As part of the wind-down this week, I’m going to publish a few brief of posts to people like myself – whites interested in being racially aware and instruments of reconciliation and justice. These will include some important postures for any “whites” involved in cross-cultural settings.
Going in, we need to be aware that we are in for embarrassment, pain, and shame. If we truly are going to be agents of healing and reconciliation, our deepest faults are going to get exposed – even in those of us that are most well-meaning.
Racial injustice at the personal level seeks to distort our identities and harm our relationships. The process of understanding the roles we play in a racialized society and changing our thoughts and behaviors is a lot like the process one undergoes through serious pastoral counseling. It is painful and difficult, but in the end, it transforms both our thinking and our behaviors and takes us to a new level of maturity. Seeing racial injustice should have a big impact on us personally. Our willingness to be honest about ourselves and to repent (to genuinely change) will largely determine how well we will be able to promote justice.
In preparing to be God’s agents of justice, we need to understand ourselves as broken image bearers. As broken people, most of us “are not good at observing ourselves and reflecting honestly on what we see.” (Larry Crabb, Understanding People, [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987], 99.) We have an almost reflexive resistance to examining our own pride, defensiveness, resentfulness, fears, or controlling nature. This is particularly true for whites when we begin to find out that – despite our best intentions – we actually help preserve racial injustice. As the Christian counselor Larry Crabb points out, we need to continually be asking ourselves why we have these feelings.
Why do we rarely attack a problem with a determination to get to the root of things? Do we suspect intuitively that it might be more painful to directly face the core problem than to continue enduring the obvious one? Why do we settle for a level of understanding which, whether accurate or not, gives us the good feeling that at least we’re doing something about our problem, but which at the same time shifts attention away from deep parts within us? (Understanding People, 97-98 ).
The very things that must be done are most strongly resisted; perhaps because we live with the vague fear that we might ruin whatever comfort we enjoy (99). When we look at racial injustice, we find that it attempts to fulfill our core needs with something false. Rather than being fully dependant on God, racism subtly teaches us to seek fulfillment in property, wealth, power, and privilege. When we examine this dynamic in our own lives and begin so see the subtle ways we actually are racist [usually naively or for “different” reasons], our first instinct is to be reactive, defensive or even resentful.
Simply being aware these reactions will go a long way towards preparing us deal with the real root problems of racial injustice. To face our shortcomings, we are going to need courage, tenacity, and a lot of help from the Holy Spirit. But face these sins we must.
Maybe a good starting point is simply to start with the premise, “I know I have sinful, racist tendencies that I am totally unaware of now, but with God’s help, I’m going to begin exploring why, how, where, etc.”