As a Black Christian woman I have more anxiety on the Sunday or Monday following tragic events such as the #Charlottesville attack because the work of racial reconciliation is exhausting. The Sunday following Charlottesville (which happened to be less than 24 hours later), I remember being hopeful as I entered church that I would regain some of my sanity. At least a little bit. Thinking to myself, this Sunday at least one non-person of color would come up to me and legitimize the concern I privately expressed to many. I recounted the personal conversations held following the election of our President regarding his rhetoric and lack of empathy for non-whites. At the time, I shared that I thought his views would give credence to those who held extremist and racist views to become hyper-visible and less concerned with “hiding” their views or their faces. We witnessed that in #Charlottesville.
This was not a moment of wanting to be right. This was a moment of wanting to be validated. I wanted to feel sane, if only for a moment. The context here is that I have spent countless hours listening, sharing, and praying with congregants and colleagues as we earnestly look to live reconciled. Yet, I exited my phenotypically diverse church that day without a single conversation or acknowledgement from a white person. I exited with increased ache in my heart. I exited wondering how many more Sundays will I sit in this pew and wrestle with the passivity of privilege and the tone policing of my voice. I then hoped for a face to face conversation, text, phone call on Tuesday, Wednesday, or any day. It did not occur. Exhaustion enters stage right.
After reflecting on Amy’s blog, How Do I Handle My Privilege, and her compelling question at the end which asked ‘What privilege do you have, and how can you use it to serve the underprivileged?’ I stumbled upon a revelation.
In the United States of America, privilege has been a silent teacher for hundreds of years. Privilege, white privilege, for those who possess it, has taught that good things will come to them simply because of who they are – even if that good thing is racial reconciliation.
Many would argue that hatred is a learned behavior. I’d contend that just as hatred is taught, so is the passivity of privilege. It is mostly taught without using words. Privilege by its very nature is passive. It demands absolutely nothing of its possessor. It teaches its possessor to protect it at all cost. Privilege indirectly teaches that if one desires racial reconciliation, then it will be achieved by simply waiting for the “perfect, comfortable, opportunity” to have a difficult conversation, ask an awkward question, or get to know a person outside of your ethnicity. Privilege has written thousands of history books and passed hundreds of laws. And with events like #Charlottesville, it waits patiently to reconcile. We’ve been miseducated, and the western church has been an active pupil.
Miseducation definition: a wrong or deficient education
Racial reconciliation is costly. It takes work.
Many desire racial reconciliation through a five-step process or a “quick read.” I’ve had countless people ask me to give them a resource to navigate this difficult and messy space. For instance, there’s a local church in our city that offers a fantastic six week workshop on race which creates a safe space for people in the community to listen to one another, grow in empathy, and dialogue. However, I’ve encountered many who’ve been content with attending this six week session and reference this as their “work” in racial reconciliation. I commend people for attending; however, when this session ends, the work of racial reconciliation doesn’t. If the only desire is a resource, racial reconciliation may not be realized. It happens over time through empathy, honesty, contrition, and proximity. Get close. Get uncomfortable. Get honest.
If the American church desires to really model racial reconciliation, the Church must re-educate itself. Learn from Black folks. Listen to Black folks. Lament with Black folks. Let Black folks lead.
I don’t want a racial reconciliation that demands more of one follower of Christ than the other. I pray that my encounter on the Sundays following tragic events are less anxious and more intentional. As Amy stated in the previous blog, may we be known by what we lay down, rather than by any privilege we hold high.
As a follower of Christ, I remain hopeful that racial reconciliation will occur in earnest as I continue to engage in uncomfortable conversations, love others where they are, and speak truth to power. I’m encouraged that others are doing the same. I have not thrown in the towel on racial reconciliation. Each day I hold tightly to the hope I have in Christ, anchored by the reality of my desperate need for Jesus as I do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God.
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:13
Maybe the first act of laying down one’s life is to lay down the passivity of privilege.
As we lay down our respective privilege, I pray that we build authentic relationships across multiple ethnic groups, help restore broken communities, and recognize systems that perpetuate marginalization for disadvantaged groups. May we use our power, resources, and influence to tear these oppressive systems down; decision by decision. Racial Reconciliation, like sanctification (process of becoming more like Christ), is worked out daily. It is not a one time act. It is a lifestyle.
The church has been “waiting” for racial reconciliation for too long. Let’s intentionally give differently, life differently, and love differently. Not just in words, but in lifestyle.
May privilege be ousted as primary instructor in the work of racial reconciliation and be replaced by empathy that leads to action.
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” – Micah 6:8 ESV