Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Unbearable Whiteness of Being

1/30, evening.

I see white people. . .
White people are coming, coming in droves into the enormous hall where Jimmy Carter will be kicking off the Covenant meeting. I haven’t been seeing white people for awhile and it seems kind of strange. The first thing I notice are their clothes. My god, I see a sweatshirt! And jeans! The contrast between them and the spiffed-up blacks is more than a little startling.

They are mixing pretty well, though. The room is filling with black Baptists, white Baptists; Baptists from the North and Baptists from the South. It took over 150 years for this to happen.

Now I am just plain embarrassed to be white.
White warm-up music is playing on the stage. There’s a guy singing who is a cross between Pat Boone and the busted-for-purchased-gay-sex Ted Haggard wearing a red shirt and khakis – so painfully unhip, it hurts. The music, I am learning, is called “praise and worship.” It has all the soul of kindergarten sing-songs. Ding-Dong School.

The white people sing along, many not even needing to refer to the verses on the giant video screens. The blacks look slightly appalled.

Now there’s a guy who looks like Newt Gingrich but even MORE white bread than Newt, if you can believe that’s possible. He is playing the guitar and forcing us to endure more treacly, syrupy kitsch. Ouch, it’s hurting my teeth! Now he is leading the other musicians and singing audience members with strange herky-jerky up and down fists. What the heck kind of conducting is that?

Oh thank God, and praise Jesus, here comes a gospel choir. They are bringing the house down. Their voices rise and shake the building. People are out of their seats, swaying, halleluiahing and calling-out. I am wondering what the Up With People types are thinking about this and if the now much happier-seeming white people in the audience are thinking that their performers might try to be a tad less dead.

The president of one of the black Baptist conventions takes the stage to deliver a sermon. A woman in the audience falls into a rapturous and very loud round of halleluiahs. With the patience of Job, he calmly waits for her to quiet down (or perhaps she was silenced or removed by others) and begins talking about how strange it is for him, as a black Baptist, to be preaching on an assigned topic and for an assigned number of minutes. Blacks in the audience laugh heartily – knowing exactly what he means. He reluctantly agrees to do both and builds into a rousing sermon – within his allotted time.

Jimmy Carter takes the podium and is speaking of the journey that led to this Covenant meeting and his hopes for finding mutual honor and respect across denominational and ideological lines. It’s not getting people out of their seats, but the tone, fairly humble, is good.

As he winds-ups, I’m slipping out now before the white music starts up again and ruins my uplift.

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