What you said is causing controversy.
You need to be careful.
What the officer did was wrong but the autopsy report…
What if I wore a MAGA hat and was going around sharing, what would your culture say?
What if my husband went around sharing poetry about youth pastors and their sexual assault on teens?
I have a friend named Juan, who is not mexican, he’s black.
I treated all of my workers fairly.
Just focus on preaching the Gospel, don’t add all of that extra stuff in there.
Don’t poke the bear, we don’t need to talk more about racial issues and use these trigger words.
White feelings, black experiences.
I really want the focus to be white responses to black experiences. I think as you read on, you’ll see why.
What you read above are a few snippets of two conversations I had with one adult white male and one adult white female. Separate conversations. Both equally heartbreaking. There is so much more that was said but to provide a little backstory and context…
I was a guest speaker at a camp and one of the mornings we had a panel on racial reconciliation. A black brother in the faith shared his experiences with police officers, which led to me sharing a poem I wrote about my experiences with policemen. Before sharing my poem, I said to everyone listening, “not all police officers are bad, just like not all white people are racists and not all black people are angry.” As a black person in a predominately white space, we have to say these clarifiers to help with the tension in the room when addressing topics that tend to offend white people. Now that you have the back story let’s dive into a little more of my personal and cultural context.
As a bi-racial person of color (who happens to be 56% white and 44% black according to Ancestry DNA) in the United States of America, it grieves me to write this. I am 33 and a half years young. Culturally I grew up in the inner city, in the lower economic “black/hood experience.” I have seen how our American history, the powers that be, and the systems that were created against black people impacted my city and many of the neighborhoods that my friends grew up in. I lived it, and I have these experiences that no one can take away from me. Nor can they be dismissed and shouldn’t be ignored.
So, I found myself in the middle of two different conversations because someone was offended by a poem I read. (Side note: The lady that I had a conversation with called it a George Floyd poem and was triggered/frustrated because of the line, “let us breathe.”) I am okay with someone being offended and being upset by something I said. I’m human. I’m going to say some things that may get someone upset. I am aware of this, and I’m okay with putting on my big boy pants and having a conversation about something I said. Addressing a conflict is not a problem for me, especially when I know I will be talking with brothers and sisters in the faith. My guy, the Apostle Paul, says in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 that reconciliation is our goal and aim.
We all have blind spots. I am aware of this. However, when we are in community with people of different ethnicities, and have friends who don’t look like us, our friends can help us be aware of our cultural blind spots and ignorance. They can call out our blind spots and help us grow. If a person does not have a community or friend group like this, it is not an out to not know and listen. Given the benefit of the doubt, I can see how a person can be stuck and not aware. However, this cannot be an excuse for dismissing someone’s story and experience.
As I said, I am okay with tension, conflict, disagreement, etc. Here is what I am not okay with: assumptions, not being willing to understand the black experience, a posture of what you are saying is wrong/we (white people) are right, a lack of empathy, and straw man arguments. – And this is what happened to me in both of my conversations.
A wise person once said to me, seek to understand before being understood. When a white person automatically assumes, retreats to their narrative, comes off defensive, this shows they’re not trying to hear a person of color’s experience. This is the very definition of privilege, not just privilege but straight-up ignorance. (Privilege in and of itself it’s not a bad thing. It is what you do with your privilege once you realize you have it that determines the outcome).
To press a little harder, what I shared above shows the fragility of a white person’s heart, character, and backbone. Listen, if a person of color shares their personal experiences about how he/she grew up and how they were impacted by something, know this is a doorway into their soul to get to know them. So for a person to not enter that doorway but choose to say what’s behind your door doesn’t matter, that’s a problem. – My vulnerability is not a useless tool that you get to dismiss, and neither is other black peoples.
Now that we are making some ground here, let me say this: You being offended by something does not give you the right to dismiss or dismantle someone else’s experience.
Here is what can be helpful when taking offense to someone or something:
- When taking an offense to something, first check your own heart and ask, why is this impacting me in this way?
- From there, go and talk with the person to hear why they shared what they shared.
- Then seek to learn their story and experiences. (You would be surprised what would happen if you did this. You might realize the world does not revolve around your narrative.)
We have to learn how to have mature adult conversations without taking things personally. We get to choose to allow another person’s words to have the power to deter our emotions. I know this is hard to do. I struggle with this at times; however, I take my deep breaths, remind myself who I am and Whose I am, and I go about having the necessary conversations that I need to have.
It is time to walk away from being passive-aggressive and having micro-aggressions. Life is too short to hold onto grudges and hold things in, especially if you call yourself a Christian. If God’s goal and aim are for His people to be a united, reconciled family, then what is so hard about doing our best through the Spirit’s power to live this out?
Here is how you can enter into a black person’s experiences:
- Believe what they say without questioning the validity of their words.
- Lament and grieve the hardships and pain of black people.
- Fight with black people in their effort against injustice and racism.
- Share how you have been on a journey to address you and your family’s history of whiteness.
- Respond with empathy.
Ask questions such as:
- Could you help me understand?
- When did you have these encounters?
- What was that like for you?
- What is it like now when you are triggered?
- How can I grow in my understanding?
- How can I do a better job of responding when something seems to offend me?
Ask yourself questions such as:
- Do I feel defensive when a person of color says, white people?
- Do I get offended when a person of color describes their experiences with race and white people?
- Do I expect an apology when a person of color calls out racism, police brutality or systemic injustice?
- Do I feel a certain way when a person of color says, Black Lives Matter?
- Do I feel like I have to prove that I am not racist?
- Do I ever tell black people to just preach the Gospel?
Please stop saying this:
- I grew up poor.
- I had a black friend growing up.
- I have black friends.
- I go to a diverse church.
- I am not racist.
- I don’t think what happened to you was racist.
- I don’t see color.
- I’m not responsible for what my ancestors did.
- That was a long time ago. Can’t we just get past this?
- All lives matter. – (yes we know and believe all lives matter to God, however we’ve seen that this is not true when it comes to humanity. What we are saying is, all lives cannot matter until black and brown lives matter to all people.)
As I begin to close, hear my heart in all of this. If you are white, you will never truly understand what a person of color goes through and their daily worldview. You can’t. You can, however, be invited to see and feel what we see and feel. This is done through listening to stories, being in proximity, and having cross-cultural relationships.
Don’t wait until your son or daughter brings home a person of color to begin fighting for black people. And definitely don’t wait for you to go on your mission trip to fight for the voices of black people. Start now. Open your Bible and understand why Paul was pouring his heart out for Jew and Gentile to unite. See God’s heart for injustice. Understand the true power of reconciliation and the cross. The Gospel is so much more than a get out of hell card.
In Revelation, the New Heavens and Earth were coming down. Jesus prayed, ON EARTH as it is in Heaven. Revelation 7:9 paints a picture of all ethnicities and tribes living in harmony together. Living this out starts now! And it begins with all of us laying down our preferences and picking up the cross. It begins with you, a white person, learning how to listen.
So let’s leave the straw man arguments out. Hear the black person without bringing up comparisons and stories that have nothing to do with anything. When you bring in straw man arguments, it shows your pride and lack of cultural intelligence, as well as your theological ignorance towards the fullness of the Gospel.
Jesus prayed in John 17 for His disciples and all of us to be one. We are to pursue oneness, not sameness. We are to live in unity, not uniformity. If you need help building relationships and listening to people of color, there are resources and support for that. (See below) It’s time to do better, especially in the body of Christ. It is time to have less of these moments that I’m describing and more moments of understanding black people.
Here are a few resources to help you listen and learn:
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