What is she going to say about race?
Who is she going to blame?”
These are the thoughts that I imagine are behind those wide eyes staring forward at me. I can feel people subconsciously strapping in for what ever wild and treacherous ride that they think I am about to take them on. ’The nervous tension of anticipation’ is how I describe it.
In this particular instance, upon my arrival, I was greeted with being told that the number of registrants for the ‘lunch and learn’ was almost double the norm. I was shocked for two reasons. It has been my experience that white Christians—especially in the South—want to avoid learning or talking about race/ism. And I am not a well known speaker. So having a large turn-out should have been my first clue that this was going to be a unique experience.
While waiting for the interview to begin, I contemplated how to navigate beyond ‘the nervous tension of anticipation’—thinking through wording, phrasing, tone, humor, and all the things that help disarm and relax the listener who may be anticipating a ‘racial rant.’
Tammy, the interviewer, introduced me, accrediting me with far more accolades than I deserve. (Hey, in this line of work, I’ll take all the encouragement I can get!) But it was when Tammy turned the focus on herself, that I felt ‘the nervous tension of anticipation’ leave the room.
She bravely exposed her own need that had brought us together. She contextualized my significance within her lack. I could sense ‘me too’s’ and ‘ok, it doesn’t sound so bad coming from Tammy’s mouth’ and ‘If Tammy went there, so can I.’ I could almost hear a collective exhale. She warmed their hearts.
In doing this work, I have witnessed that many would rather use their time to impress or intimidate folks with how much they know about race issues…show how ‘racist’ they are not, which as you can imagine, is in no way helpful. Tammy’s vulnerability—her willingness to share her personal limitations—was the grace filled strength that did the hard work. All I did was simply pour into the hearts she had prepared. I liken it to the faithful obedience that collapsed the walls of Jericho (Joshua 6). My intriguing content and presentation skills did not collapse those walls. It was the strength of Tammy’s vulnerability.