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.
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.