I was in conversation with some young ministry guys last week. The question was posed, “What have I learned in my life that has been the most surprising?” One of my responses was that I never cease to be amazed at how important relationships are in life. This was something I wish I had learned much earlier in life. When I was younger I often exhibited the attitude that people should make room for me based upon my knowledge and talents. But life doesn’t work that way does it? Typically for better or worse, the old axiom applies “It’s not what you know, but who you know.”
Considering that I was an awkward and often obnoxious kid from one of the poorest counties in America, and that my family did not have any social, economic, or political power, with an introverted personality in the mix, it is now obvious to me that I should not have expected any favors in a relational sense. Even as my relational and people skills have improved, I still sense that lack of those early relationships may have hindered me in life. Now consider if all of the obstacles I was up against earlier in life including poverty and lack of connections also included being a person of color. I would have faced even more obstacles in the economic, educational, and justice systems of our Nation, not to mention the implications of how white people generally would have viewed me based upon the color of my skin.
Yes, relational skills are important. Life does indeed move “at the speed of relationships,” but those relationship opportunities are severely limited, slowed, or altogether non existent if you begin life in a marginalized position, especially as it applies to color and gender in this country. As David Bailey is quoted as saying in The Myth of Equality by Ken Wytsma, “White privilege allows you to be average and sit in places of power because of relationships. Relationships that were formed because of the de facto segregation in cities, schools, churches.”