Yesterday, I choked up watching Antoinette Tuff describe how she had anchored herself in Christ and reached out to a heavily armed and deeply depressed young man who had walked into an elementary school and made it clear that he wasn’t playing around. The gunman felt he didn’t have anything to live for and was prepared to die that day, but Tuff’s love (Tuff love, ha) saved his life and most likely countless others, as well.
Here’s my confession. While I listened to Antoinette tell her amazing story, I pictured the events unfold. And those events featured the perpetrator as a young, black, man. I don’t recall hearing any physical descriptions of the suspect. I didn’t know his name and hadn’t seen a mugshot. I was focused on Tuff’s actions, but my underlying, unconscious assumption was that she was describing interactions with a fellow African American.
When I read follow-up stories of the event this morning and saw that Michael Brandon Hill looks like me and not like Antoinette, I realized what I had done. I realized how deeply embedded my assumptions were, so deep that they hadn’t even registered as conscious casting choices, and I was utterly shamed by my racism. I am still deeply ashamed, but grateful that I recognized and confronted this sin head-on.
I accept full responsibility for my racist assumption, but I can’t help but wonder…if Michael Brandon Hill had dark skin, would his picture have been at the top of all of the news articles the last few days? Would I have been faced with more images of him if he had fit the description of my preconceived notions? Worse, was his picture there all along, but I ignored it, passed it over, because that’s not the face I was looking for?
Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.