perceive them to be.
When we accept people for who they are, keeping check on our bias and prejudice, we can begin to develop trust and relationships letting our knowledge of the other person be our facts and no longer discount people before they have had a chance to make the difference God has placed them here to make.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen