Complainers are annoying. But we need them.
Most people would rather ignore problems. It’s less stressful. And more fun. But throughout history, the consistent laments of various people groups have forced humanity to finally address injustices. So in that sense, complainers are irritatingly necessary.
Over the last few years, I’ve been intentionally annoying about racism.
As a 35 year old white guy, I really shouldn’t care about race issues. My passions in this area are admittedly accidental. After moving to the South Side of Chicago, it became impossible to ignore racism. So I started writing.
I’ve expressed my frustration about the apathy of white people. I’ve explained why we can’t ignore racism. I basically proved that racism is an issue using only two words. But in the end, I keep getting the same question:
What do you suggest we do about it?
That’s a fair question. So I’m going to cross the fine line between lamentation and leadership. While complainers identify and expose problems, leaders try to solve them. This is my attempt to speak constructively into one of the most important problems of our time. It’s also my call for Christians to lead this cultural change. The unifying power of the Gospel has fully equipped us for the challenge.
I’m not a student of racial reconciliation theory, nor am I an expert on race relations. But I’m a white guy who has lived for a number of years in a black community. This experience has provided me with a truly unique perspective of both sides of the racial divide.
So, how can followers of Jesus foster racial reconciliation in America? Here’s my 12 point vision:
- Remove the phrase ‘color blind’ from your vocabulary. While the idea of being ‘color blind’ sounds nice, it’s actually incredibly counter-productive. Why? It forces the subscribers of this perspective to intentionally ignore cultural differences. While all people share common ground as human beings, we also have dramatically different cultural experiences. And cultural variety is a good thing. I can confidently tell you that whites and blacks in America have distinctly different cultural experiences. If you don’t agree, you’ve clearly never spent meaningful time with people from another race. And ignoring these differences by being “colorblind” is unhelpful at best. More likely, it’s ignorant and insulting. Let’s celebrate our cultural differences rather than pretend they aren’t there.
- Acknowledge that racism happens among and between all races – There are racist white people. There’s also racist African Americans, Latinos and Asians. In fact, anyone who has studied cultures around the globe knows that racism isn’t uniquely an American problem. It’s a human problem. And this particular point is an obstacle for many white people when talking about race. While racism is experienced much more frequently and severely by minorities in America, this doesn’t negate the fact that white people have experienced it as well. So, when white people raise this point in conversations about racism, it would be best to simply acknowledge the point and move on. Remember that acknowledging the existence of racists in every ethnic group isn’t a commentary about the proportion or severity of the problem therein.
- Move On from “It’s Not My Fault” – I’ve heard many white Americans say things like, “My ancestors didn’t own slaves, so this isn’t my issue.” Others say, “I wasn’t alive during legal segregation, so I didn’t create this problem.” Still more proclaim, “I’m not a racist, so this isn’t my fault.” While all of these statements may be true, they aren’t helpful. Regardless of whether your ancestors were slaves, slave holders, segregationists or civil rights activists, you’re left with the mess. We’re all living in the consequences of a long history of institutionalized racism in America. We can choose to either absolve ourselves of blame, or be an agent of change. Why not determine to make our society better for our children?
- Set Aside Politics – Everyone should exercise their civic duties. But let’s stop making political party affiliation a litmus test for faith. Nothing divides us more as followers of Jesus than partisan politics. Embarrassingly, black and white Christians continue to stare at each other in disgust across the political aisle. Stop it. Now. Are we really in a place where we’ve put politics ahead of faith? I hope not. Let’s start focusing on the Savior that unites us, rather than the political issues that divide us. I’d like to believe that unity in Christ may even serve to foster some civil political discourse among believers of different races. Maybe we’d even find some new common ground.
- Have an uncomfortable, yet gracious conversation. Many white people are scared to have serious conversations about race. Why? They’re afraid of being called a racist. Or unintentionally offending someone. That’s why everyone needs to extend an abundance of grace when talking about racial issues. And we need to stop feeling offended so easily. Enter conversations about race expecting to be uncomfortable, and prepared to be hurt. At the same time, assume that others aren’t intentionally making you feel that way. Their honest dialogue is likely born out of curiosity, ignorance, frustration, fear and a wide variety of other sources.
- Re-integrate Neighborhoods – It’s an embarrassing phenomenon. It may have happened on your street, just like it did on mine. We call it “white flight”. Many neighborhoods across the South Side of Chicago used to be predominantly white. When African Americans began moving into the area in the late 1960’s, white people fled as quickly as possible. Hence the name “white flight”. When it’s time for us to move, we should explore all neighborhoods. Consider moving to an African American neighborhood with beautiful homes and wonderful people. Wouldn’t it be a powerful witness if followers of Jesus made it normal to cross cultural boundaries when buying a home?
- Dare to stay – It didn’t used to bother me. But now the phrase makes me shudder. Whenever people in a suburban area start talking about their neighborhood “going downhill”, they aren’t usually talking about crime. They’re typically talking about diversity. As African Americans, Latinos and Asians move into a community, white people leave. Someone has to break this pattern. Why shouldn’t it be Christians? In fact, since white people are the ones fleeing residential diversity in America, I believe we have the responsibility to reverse the trend. When diversity enters our neighborhoods, we need to stay.
- Don’t Assume that diversity within a congregation is the answer. It’s naive to assume that the presence of diversity automatically eliminates racism. We also can’t forget that there are some areas where diversity isn’t practical. What do you do with the rural community in South Dakota that’s primarily white? Should they feel guilty for their lack of diversity? What about the African American congregation on the South Side of Chicago? Should we expect people to drive for hours just for the sake of diversity? That isn’t practical. Instead, Christians from all cultural backgrounds should prioritize cross-cultural friendships. Casual acquaintances at the office don’t count. Make the effort to invest time in a real friendship with someone that doesn’t look like you.
- Drop the ‘Savior Complex’ – This one is delicate. So let’s dive-in head first. Black, Hispanic and Asian people don’t need white people. At least not any more than white people need them. So let’s get our minds out of the colonial era, and into the 21st century. Why? The ‘savior complex’ is a dangerous ideology that creates a false sense of superiority shrouded in good intentions. Dare to consider the opposite approach. Find a mentor of a different ethnicity. Study a Black or Hispanic theologian. Join a church with Black leadership. Bottom line – strive to be the student instead of the teacher.
- Honor Cultural Differences – My college anthropology professor was quick to teach us that normal is relative when examining cultural traits. It’s a simple, yet profound truth. That means that almost all cultural attributes aren’t a matter if right and wrong. They’re a matter of traditions and norms. Food, family relationships, holidays, and child rearing can be dramatically different when comparing ethnic groups. So accept that your way isn’t the only way. Then celebrate this truth. Maybe you’ll even learn something.
- Do Good Together – Concerned about disagreeing on issues? Worried about cultural differences? Forget about it. Just start by uniting across cultural boundaries to address universal problems. And do so in the name of Jesus. Every community battles poverty, violence, dwindling resources, marital problems and a more. Think of the good we could do in these areas if we simply worked together! And our unity in Christian service would speak volumes to a culture divided by race.
- Acknowledge the problem – Recent data indicates that most white evangelicals don’t want to talk about racism. As I’ve written before, problems cannot be solved by ignoring them. This is certainly the case with racism. All Christians must accept that it exists, and that it’s a problem. Our churches need to clearly acknowledge and speak against racism from the pulpit. Furthermore, sermons should be regularly preached about Biblical justice. Nothing can be accomplished until we stand in agreement that racism still exists, and that it’s a problem worth confronting.