Is this your car? “Paper-Cut” Racism in Madison

Yesterday, we began a conversation about race and racism at Grace Church. Today, Paul Fanlund of the Capital Times wrote a piece about the little indignities African-Americans encounter in their daily lives in Madison. It confirms some of what we heard yesterday.

Grace is blessed to include among our active membership a number of people of color, several of whom participated in the conversation. We began by talking about white privilege and as is often the case, there was some pushback about the concept. But as we listened, we heard some heartbreaking and shocking stories about the treatment of children of color in the schools.

But one of the most emotional moments was when one man asked us, “What does the police officer ask you when he pulls you over in a traffic stop?”

We responded, “May I see your driver’s license and registration?”

“No,” he said. “I’m always asked, ‘Is this your car?'”

That anecdote hit home for us the vast gulf separating the experience of whites and people of color in Madison and Dane County. To be treated suspiciously in virtually every encounter with authority is not just an irritation, it is an attack on one’s self-esteem and reinforces the powerlessness and despair people of color face.

The little indignities experienced on a daily basis are more than a nuisance. They are a daily reminder that people of color, African-Americans, live in a culture in which they can never feel truly at home.

At Grace, as we seek to participate in our community’s conversation around racism and efforts to create a more just community, it is important to begin by listening to the experience of the people of color who are part of our congregation. By acknowledging their voices and hearing their stories, we help to create in our midst the beloved community called into being by Jesus Christ. My hope that even as we reach out to engage others, especially the broader African-American community, we will deepen our ties and common life and serve as a model for others.


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