Perspectives: Andrea Caplinger
Hi, guys. I’m Kim Bandy, a director at Spero, and I’m facilitating a personal blog series. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying the national events of the past week and a half have been overwhelming. There are many steps that need to be taken personally, organizationally, and collectively. But one step that seems like the hardest and perhaps least exercised is the step of listening well. In particular, I know those of us who represent my personal demographic—a white, evangelical who grew up in the United States—must begin listening to those who are telling us that what happened in Charlottesville was painful.
So, I asked a few friends if they’d be willing to share with us and they graciously accepted. I have learned a tremendous amount from them about life, discipleship, leadership, integrity and compassion. And they have been instrumental in helping me understand their call for reconciliation in the church and in America.
I am hopeful about myself and about others in our community. I’m hopeful that we can listen well—just as we would to someone who is sitting across a table from us expressing this pain in the way they would any other pain in their life. I hope to listen without trying to determine if they are “right” or if I agree with every perspective. I hope to listen without asking them to hurry past the pain. And I hope to listen in a way that doesn’t filter their pain through the lens of how it makes me feel. I am hopeful to listen well to my brothers and sisters in the Kingdom. And I’m hopeful to follow their lead. Because, while they are brave enough to share this pain with us, they are most certainly not defined by this pain. They are defined by the strength and vision they possess as followers of Jesus who have much to teach me.
Let's talk with our friend, Andrea.
Let me begin by saying that I am humbled and somewhat terrified to be asked to share my thoughts on what has transpired in our communities and nation since white supremacists marched in Charlottesville. I'm not terrified to speak out; I'm more terrified of being silent. I'm not terrified to say what needs to be said because I am 100% confident that this message needs to be repeated over and over until we start seeing change. However, it's terrifying to speak to an issue that needs to be communicated so immediately, clearly, effectively, lovingly and strongly, when I feel so inadequate to do so. It's challenging because I want to communicate the gravity of this situation, but I also don't want to say the wrong thing and end up causing further harm to those who have already suffered so greatly as the result of words and actions committed by the white population. I am not an expert on race relations, racism, systemic racism and microaggressions. I am trying earnestly to be a student, so that I am deeply aware and educated on of all of these issues. I must understand that they do still exist and why, how I benefit from them and what I must do to be a part of dismantling them. I am white, so I have been and continue to be a part of the problem. I regret to say that I only became acutely aware of white privilege, racism, systemic racism and white supremacy's continued fervent existence when I became the mother of two precious children, who are black. So, I am going to do the best I can with all of my imperfections and flaws to answer some questions that will hopefully give some insight into our experience.
Question: I am a white/evangelical Christian. What do you want me to know about Charlottesville?
When I first read this question, the first thing that came to mind is this quote by Anne Braden. "The battle is and always has been a battle for the hearts and minds of white people in this country. The fight against racism is our issue. It's not something that we're called on to help people of color with. We need to become involved with it as if our lives depended on it because really, in truth, they do." That may feel like a really strong initial response, but I feel the urgency to deal with the hard truths up front. Racism is real, and it is an issue that the white population has to deal with because so many lives and futures depend upon it. As a friend of mine shared with me, many of the white supremacists claim to be Christians, so Christians have to speak out and denounce the message, ideology and hate-filled beliefs of the white supremacists because they do not reflect Christ, and because it is the right, humane thing to do. This isn't the time to be worried about mixing politics and religion; it's the time to take a stand against hate. Obviously, the church has a lot of political power and has demonstrated that in many ways, not always positive, throughout our country's history. So, don't we want to be on the right side of history and humanity.
