Practical steps for racial awareness (2): Not so fast?

See previous post for introduction and:

1. Be honest: admit personal bias & assume systemic injustice

2. Be teachable: educate yourself and then others

TODAY:

3. Become aware: don’t do anything at first; observe, reflect, pray, and become; then become active.

Once we have begun to see that there is a racial problem, we will probably to want to jump into action and fix it right away. We may want to “wipe away the pain that race causes” or look for a quick fixes to rid ourselves of guilt.[1] Church historian Mark Noll says (with special reference to Evangelicals) that Americans tend to be “activistic, populist, pragmatic and utilitarian.” We value action more than careful thought and therefore get caught up in the urgencies of the moment and leave little room for “broader or deeper intellectual effort.”[2] N.K. Clifford is a little more biting in his criticism of evangelicals,

The Evangelical Protestant mind has never relished complexity. Indeed its crusading genius, whether in religion or politics, has always tended toward an over-simplification of issues and the substitution of inspiration and zeal for critical analysis and serious reflection.[3]

If racialization is something steeped in our unconscious worldview, it will take time to begin reorienting ourselves. Like the Old Testament wisdom writers, we will need to observe the world around us and seek God’s wisdom. We will need to ask, what are the problems? Where are we heading? How do class, growing diversity, the economy and politics impact the racial landscape? How do different ethnic groups look at the same issues?[4] We will need to examine where we live, work, study, socialize, relax, and worship and ask how racial injustice has shaped our world. Where is it obvious? Where is it more subtle? How is it reflected in our own thoughts and attitudes? How is it reflected in the structures and organizations in which we participate? What are the values, assumptions, perceptions and patterns of interaction?[5] How might we personally benefit from racial injustice? Are there any economic interests we might subtly be trying to protect? We will need to be thoughtful so that our actions are not paternalistic and do not simply reinforce racial stereotypes or unjust systems.

On the other hand, while we need to begin by observing and learning, we will eventually need to move towards being activist and practical. We must avoid putting off too long by saying, “We really need to acquire more information, read another book, attend one more conference, hold further conversations, in order to ‘clarify the issues.’ Then we’ll act.” [6] We need to be committed to action. There should always be an ongoing relationship between thinking and acting – a hermeneutic spiral – but in the end, we must act. “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”[7]

If you are neutral in a situation of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. “If an elephant has his foot on the tail of the mouse, and you say you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” – South African Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu[8]

All wisdom comes from God, who has given us his Holy Spirit to guide us. In order to effectively promote racial justice, we will also need to seek God through prayer.

——————————————————————————–

[1] Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice. More than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel. (rev ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2000), 143.

[2] Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 12 quoted by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 171.

[3] N.K. Clifford, “His Dominion: A Vision in Crisis” in Social Sciences/Religieuses/Studies in Religion 2:323 quoted by Emerson and Smith, 171.

[4] Emerson and Smith, 171.

[5] Douglas R. Sharp, No Partiality: The Idolatry of Race and the New Humanity (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2002), 301.

[6] Robert McAfee Brown, Unexpected News: Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984), 22.

[7] Elie Wiesel quoted in Perkins and Rice, 70.

[8] Quoted by McAfee Brown, 19.

[Previously posted on Christ, My Righteousness.]

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