But Abram said to Sarai, “Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and Hagar ran away from Sarai. – Genesis 16:6 (NRSV)
When my great-grandparents died, the house they’d built remained home base for my single grandmother and her young children. The home was sold when I was a child, but some of my earliest memories are from there: the seeming acres of grass, the artfully carved bannister, the intoxicating scent of hairspray mixed with cigarette smoke wafting from the bedrooms.
Recently I came across a 1938 map on which I located the street where my grandmother’s house was built. Her street on the map was in a “green” neighborhood, which meant it was “First Grade.” According to the 92-page guide that accompanied the map, First Grade properties were considered good lending risks for mortgage companies, while Fourth Grade properties (in red on the map), with their mix of “Negroes,” “Foreign Born” and other “Undesirable” residents were considered poor ones.
I was not there when Sarai, my grandmother in faith, beat Hagar. I was not there when my white ancestors tortured and enslaved people of African descent. I was not there when mortgage companies used racial bias and xenophobia to decide which properties they would finance in most American cities. I was not there when my family built a stable home in a “pleasant” neighborhood, a home they were able to mortgage because their skin was white.
I was not there. And yet the economic and emotional impact of those times ripple into this time. So when I hear calls to make amends or reparations, I listen.
Dear God, give us the wisdom and the courage to make amends and reparations. Amen.
Jennifer Garrison Brownell is pastor of Vancouver United Church of Christ. Her writing appears in the collection, The Words of Her Mouth: Psalms For the Struggle, available from The Pilgrim Press.