Race can be a tricky issue, and a difficult one to speak about. This article is meant for my fellow white people, to start a conversation about what we can be doing, and especially to my Christian brothers and sisters, to think a bit about how we can best live out the gospel within the difficult reality of our culture.
When I was in elementary school and started learning about things like slavery and Jim crow laws, I remember feeling confused at how people could ever think that what they were doing was right. As I grew up and continued to grow in my Christian faith, I began to learn how sin and pride blinds us to the truth and to the hurt that exists around us. I believe in the good news that Jesus Christ came to forgive our sins, bring us into personal relationship with God, and become good just like the God who created us. As I continue to see how easy it is to create enemies and foster bad ideas towards people who are different than me, I don't think it's that big of a stretch that racism would continue to be a big problem in our society and our hearts even long after segregation has ended. The law, sadly, can't change our hearts.
At both the heart of racism and the heart of sin is pride. Even when we are part of a problem, it's easy to priortise defending ourselves over listening to the person or people we are hurting. When I look at the rich traditions of the Black church in America, I'm amazed at how they have been able to hold to this faith despite many white Christians historically using that same faith to support racist structures and beliefs. And from my limited perspective, it seems like the modern church isn’t doing enough to apologise, make up for, and teach against this enormous sin that was so recent in our history.
This is how I started to think about this reality- The Civil Rights movement was less than 75 years ago. It makes sense that we would still be working through the entire system of racism and prejudice that many people who are alive now lived through. If someone says American’s racist past is over, I would challenge them to do this basic math. Many of the same people who were fighting for racist systems and laws are still alive or their laws still intact. How would we be fully rid of this problem? Even if you disagree on how exactly this works out in terms of the government and their policies/actions, it comes down to this- if racial reconciliation isn’t a priority in your life, you should rethink the implications of the gospel you claim to believe in.
If racial reconciliation isn’t a priority in your life, you should rethink the implications of the gospel you claim to believe in.
To say it in another way, here’s something I recently tweeted:
Black churches and black people have felt the stain of prejudice in their lives. Us white Christians need to use whatever voice we have to make sure our nation and our larger world does better.
I am far from the exception to this. I’ve spent most of my life simply thinking I’m not a part of the problem because I am not racist on a day to day basis. But the second half of my life has taught me that there’s so much beyond my own experience, and so much more I can be doing. If the highest standard I’m holding myself to is not actively being racist, I have failed to represent Jesus in this world.
If the highest standard I’m holding myself to is not actively being racist, I have failed to represent Jesus in this world.
So as I’m thinking about and working through this for myself, here are some things that I’m trying to do and invite you (if you are a White Christian) to start doing as well.
1. Proactively trying to pay attention to black voices
This includes black voices on social media, as well as in our local communities and amongst our own social groups. Learning to listen is really important, and something that I’m working on. Sometimes we want to be defensive (things like saying, "oh well my family wasn’t even in America during slavery", "my family is Italian they were also discriminated against", "I have my problems too", "I’m not racist"). Instead of saying those things, really try to listen to the suffering, pain, and anxiety other people are expressing. Everyone deals with their own suffering, but the suffering that many black Americans feel because of their blackness is separate from any suffering you have been through yourself. Instead of defending yourself or trying to compare trials, acknowledge the suffering and pain of Black Americans.
2. Get educated
The racist system we live in is not always simple or straightforward. Sometimes it's not just about individual bias (although it can certainly be). But simply because a person isn't racist, doesn't mean the system they are in doesn't have racist implications. For example, one can look at the fact that the mortality rate for black mothers is significantly higher than that of other races in America (https://www.americashealthrankings.org/explore/health-of-women-and-children/measure/maternal_mortality_a). Part of that likely is instances of individual racism, but a lot of it is also things like less access to medical care in black neighbourhoods, less black people being insured, and cultural differences between white and black doctors/patients that make communication difficult. If we are going to solve the problems in our society, we have to be willing to look at a plethora of reasons existing in the system, and go to solve those. Read books about these problems, educate yourself on them, and you’ll become more compassionate towards people who express similar problems.
3. try for change locally
Put pressure on local systems to change: because of all of the small problems underlying our society culminating in this bigger one, sometimes the solution is not as easy as voting for the right president on the federal level. (Not that voting isn’t important- please do). But also try to look at the systems in your local community and think about how you can advocate on even a small level to fix some of these problems.
This isn't a full list of things you can do- just a start. I'm going to end this blog post sooner rather than later because my whole point is that I’m trying to push you to read some non-white people about this problem we have.
As a start, here are some of my favourite black Christians to follow on twitter-
@Stewartdantec : Self-described as a Husband, Father, Seminarian, Preacher, and Writer, Danté has written for Christianity Today and always has an emotionally-intelligent and observant thing to say. He's also always pointing to other black voices to listen to- I get a lot of book reccs from his Twitter threads.
@esaumccaulley: A distinguished author of "Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation As An Exercise in Hope," follow for some great takes on theology, literature, and history.
@WilGafney: I've only just started following "Mama Yoda," (that name may change as she changes her Twitter name frequently) but she has a lot of great things to say about a large amount of topics including Hebrew Bible translation and sci-fi. You can find her blog as well at wilgafney.com and her book "Womanist Midrash" here.
And a few books by Black authors I have recently enjoyed (Descriptions taken from amazon.com)
Follow them, read them, start listening, and God forgive our sinful, racist souls.