I grew up in an area that was very homogeneous, and I currently live in a fairly homogeneous community. I used to have all sorts of ignorant opinions. I would have adamantly denied that I was racist, but would have also criticized the Black community for the gang culture that is stereotypically more prevalent, I would have been more quick to assume the innocence of a cop while believing a black victim of police brutality must have deserved it, and I would have dismissed the grief and frustration of black people as just “complaining”… I mean slavery has been abolished for 160 years… right?
My heart changed by my primarily being in relationship with POC and through reading about racial reconciliation in my graduate work. I remember listening to the grief of some classmates and my initial response was to dismiss their view. But, thankfully the Holy Spirit doesn’t let me get away with that too long. Many of my views have changed after further reflection. I have often asked God to help me see why someone else is so passionate about something I don’t see. Sometimes my views have changed. Sometimes my views haven’t, but my ability to understand with compassion has changed.
Slavery, segregation, “white flight,” redlining, KKK, police brutality, racial profiling, rhetoric that demonizes POC, white privilege, broken educational systems in mostly black communities, racism in 2020, ignorance— all of these things are real and they all contribute to what people mean when they talk about “systemic racism.”
The people of God and The Wesleyan Church of which I am a part, have a history of being defined by our response to the oppressed. Scripture from the OT to the NT is abundantly clear about how God feels about oppression and injustice.
Amos 5:24 (ESV): 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Zechariah 7:10 (ESV): 10 do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”
Isaiah 10:1–3 (NIV): Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches?
What grieves me is the number of white Christians I see who have, what comes across as, self-righteous indignation towards the riots while dismissing the more “peaceful” attempts of people to call attention to the injustice. Violent protests are a tragedy and they are morally condemnable, but in the words of MLK, “But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society… a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?…it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.” I am grieved that I see a lack of willingness to engage in the discussion in any sort of helpful way. Yet, I also know, I too was right there just a couple of years ago.
For those who are willing to allow their hearts to change, here are a few things I have learned:
Declaring #AllLivesMatter distracts from the issue being pointed out. Of course all lives matter, but even Jesus directed his attention and ministry towards marginalized/oppressed people. When we say #BlackLivesMatter it is an attempt to call attention to a specific issue, and it is a false dichotomy to assume it means only black lives matter as opposed to other lives.
When people in power (be they a politician, pastor, teacher, police officer, coach, parent, etc.), whether they are personally racist or not, use rhetoric that empowers racial prejudice rather than disarms it, that becomes part of the problem. At times it may just be out of ignorance, but at times, it is racist to the core. Our words matter. I have seen people reinforce rhetoric that is not helpful.
There is biblical precedent for collective repentance. So many people shrug off responsibility because they personally are not racist and did not personally own slaves. If you are white, you have likely benefited from the injustices done to POC. There are some horrific things that have happened in our history that have crippled certain people groups. From the murder and displacement of Native Americans to the mob lynchings of black people in town squares, horrors have been committed and it is not altogether inappropriate for us to repent of the sins of our ancestors. (Daniel 9 is the clearest example of repenting on behalf of the sins of others.)
It is usually also not helpful when we have views that we absolutely refuse to allow to be challenged. I’ve seen some people blatantly say that their mind cannot be changed. That usually means their mind will not be changed, even if they’re wrong. They’ve eliminated the potential that they could be wrong or that they could learn something from someone else.
Straight up dismissing the pain and perspective of others is also not helpful. I used to thing sexual abuse was rare, but I have found in ministry that it is way more prevalent than I had imagined. It is part of more people’s stories than I used to believe. Likewise, I used to think racial prejudice was hardly prevalent… I was wrong. Stories of racial profiling and instances of racial hatred is probably more prevalent than you initially believe. Humbly listen to the stories of others.