Recently, Pontheolla and I had the pleasure of hosting “Annalisa” (not her real name) at Clevedale Historic Inn and Gardens. Annalisa is an engagingly convivial twenty-something ambitious college student with a thoughtful vision for her future. Annalisa is Puerto Rican. In this fact or rather my unbidden, yet inherent reaction laid the root and fruit of a significant, painful rediscovery for me about the insidious nature of prejudice.
This past Saturday, I asked Annalisa, “What are your plans for the coming Memorial Day?”, adding, “yet another annual American holiday.” Casting a quizzical look, she answered simply, “I’m not sure yet.”
Sensing our sudden shared awkwardness, I realized my mistake. But it would take a day or two for me to process how deeply I had erred. In my question, I intended to be kind, not assuming blithely, blindly that she would observe this national commemoration. That was my conscious thought, which could not camouflage, much less cover the vulgar nakedness of my ignorance. Annalisa is an American. Yet I, in my question, exposed my unconscious bias, objectifying her. She, at that moment of my inquiry, was no longer a person, indeed, a fellow citizen, but rather a symbol of someone, something I perceived as non-native, thus, not in possession and having no claim on the birthright of my national identity. Complicating my dis-ease, I am nearly constantly mindful that some of my ancestors arrived in this land in chains, possessing and having a claim on nothing.
Later, I had the blessed opportunity, the sacred necessity of articulating to Annalisa my recognition of my sin and asking for her forgiveness. She was quiet. A tear formed in the corner of her eye; silent testimony that she had felt the barb of my unwitting, yet no less wounding slight. She said softly, “Not to worry.”
For the sake of Annalisa’s graciousness, I won’t worry. In my recommitment to the love and justice of Jesus, for the next appearance of my resident ineffaceable prejudice, in vigilance, I will watch.