In a rather ironic fashion, I’ve been able to think now that school has ended. I’m no longer worried about the next assignment to turn in, or that paper I should have started working on a month ago, or that project circuit that suddenly stopped working because it’s a Monday, and for some reason the circuit doesn’t work on days that end in “Y.”
All of that is behind me now, and I can breathe easily and decompress, which I have been doing in coffee shops all around Oklahoma City for the past week. And I’ve been able to think. About a lot of different things. About minor things like why my pet dog, Rowdy, licks everything. Like literally, everyone and everything that comes near him. Still haven’t figured that one out… And I’ve also been able to think about some serious things, like God’s will for my life and about racism in America.
The past semester I took a class called Quest for Identity: Race, Class, and Gender. Essentially, we looked at how our race, socioeconomic class, and gender affected our identity. You’ve got to be fairly unaware socially to miss out on the highly charged conversations about race and gender in our country. Dare I mention a few examples? Target’s bathroom policy, the Black Lives Matter movement, anything to do with Trump and racism. Every week, a new incident seems to occur that only adds to the incendiary conversation about politics, race, gender, religion, so on and so forth.
The last thing I want to do is add to the noise. People who post their political opinions on social media have every right to, but I get tired of seeing such posts. In the words of the Avett Brothers, “People like to talk on things they don’t know about.” And, to my own chagrin, I am no different. I’m not going to claim a higher knowledge on every issue. So with all that being said, I would like to humbly offer some things I have come to learn about the issue of racism in America.
Honestly, I would rather not post about such a topic, especially via social media for the aforementioned reason. However, I also know I am not called to be silent in the face of injustice. Every little step I can take towards racial reconciliation in our country, I am going to do so, because the Father has a heart for the oppressed, and so should I.
So what do I have to say about racism in America? Well, as I mentioned earlier, I’m not an expert on the subject, but I have come to learn some things about myself that I’m sure apply to more than just me.
Here’s the big idea: Every one of us was raised in a cultural environment. As a child, we acquired our own unique roadmap of how we understand things like the nature of relationships, interactions, identities, and the important stuff of life. If you are anything like me, you grew up in a mostly white environment. It’s not bad, it’s just how it was. And, if you’re still tracking with me, you also grew up in America, where the narrative for the past 300 years says that whites are better than blacks.
Think about a time in America’s history where blacks were not considered to be less than whites. I really can’t think of one, but then again, I’m not a history major. We thought we had overcome the cultural narrative with the Civil Rights Movement, but Obama’s election has reset the racial conversation. His election revealed a new type of racism that has been prevalent since the Civil Rights. Few people overtly consider themselves racists. No one walks around and proudly proclaims, “Whites are better than blacks.” Sure there are still wackos out there that do so, but the normative culture outwardly agrees that whites and blacks are all equal and deserve equal opportunity.
But let me step back a paragraph or two and remind you of a certain roadmap that we all have. The new form of racism is not a conscious choice. It’s a subconscious choice that results from prejudices acquired through the environment we are surrounded by from birth and on.
And here’s where I want to land: We can do nothing about our prejudices, whether they are against black people, or disabled people, or transgendered people, until we recognize them. I think it is foolish for someone to assume that they were raised in such an environment that produced within them no prejudice of any kind. I believe we live in an imperfect world with imperfect people and no matter how good my parents or your parents were, we all have some form of prejudice.
Let me be the first to admit that I have certain prejudices. I have seen too many movies, heard too many news stories, and listened to too many stereotypes that have all affected how I unconsciously relate to African Americans in a negative way. I’m not afraid to admit that, and I’m definitely not afraid to work at overcoming my environmentally acquired prejudices. Let me also say, rather carefully, that it’s not bad that you have acquired certain prejudices. It’s a way of growing up. If you had never acquired a cultural roadmap, with all its social cues and prejudices, you would be socially inept. But if we allow those prejudices to remain unidentified, we are doing others and ourselves an extreme disservice, and that’s when a prejudice becomes bad.
