This is part 2 of a conversation on race. It will make much more sense if you read the introduction in part 1.
I have a friend who is black and she said we need to stop making such a big deal about race. Why do we have to talk about it so much? I have never even seen people be de-valued just because of the color of their skin because I don’t make a big deal over it. Wouldn’t be easier if we just treated everyone as equals? I don’t see color, I try to love everyone equally no matter what. Isn’t that what Jesus wants us to do? Doesn’t talking about it make the problem worse?
Jesus absolutely wants us to love everyone equally, because he loves everyone equally. People have inherent value and worth. But not everyone experiences that inherent value and worth in their daily lives (just watch the news in the last 6 months). Jesus recognized that inequity as well. Which is why he spends most of his time with marginalized people, and why there are so many calls to justice throughout the Scripture. When systems and structures are in place that keep people from having equal opportunities and experience their value and worth in all areas of life, Christians need to be the first to call it out.
Not talking about the differences people experience also assumes everyone starts with equal access and opportunities in the world. And that’s just not true. Assuming just because we haven’t seen or experienced something does not make it any less true. I have no idea what it feels like to not be looked in the eye or been denied an opportunity or had someone be suspicious of my potential criminal activity because of the color of my skin or my gender. But those things happen all the time. And if we can’t talk even talk about how people are different, then we also can’t talk about the struggles and discriminations that come with those differences. As a person of privilege, I REALLY need to hear those stories because if I don’t I can easily cruise through life assuming they don’t exist.
The reason white people do not like to talk about marginalization is because it might call us out on a few of the ways we are complicit in the structures, or it might require giving something up (power, position, privilege, etc.) for someone else. It’s just easier to stay at a distance from real problems and say: I’m not a racist. But Jesus’ way is that of giving of oneself for the sake of another.
God made us differently for a reason so we should begin to see difference as a gift to be celebrated rather than ignored.
You also communicated that you don’t like being lumped into a group. Just because a black person said something which reinforced what you already assumed to be true doesn’t mean it is true for all people of color. There are people of color who have privilege as well, although it is different. We need to be willing to hear perspectives which challenge our assumptions, not just search for a token person of color who reaffirms our privileged position.
Someone told me black people can’t be racist, but isn’t calling others racist because they are white racism?
The short answer is no. But how you get to “no” depends on how you define racism. Some would say racism is when a person who has power and privilege denies power and privilege to others who do not have it because of the color of their skin. So in order to be a racist you must have power and privilege. Which in many instances means people of color cannot be racist against white people. Calling out injustice of this nature, grieving over it, mourning and lamenting it, and even being angry about it is not racism. In fact there is a long Christian tradition to people lamenting and being angry about oppression and then doing something about it.
Other people would say racism is saying one race is superior to another. Typically when someone tells me they thought a comment or article from a black person was “racist” the article never says black people are superior. It says white people have hurt and oppressed them and they are pissed. Which isn’t racism. It’s lament. Even if it comes out angry.
What white people tend to mean by “racist” is that they are being lumped into a group. And we are culturally wired to be defensive about being lumped in a group. We need to do a much better job learning to listen to the anger, hurt, and mourning of our brothers and sisters of color. Our first impulse shouldn’t be defensiveness, but really and truly listening and affirming the emotions that come from their experience.
I feel like if I try to say anything or have a conversation, especially if I am offended by being called a racist, that makes it worse. Why am I not allowed to say anything? Why do I just have to accept being called a racist?
The frustration behind that statement is because you feel like you can’t speak up to defend yourself, and you are used to having the ability to do so. Imagine living in a world where your voice was continually passed over. Even when you lashed out in anger over very real struggles, people dismissed you because “we don’t have all the facts” or you were “overreacting and too emotional.” That is the experience of many people of color (and in fact, many women) in America today.
Here’s the thing, part of white culture is being used to having all the answers, not being willing to show vulnerability, and keeping conflict to a minimum. When we get accused, our first reaction is defensiveness and to have something to say. Usually the something we have to say comes without much reflection and is based in our cultural biases and assumptions. I think we need to do a much better job of learning to listen first. When we learn to hear what people are actually saying, we will be less defensive and quicker to admit our own blindspots and contributions to the problems.
I’m glad you asked!
I think it really starts with learning to listen first. We tend to be so quick to dismiss the opinions and experiences of those who are different than we are. So rather than listen, we get defensive or ignore important voices. When we start by listening and allow what we hear to shape us and challenge the ways our culture has shaped us to dismiss the voices of some, we are taking a big step.
As white people, we only think about race when we want to, so it is vitally important that we continue to be intentional about examining our biases and privilege, confessing the places we are blind or ignorant or unjust, and begin to use our privilege to confront the many problems in our world.
Here is a list of resources that can help uncover some of our biases and blindspots and can help us think and talk about race in ways that are helpful.
Some resources which are helpful for thinking about race:
A great place to start is this talk from Michael Emmerson on his important and influential book.
God, Trinity, Racism
This is a great podcast on Black/White in America
This post talks systemic racism and some of the statistics behind systemic racism.
Christianity Today is also doing a series on race.
Resources specifically on whiteness and privilege:
This is a great tool for uncovering the ways privilege affects how we see the world
This is a very honest post about being white from a white person
Here are two posts from people of color talking about ways white people can respond
This series talks about listening well as people of privilege
I get asked about parenting and I have a dear friend who posts really helpful resources on talking to your kids about race.
Here are two she recommended, and here is one more I found helpful as a white person
I also think the way we consume media is important in these area. While it doesn’t address race, here are some good thoughts on filtering what and how we consume media.
Most importantly, we need actual contact with people who are different. You cannot simulate the experience of having conversations with people who are different, have different experiences, see the world different, and even those who have experienced the marginalization of society. We need to build relationships with people and we become curious about difference and ask questions about other people’s experiences. Rather than asking questions to defend our own point of view, we learn to ask questions that help us get inside of the world of other people. While I may have never experienced oppression like my brothers and sisters of color, I can hear their stories and allow those stories to affect who I am and how I see the world.
It is one thing for a white male to spout off a whole bunch of things, but it is a completely different and more transformative thing for you to sit and actual talk with people of color and hear their stories. If you don’t know people of color, that might raise some questions for you, but you can start by following people on social media and just listening for a while.
There is so much more to this conversation, but I’m glad we took these first steps. Keep thinking and asking questions. And go talk to other people, I’m just a white dude trying to work some of this stuff out.