While traveling back to the UK in January, I was stopped at the security checkpoint in the LAX airport. Fortunately, I was running on time and could afford the unexpected mishap. I was determined to be nice and polite to the officers handling my situation. They probably get a lot of rude people, annoyed at the inconvenience of this security check - so I was going to be different.
The kind guy said my laptop tested positive for explosive materials and that I'd need to be thoroughly patted down and all the stuff in my carry-on suitcase would need to be swiped and tested.
I was keeping my cool and staying polite and cooperative - lots of smiling and "OK, no problem". But in my mind I was scoffing at the necessity of it all.
For real? I'm a 5'2" blonde girl. Like, seriously. Me? With an explosive laptop? Just look at me!
This nice lady came over and patted me down. Meanwhile, the guy spoke to his supervisor, and they swiped my laptop again, about to embark on emptying the contents of my suitcase and swiping each of my belongings for testing. But, this second time around the results came back different or something, and they said I could go. No need to empty out the contents of my suitcase.
I'm going to be honest and say that I enjoy living in the UK and being relatively distant from the racial turmoil that continues to plague my country of origin. Because of the geographic distance, I don't feel as compelled to keep up with it all, formulate an opinion on it all, or critically assess my own heart or the ways my behavior or attitudes may or may not be implicit in perpetuating a system of injustice against my brothers and sisters.
But since this incident, I've been more reflective and convicted and even kind of sickened by the realization that my thoughts in that moment were appealing to a system which profiles people, makes assumptions about them based on their appearance, and attributes a whole host of cultural, social, political, religious, or economic characteristics based on these stereotypes.
In that moment, I was hoping, and dare I say even expecting, that they'd let me off the hook because I'm white.
Indeed, it is possible that that could actually be the grounds on which I was let go. It's possible that the laptop didn't actually test positive the second time around, and it's all fair and square. But it's also possible that the supervisor thought it OK to bend the rules on behalf of this short blonde girl.
I can't be sure of what actually happened. But I can be sure of what I was thinking.
And so I guess this is turning into a sort of public confession and repentance. I'm ashamed that I was appealing to a broken system of prejudice and profiling, and I repent. I'm ashamed that I expected to be treated differently for the color of my skin, and I repent. I'm ashamed that I profess to follow Jesus and care for the marginalized, but that somewhere deep in my heart I expect to receive favor on account of the margins being scrutinized and mistreated and further pushed aside. And I repent.
It's clear that we still long for, or dream of [to borrow from one of the greats], a day when we will no longer judge or be judged "by the color of our skin but on the content of our character". When we will no longer live under the law, but live under Christ, and there will be no more divisions - neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female - because we will all be one in Christ. When the old order of things will have passed away and all things will be made new and every valley will be exalted, and every hill and mountain will be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all flesh will see it together.
All that is both now and not yet. And the now starts right here, in our hearts.
It's awkward and uncomfortable to come to terms with my privilege and prejudice. But if left unexamined, I run the risk of perpetuating a broken and oppressive system. If, however, I engage with it, I can live and act more thoughtfully and meaningfully on behalf of and with others.
I feel like someone somewhere has said that transformation starts with repentance. The great revivals were repentance movements. Indeed, our Lord's ministry began with, "The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the gospel" [Mark 1:15].
Perhaps we'd do well to heed his invitation again, and in doing so let justice roll down like the waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. Let freedom ring. And to borrow from the great saint himself,
"When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'"