I know what you’re thinking.
Ethan must be some sort of right-wing, MAGA hat-wearing, victim-mindset white boy. I don’t think this post will be that, but just hold onto your pants.
It’s true though:
I was turned down for a ministry position, and told specifically it’s due to my skin color. The ministry is located downtown and I thought the stars were aligning. I came into contact with them just a week before the position became vacant, so I thought the timing would be perfect. I thought God had closed so many other doors in order to open this one, and everything would go along swimmingly.
The two directors interviewed me not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times before informing me they were more interested in a person of color. I asked if there were any other requirements they were trying to fill which I didn’t have—the position involved working with youth and teaching the Bible, both of which I have years of training, experience, and education in—and they said no.
“Of course we won’t hire someone who is unqualified or has bad character,” they told me. “But we need someone who represents the multiethnic goals of our ministry, and we are worried that hiring another white person will be a step in the wrong direction. It would communicate the wrong thing to our community.”
It took a few minutes for what they were saying to really sink in: that I wasn’t what they were looking for because of my skin color.
Nevermind the fact that I had just come back from living in Guatemala, or that I have done extensive travel in Africa, Asia, Europe and India, working with dozens of cultures very different from my own. One question which had come up repeatedly in the first three interviews was, “how do you plan to connect with youth who are different ethnicities and cultures than your own?”
I didn’t think it was a hard question, I told them—I’d connect with them the same way I’d connect with any human being: with love, care, and excitement to get to know them. Apparently that wasn’t enough.
It caught me off guard to realize that my skin color was actually a barrier to me getting a job, and they seemed pretty firm on that. They fear that having too many white staff will turn away people in the community who may see it as having a white savior complex. On the one hand, sure…but on the other hand, no?
Since this interview, I have vacillated between understanding their position and anger at the situation. It had seemed like such a perfect fit, as I am far more interested in working with diverse groups of people than I am with a white-washed population. Plus I kind of know Spanish now.
My point is, as frustrating as this experience has been, I still feel wrong complaining about it.
After all, I’m white. Far more doors are open to me than are closed, both here in the States and internationally. I can’t speak from experience, but I can only imagine how many people haven’t even gotten into the door of an interview because of their non-white skin color. I know what this feels like from this singular experience, but don’t know what it’s like to go through it every day, to constantly be aware of my skin color in an often negative sense.
I wrote before about what it was like being a powerful minority in Guatemala, but I obviously don’t know what it’s like to be a minority here in the States, where many people treat you differently because of your skin color. As a country, we have made massive strides in the past years against racism, but it is far from eradicated from the hearts of humans.
So, a few thoughts from this experience:
1. I think ministries need to put more emphasis on character, experience and training than on skin color. Am I biased right now? Of course. But I never saw my skin color as a barrier to connecting with black, Asian, and Latino youth. In fact, it excited me to see the unity of the kingdom play out in that way.
2. I think white people need to be aware that this may happen to us once or twice in our lifetimes, but it happens far more often to our brothers and sisters with different skin colors than ours. I’m learning that, at the very least, we need to value hearing their stories, learning from them, asking them questions, and humbling ourselves when we may be slighted in this way. I do NOT know the experience of minorities in the States, which is why listening to them and trying to understand their experiences is so important.
3. If you’re white and you find yourself in a similar situation to mine, take some time to really think through how oppressed you are. I’d wager it’s not as bad as it feels in the moment, even if situations like these are awkward and frustrating.