But, please, let’s stop assuming we are a colorblind, post-racial society. I do not honor my African American neighbor when I look at him and totally ignore the differences between us. We are certainly equal, but not the same. I have never had a negative stereotype attributed to me since birth. I have never been raised as the minority race in America. These are serious differences and by both ignoring them and assuming we are the same and have been given the same opportunity, I dishonor him and do not love him well.
So at this point you may say, “Seth, you’ve got a point. Now that I think about it, I may be somewhat unconsciously biased. But what do I do?” Or you may be saying, “Well, I don’t know about all this talk of subconscious and unconscious and whatever-conscious biases…” At the end of the post is a link to a test put out by Harvard that measures your sub-, un-, whatever- conscious biases for a whole range of groups, such as those who are disabled, transgender, of a different race and so on and so forth. I would urge everyone to take the test, just to see. That’s all. Just to see. But we’re still stuck with the question, “What do we do?” Once again as, someone who has only been living for a little over 21 years on earth, here’s my humble advice…
1. Let’s be more willing to listen to whoever wants to share his or her story, rather than wanting to share our opinions with whoever will listen.
(I know, I know, I’m sharing my opinion via a blog with whoever will listen … I recognize the irony.) We love our neighbor well when we are willing to stop our attempts to be heard, and are willing to simply listen, and listen well. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer says:
“Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too.”
2. Furthermore, lets surround ourselves with people who make us uncomfortable and challenge our typical way of thinking.
Our personal prejudices will never be changed or molded if we continue to hang out with like-minded people. I’m not saying it’s bad to hang out with people who think like you, but just be aware that discrimination and prejudice hide best within like-minded groups. Find a group of people or a good friend who doesn’t mind discussing tough topics, and be willing to get vulnerable with what you believe. Be willing to be made uncomfortable so that you can grow.
3. Finally, seek to understand before you seek to inform, and maybe I should be the one who most listens to this point.
If we really want to become involved in fighting the new racism, then we need to understand what’s actually going on. Find good reading material and listen to those who do know what they are talking about. At the end of this post is a podcast I had recommended to me. Listening to that podcast inspired me to write this post, and I think everyone who listens to it could learn much about the current situation of racism in America. The podcast link also has a list of books on the webpage about the topic of racism in America.
For those who feel bad about their own privilege when it comes to race or socioeconomic class, as I certainly did and still do: We have each been given our own personal experiences, our own families, our own talents, our own roadmaps, and we cannot remove them. We cannot separate ourselves from them, as much as we wish we could. As much as I wish I could relate to blacks and their experiences, I can’t. As much as I wish I could relate to the person who has lost a parent, or the person who has divorced parents, or the girl or boy who has experienced such heartbreak in a relationship, or even the dude who feels like a girl trapped in a male’s body, I can’t speak to any of those situations. I sure wish I could. I love relating to people, and I love connecting to them in meaningful ways. So in the meantime, instead of trying to speak to situations, I’ll just listen and seek to understand before I inform. After all, it’s not about me and what I have to say; it’s about Christ and how he can redeem any experience, whether good or bad for his glory!
I’ll end with this. Just as I struggle with cultural blindness about race, America struggles with blindness, and blindness perpetuates prejudices. Blindness perpetuates racism. Blindness perpetuates sin. But behold, Christ has come:
“to proclaim good news to the poor…
to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
This is good news indeed! Our God is not a God who is unconcerned about racism. He is not one who is unconcerned about what’s going on in America. He is not unconcerned about the injustices of the world like racism or human trafficking! He cares deeply for us, enough to cloth himself in humanity and die in our stead so we may experience fullness of life. God is so committed to justice that he would take the consequences of sin upon himself at the cross, allowing us to receive grace. Even this most distressing event, that is, humanity killing the Son of God, was not outside of God’s plan. No matter how bad it gets, we can rest in the fact He is not surprised by what happens nor is it outside of his redeemable plan.
The Harvard Implicit Association Test, which tests for unconscious discrimination…
The link to the Liturgists Podcast on Black and White in America…
Thanks for sticking through my longest post! As always, I love feedback, and I would love to talk more about racism in America. If you think I’m wrong on something, let’s get coffee and talk about it, I’ll buy!
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