It’s just not right, but it happens all the time.
Yesterday I stopped at Wal-Mart to buy a few needed items. As I left the check-out counter for the exit, I walked behind a dark-complexioned young man wearing a soccer jersey emblazoned with the colors and logos of Mexico. As we approached the exit, a bushy-haired white guy working as a greeter and in-store cart jockey stopped the man in front of me, asked for his receipt, and carefully compared it to the items in his cart.
As I held up my receipt, the worker turned away and let me pass without a second glance.
It was racial profiling, something that can happen on an individual level or even be government sponsored. In old shorts and a baggy T-shirt, I was dressed more cheaply than the man in the nice Mexico team jersey, but my skin was whiter and my hair was grayer, so I was not seen as suspect.
I don’t know if the employee’s actions were a result of his workplace training or his personal prejudice, but it bothered me nonetheless.
Perhaps it bothered me most because it reminded me of my own biases. I strive to see all people in the same light, but I’m aware that my own actions and expectations are sometimes colored by others’ appearance, accent, or dress.
In those times I call to mind Jesus’ openness to an immoral woman in Samaria, a wild man near Gerasa, a tax collector in Jericho, a band of lepers forced to live on the outskirts of town. Even when my intentions are good, however, remembering what Jesus did doesn’t necessarily translate into doing what Jesus would do.
May we all learn that Jesus’ challenge to love others was not limited to others who are like us, but to all who draw breath from the same air that gives us life.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.