Honestly, we haven't stood up to racism and fought it like we need to. I feel like the church has not stood up to racism as it needs to. Yes, statements and positions have been made denouncing the alt-right and racism in the past, this summer and in recent days, which is absolutely necessary. We must speak out; we must denounce hate, and I am thankful to see that. However, racism is fought in the day- to- day activities and lives of individuals and large entities. It's not just about public statements that are made. It's about taking a serious look at our own hearts to be aware of prejudices and biases. For example, if we read something written about racism more attentively when it's written by a white person than when it's written by a person of color, then we need to be aware of that, ask ourselves why and challenge our view. Women, if we clutch our purses tighter and become more fearful when we walk by a black man, then we need to ask ourselves why. If we see a black man walking by a nice vehicle, and our first thought is, "What is he doing around that car?", rather than understanding that is his car, then we need to ask ourselves why. If we pass over a resume for a job because of the ethnic name on the resume, then we need to ask ourselves why. Our prejudices and biases run so deep and are so unknown to many of us. This is really the part where lives depend upon our community and society understanding implicit bias because it costs people their lives when our prejudices and biases haven't been dealt with appropriately.
We fight racism when we teach the next generation the truth about racism and how we should embrace diversity in our lives and fight for equality. It's about taking a stand against it when people are making jokes, being discriminatory or making stereotypical statements about another race or person. It's about understanding legislation that we are voting on, and if it promotes systemic/institutional racism, then we vote against it and demand better legislation. It's about voting for politicians at all levels, even the highest position in the land, who do not hold and promote racist ideologies. We must take a stand against it when we see someone being treated unfairly by an individual, entity or our government. We, in the majority culture, must rise up, educate ourselves, be open to learn, be challenged in our views and stand in the gap, build the bridge and come alongside our minority communities. They should not fight this battle on their own because it isn't theirs to fight. For true change to occur and oppression to stop, then we have to step into this and put a stop to racism and all types of discrimination. I would like to quote Jen Hatmaker from her article in The Atlantic entitled, "What Obligation do White, Christian Women Have to Speak Out About Politics?" "Our days of silence are over. It's time to lay that down, move on and empower one another to speak up. It matters. I look forward to a container that is not so reticent to jump in, that is not so resistant to tension and to discomfort that they're so busy silencing their members."
Does this feel out of the blue to you as it does others? Why or Why not.
No, this doesn't feel out of the blue to me. Obviously, it's heart wrenching and makes me ill, but it doesn't surprise me. When I am out with my children alone, I still notice the looks of condemnation and judgment that come our way, and this has happened within the last few weeks. I won't ever forget when one of my children were told that they weren't good enough to be another child's friend because they were black. I won't ever forget that my child was told they cannot be a Christian because they are black. This came from a child their same age. I see the conversations on social media that are obviously routed in a significant lack of understanding about racism and what seems to be a lack of true desire to understand anything differently.
When I think about social media, a certain personal experience comes to mind. I mention this because it seems to be a common observation among many families. I'm not really that active on social media, but I do add a picture every once in a while, and it's nice to see all of the responses about my children. They are always very kind. So, sometimes I also post articles or quotes in regards to racism, white privilege and discrimination, and what is interesting to many of us is that those posts don't get the responses that the pictures of our children do. It feels as though there is a disconnect there. I'm very thankful that people enjoy seeing pictures of my children, but I know many of us want to know that the white population is also engaging in conversation around the topic of racism because it negatively affects and will continue to negatively affect my children and my friends in those pictures unless the white population is fighting racism, white privilege and discrimination. Now, I know that doesn't mean that people aren't reading them or thinking about them, but when it is apparent that there is a significant difference in the response, it feels as though that could possibly be a correlation to an unwillingness or openness to engage in these difficult conversations. We must engage because that is what has to happen for change to occur. Again, I have only been acutely aware of this reality for a few years, while our communities of color have been so aware of this for their entire existence. I am continually learning from conversations that I have with my friends who are black about the experiences of racism and prejudice that they face on a daily basis. This isn't right, and we have to start taking the hard steps to change it.
How does it make me feel to see the lack of policing towards these hate groups?
