Preparing to pursue racial justice (3): taking action

Continued from Introduction and Not so fast:

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

2. Be teachable: educate yourself and then others

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


4. Make racial justice a priority & be intentional

The key word here is repentance – making changes in behavior and direction. Change won’t just happen automatically; we will have to be disciplined and intentional. We are going to have to stick our necks out – to take personal risks. If we don’t make it a high priority, it simply won’t happen; the status quo works against it.

5. Be accountable to & build relationships with people of color

We are relational people, and the best way of being transformed is probably through relationships with others. (See Perkins and Rice in More Than Equals.) Ideally, find a mentor, but at least try to find someone who is considered an equal. Seek to form multiple relationships with people of color from varying backgrounds and economic status. This relieves any one person of the burden of having to represent all people of color. Make sure to that you also have friends from different socio-economic classes from your own so-called “race.” All of these relationships help transform us more closely into the kind of image bearer that God calls us to be. Follow the example of Jesus. Ideally, immerse yourself into a predominantly African-American community, attend a black church, and learn to live in their world.

gilbreath-reconciliation-bluesPursue common goals with people of color. Become co-laborers as opposed to just having a relationship for the relationship’s sake. Invest yourself into something they are already doing. This allows you to at least contribute. Having a relationship with a white who is trying to learn about racial injustice is likely to be a big drain on someone’s emotional energy. Being partners allows you to be on the same team working towards the same goals they are rather than being people from opposing sides simply trying to learn to get along (a sure prescription for burnout – See also Gilbreath’s Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical’s Inside View of White Christianity).

Hold your thoughts and actions accountable to someone of color. This helps avoid the pitfalls of paternalism and misguided thinking. Accountability need not come from someone with whom you have a close relationship. Sometimes hard truth is easier to accept from someone who is not in a close relationship with you – where other interpersonal dynamics do not complicate the issues. Either way, you are going to have to accept constructive criticism graciously, because the truth is likely to hurt.

6. Find your prophetic voice – speak up & take risks

The most effective tool we have is often our own voice – including our written voice. Like the ancient prophetic message of justice and the hard teachings of Jesus, speaking up for justice can illicit negative and angry responses. As whites, we need to draw away some of this negative fire from our black brothers and sisters (they’ve certainly felt their fair share of that); take that burden upon ourselves. We will need to be courageous where truth needs to be spoken. While we should be prepared to “rock-the-boat” if need be, we are more likely to have opportunities to address small things. For example, recently my wife who works in corporate communications, noticed that all the photographs on a brochure they were preparing was reinforcing racial stereotypes. Under “expertise” was a picture of three white men dressed in suits. The section on global compassion featured a picture of poor children – all dark skinned. In that case, all it took to speak for racial justice and illicit change was bringing this observation to the attention of the brochure team. She was simply applying the skills of analysis – of learning how to recognize racial injustice in society – to common every-day activities.

7. Give up comfort & control

If you are in a position of power in a multi-cultural setting, the hardest thing to do may be to give up control. Often that is exactly what has to happen in order to promote racial justice. In my African context, that usually means keeping my mouth shut and refusing to take leadership. I almost always discover that other, more capable leaders, but habits of internalized racial oppression often lead them to look to the white guy first. (And to think that I used to believe this happened because I had some kind of natural leadership abilities. 😉

8. Team up & strategically organize against systemic injustice

Teams are much more effective than individuals. The Damascus Road Anti-Racism team helps establish and train teams that can help churches and other Christian organizations promote racial justice. The first half of their program is simply education. But even that learning takes place in teams that include people of color to provide perspective and accountability. These teams then enter a second phase of more strategic planning. Using the best tools of the corporate world, they draw up a strategic plan with a vision, goals, objectives and action plans for accomplishing those goals. A strategic plan allows the team to break down change into short-term, medium-range, and long term goals. Making change goals measurable also alleviates ambiguity and frustration.

9. Develop, promote or support multi-cultural congregations, communities, or organizations


§ Curtiss Paul DeYoung, Michael O. Emerson, George Yancey, and Karen Chai Kim, United by Faith: The Multiracial Congregation as an Answer to the Problem of Race, New York: Oxford, 2003.

§ Manuel Ortiz, One New People: Models for Developing a Multiethnic Church, Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1996.

§ Stephen A. Rhodes, Where the Nations Meet: The Church in a Multicultural World, Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1998.

[Previously posted on Christ, My Righteousness.]

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