How are you navigating the controversies surrounding racism and racist behavior? Feeling adrift and full of anger? Maybe these tips will help you gain perspective.
This post is part of the Five-Minute Friday quick write hosted by Kate Moutang. Join us each Thursday night on Twitter (#FMFParty) for fun and fellowship, then grab a pen and start writing when the prompt goes live!
What?! ME? A Racist?
“Have you seen the letter?” my coworker asked.
I felt outrage radiating off her. “What letter?” I asked.
“The one the community advocate left copies of on the table in the staff room.” The tone of her voice promised something bad awaited. “I need your help.”
I shook my head and rushed to the teacher’s workroom. The author of the letter had taped them to the tables. As I read, my heart dropped. The letter claimed in no uncertain terms that the ESL teachers, all of us white, were racist.
My coworker, a veteran teacher in the district, angrily ripped another letter off the table. “We need to keep one or two of these intact to show to our union representatives.”
Having never taught in public school, I had no idea how things worked. I felt horrible that someone who had had no more than half a dozen short conversations with me would call me a racist. After all, I actually lived within three miles of the inner-city school where I worked. My children spoke two languages—Spanish and English, and I had married a Cuban.
I felt like I was the least racist person I had ever known and equally advocated for people from all walks of life and every skin color. How in the world had my inclusive attitude turned into a perception of racist behavior?
Twenty-five years have passed since that incident, and the controversies that rage in our country today show that decades and centuries of hurt still boil beneath the surface.
How should a Christian navigate these times? What can we do to act as peacemakers and reconcilers in a world full of hurt feelings, opposing ideas, and unresolved tensions?
How to Navigate the Rhetoric
Last weekend felt like one of the most difficult weekends since the Coronavirus hit—not because I had to take the test (it came back negative), but because of things I shared on Facebook that brought out all kinds of heated discussion. Discussion I tried to moderate and listen to. Holding my cool felt difficult.*
Maybe these steps will help you navigate the rhetoric and questions, too.
1. Pray first, respond later.
Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you as you read other people’s opinions, news articles, watch videos, and listen to the talking heads. What the Holy Spirit teaches you may surprise you.
2. Remember the purpose of rhetoric.
Rhetoric, according to Merriam-Webster, is ‘a type of mode of language or speech.’ The slogans you hear, whether they call for a return to greatness or insist that people of one color matter, are designed as a rallying cry.
The one who originated them means something very specific by choosing those words. How do you know what the rhetoric means? Research. Just like you wouldn’t take as gospel truth something inflammatory that a preacher preaches about Jesus, don’t take as gospel truth something inflammatory that you hear someone else say on social media. Check your facts.
3. We all have more in common than we think.
How do I know? I ask. Instead of condemning someone with a different viewpoint, ask yourself what you may have in common with them. Simple conversations about commonalities help us understand that we all belong to the human race. This helps me withhold the word-whippings I’d love to unleash on social media. Because how helpful can hot, hasty words be?
4. Accept that if you aren’t a minority, you have no idea what life has been/is like for minorities.
We don’t know because we don’t ask. Just because we haven’t asked doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
I recently asked a high school classmate about his experience. His story brought me to tears. A Bible teacher I respected greatly once asked my friend, in the middle of class, with no advanced warning, what it felt like to be a N——. My friend graciously retold the story, giving the teacher the benefit of the doubt, but the pain from 37 years ago remained.
When you hear the words ‘systemic racism,’ think about this anecdote. A godly teacher using the N-word while addressing a student in a class full of other students. His use of the word gave tacit consent to the rest of the students to use the word, too.We don't know because we don't ask. Just because we haven't asked doesn't mean it doesn't exist. #racism #antiracist #socialjustice Click To Tweet
5. Don’t forget about the effects of generational trauma.
Just because something happened four hundred years ago and we, personally, don’t bear the blame, doesn’t mean we don’t still have to deal with the aftereffects of the trauma. Only now, with advances in science and technology, do we understand how trauma can change the coding of our DNA and pass on to our children and their children.
Likewise, we probably have some racism baked into our genes, too. Unless we actively fight against racism, we become part of the problem.
6. Pointing out how each side has done wrong does nothing to advance changes and reforms.
Examine your own assumptions, prejudices, and use of microaggressions. You change you. I’ll change me, and together we can work to resolve some of the bigger problems.
Such as how to help the police treat all humans with less violence and receive the mental health support they so desperately need. And bringing social justice to those who have long been denied equal living and unconditional regard based on the color of their skin.You change you. I'll change me. Together we can work to resolve the bigger problems. #antiracism #fmfpary #socialjustice Click To Tweet
7. Do the hard work of listening.
If you don’t have any friends who have a different skin color, start by reading. You can find great lists of resources here and here.
