[Previously posted on Christ, My Righteousness.]
Again, I speak as one white man to other whites. In two earlier posts I talked about the important postures we need to take when beginning to think about our own roles in systemic racism and the emotional explosion that often reacts to growing racial awareness. Today, I move to more practical ideas for becoming more racially aware and to begin promoting racial justices.
If we are interested in racial reconciliation, and we should be, we are going to have to take responsibility and action. [For a Biblical basis for pursuing racial justice you really don’t need much more than the following: 1. God created all humans in his image -dignity, 2. God values justice 3. Love your neighbor as yourself. 4. Jesus and the early church specifically broke down ethnic barriers. 5. We are all one in Christ. 6. God paints a picture of people from every nation and tribe worshipping him together (Rev. 5 & 7)].
Given this biblical narrative, the onus is really on us as whites to take the lead role in educating ourselves and others about deep roots of racism, and being advocates and instruments of racial justice. We are the ones who most benefit from the privileges of the history of race.
To help us move forward with racial reconciliation and healing, I’ve listed a few practical things that whites can do to become advocates and instruments of racial justice:
1. Be honest: admit personal bias & assume systemic injustice
I think the hardest thing for any white person (it was for me) is to admit that we are part of the problem – that we have racial prejudices and we support systems that racially oppress others. (I had grown up in and loved Africa, I had good black friends, etc.) We tend to see racism stereotypically as views that others like skinheads hold. Even if we do admit our own prejudices, it is likely to be hard to see and understand how our innocent behaviors can help maintain systems that racially oppress others. I don’t have time to develop this idea here, but in the interest of racial healing, I’d encourage you to accept as a given – at least at the beginning – that most of systems and organizations in our society and culture benefit whites. As you do the things in the rest of this list, it will be easier to see how our communities and organizations do this. In the meantime, assume that racial injustice is everywhere and try to train your eye to recognize it.
2. Be teachable: educate yourself and then others
It is safe to say that most whites don’t really understand racial injustice. To remedy the ignorance and distorted perspective, we will need to listen both to those who have experienced injustice and those who have more background and experience. Try to understand the history and shifting nature of racism. There are many decent books available at all levels and in different kinds of genres. One good place to start is Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). There are also movies available which address racial injustice. Look at areas where you benefit from being white (privilege). The main thing is to put yourself in a situation where you can be teachable.
In other words to effectively promote racial justice, we must be good listeners. We must set aside our agendas and take the posture of a humble student. When talking to minorities, we will need to check our motives, ask open ended questions, and try putting ourselves in their shoes as best we can. We must also provide a safe place where the frustration, anger and other emotions that result from a lifetime of marginalization and put downs can be honestly expressed. To do this effectively, we will have to check our fight or flight reactions – detachment, ignoring, anger, combativeness, etc – and seek to be as genuinely empathetic as possible. Our goal should be a deeper understanding that goes beyond just the symptoms.
[TO BE CONTINUED]