It's very difficult for me to see. When I think about the Nazis in Germany and how they were able to incrementally gain a foothold, then seeing a lack of policing Neo-Nazis here in the US is very concerning. Obviously, we all know that over 6 million Jews and others lost their lives because of the ideologies of the Nazis. They must be stopped on all fronts. This also leads to the concern to the differences in how law enforcement polices our communities of color. I read a story once of a young black man who had white parents. He had strategically placed a picture of his family in his wallet, next to his license, so when he was pulled over, the police officer would see that he had white parents. The young man shared that he felt the need to protect himself in this way. He went on to share that he finally came to a point that he removed that picture. I have to acknowledge the reality that my children are protected by my white privilege for now. It should not be that way; there should not be white privilege. My child should not be safer than yours because he has white parents. This is disgusting to me, and it weighs so heavy on my heart. It is the current reality, so I also have to know that my white privilege will not always protect them as they become older and are more independent of us, and this also weighs very heavy on my heart.
Kate Riffle Roper wrote an excellent piece for daily O on the differences she has observed raising white and black children. The realities of racism and white privilege that she has seen first-hand are so imperative to understand, so we can change this reality. Her article is a must read, and it is linked here: http://www.dailyo.in/variety/black-lives-matter-alton-sterling-dallas-police-shooting-donald-trump/story/1/11936.html.
When I read this article, it took my breath away as I thought of my little boy. My son is so sweet, smart, kind and funny. He gives great hugs, and when he says "thank you, momma," my heart melts. He is truly amazing. He is also really cute; although, I might be a little biased. However, many people agree because comments are made so frequently. So, it overwhelms me with fear and sadness to think that when he is a teenager and an adult that people will not see his handsomeness, his intelligence, his kindness or his heart; they will see his black skin. This might be lead them to be afraid or suspicious of him, and this could put him in grave danger; it could cost him his life. I honestly cannot even type that without tears welling up in my eyes and my chest tightening because it isn't right. The fact that someone would not see my son for who he really is, but only judge him based on stereotypes, biases and prejudices because of his skin color, is devastating. I have only dealt with this reality for a few years, and it has caused me significant grief. So, I don't know how all of the moms and dads in the black communities have dealt with this their whole life, generation after generation.
What can we do in our city right now to address white supremacy around us?
In addition to the things I mentioned above, I think Brene' Brown, PhD., LMSW, answers this well when she was asked the question of how we truly empathize with others and understand a different perspective. She says very simply and clearly, "the answer is you believe people's stories. you believe people's experiences as they tell them to you." We fight white supremacy when we open our lives and our homes to build relationships with others that look different from us. We listen. We actively and empathically listen without judgment, dismissing, minimizing, reasoning and explaining away their story. We sit with the discomfort, sadness, anger and fear. Annie Reneau at Scary Mommy wrote a blog post that I feel says it better than I can, so I have provided the link here: http://www.scarymommy.com/fellow-white-americans-we-need-to-stay-in-the-room-when-racism-becomes-uncomfortable-for-us/
I regret to say that I have been so naive and ignorant on these issues for so much of my life. That has to continue to change. I am trying to be brave and bold and speak to these issues head on. I have so much to learn, and I am so thankful for the people in my life who allow me to learn from them and who challenge me to learn through documentaries, films, poems, songs & books. This is about humanity. We have to do the hard work to educate ourselves on the reality, not just rely on what we were taught in history class in school. We really have to challenge ourselves to read and listen to others, authors and speakers that will give us a new perspective. We have to move forward, so this truly can be a community that believes and lives out that all people are created equal because everyone has the right to be treated equally.
Meet our friend, Andrea.
Andrea Caplinger is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in private practice in Oklahoma City. She received her undergraduate degree from Oklahoma Baptist University and her graduate degree in Social Work from the University of Oklahoma. Andrea has 15 plus years experience in the field of Social Work working with various populations in the local community. Her primary work experience has been with adults, children and families in the areas of trauma, grief, loss, relationship-building, attachment and adoption. Andrea loves spending time with her family, friends and faith community. Andrea lives in Oklahoma City with her husband and two precious children.