8. Affirmative Action was a beginning, not a destination.
We can’t pat ourselves on the backs and call things good based on what a previous generation did to help minorities and women receive equal treatment, pay, and advancement.
Affirmative Action isn’t the enemy—it levels the playing field (a bit). But it does nothing to advance the heart work of loving everyone equally. Only God can do that work, and only if we let him.
How to Keep the Tide of Justice Rolling
I hated being called a racist. It hurt my feelings and my sense of justice. But as I mature, I realize that although my accuser got the situation wrong (he felt I favored Hispanic students and thus deserved the title even though I had been hired to work with non-English speakers at the school, of which 100% were not black), he was right to call me a racist.
Not an intentional racist, but a racist by default because I didn’t actively do anything to be anti-racist. I can change. You can, too. I hope this post helps you understand how one white woman navigates the change process.
*Five minutes ended here, but I needed to finish.
This is so powerful and wonderful to read. Thank you for your words, your actions. I change me, you change you, together we will stand to announce that I have things to work through and so does this county. Being white, I have no idea what this is like for all people of color, I never will know. But, this can no longer be our America and it all has to change and your steps and actions are perfect. Listen, try and understand. Ask questions, change you, don’t accept it anymore as “the way it is”…thank you for your incredible message of love and doing better. We have to do and be better.
Thank you for sharing your wisdom Anita. I love your first point,”Pray first, respond later.” It has been a very healthy time for me as I become more aware of my own privilege and my unconscious bias. I continue to ask God to search my heart. This is where the healing will come from 💕
You have really done the hard work to understanding racism. You make some really good points. #3 and #4 are ones that caused me to pause in my reading. I just listened to Brene Brown’s podcast, Unlocking Us, with Austin Channing Brown. I highly recommend giving it a listen. It’s one that I will listen to a second time to catch everything that was said.
I think that what we all need to remember is that we’re all racists, at least broadly defined by a hesitancy toward the ‘other’.
I’m Asian, and I’m not truly comfortable around white people. You guys smell different, you eat weird food, and you look alike (and Barb being white means that if I lose sight of her in the mall, I can get into a lot of trouble…fortunately, she has a sene of humour).
The key, I think, is not acting on the prejudice, but being intentional in honouring others, however I might flinch in their presence.
If I may add a postscript, I do think we have to look at the the endemic nature of racism before we can begin to understand our own. Two examples come to mind:
1) Japan, during the Sino-Japanese war an through WW2, regarded Chinese as little more than cattle, and also kept Koreans (who fell under rule after the Russo-Japanese war) in a state of virtual slavery…and they were all Asians, an to a Western eye, often indistinguishable.
2) Dan Mills, in his memoir of service in Iraq, “Sniper One”, describes the only instance of racial prejudice he saw in twenty years of british Army service as occurring between two black men, a Grenadian and a Fijian.
We can’t ‘cure’ racism, but we CAN resolve, with aily intentionality, not to practice it.
i don’t know if I agree with you. racist by default? then you could call anyone anything because they don’t act in a way you think they should. We can try, but we can’t be everything to all people. this is buying into the “white privilege”, if you are white you are an oppressor theory. And it’s a horrible way to look at things.
Just because I’m white doesn’t mean that I am racist, or an oppressor, or anything like that. it means I’m a person living my life, doing my best to help those around me, without making colour an issue. If I see wrong, I fight against it. Doesn’t mean I’m a racist intentionally OR unintentionally.
Annette recently posted…How Can It Be?
I don’t agree with all of your conclusions, but I think we do agree on the largest issue. We all have racist (or if one might prefer, “bias” or “prejudice” or “egocentric”) inclinations. I was listening to 1 John yesterday, and found it comforting to be reminded that we have all sinned. If we think we have not sinned, we are only fooling ourselves. But, Christ can take away our sin (1 John 1:8-10) and I think (no, I know) that includes our race-related shortcomings.
Thank you Anita for your candor! I especially like the following point;
“1. Pray first, respond later.
Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you as you read other people’s opinions, news articles, watch videos, and listen to the talking heads. What the Holy Spirit teaches you may surprise you.”
Thank you for the courage to share your timely thoughts here. God’s love and forgiveness will heal our hearts. Read somewhere on the Web — “Lord, change me and then help me to be part of the change.” We all need to change, regardless of the color of our skin.
Anita, Thank you for all of this. We need to constantly be leaning into more education on how we can do better at recognizing complicity in racism and liberating our brothers and sisters.
I commented but they aren’t showing up. I wonder if they are going to your spam box.