Release. Relinquish. Give up.
A furor on the campus of a small Christian university has brought home, once again, the power of ignorance to hurt and shame others. The scenario? Five students with facial masks (apparently charcoal masks), had their photo snapped. The owner of the phone posted the photo on Snapchat and added the university’s logo filter and the hashtag #PrettyHurts as well as the word Wakanda.
Racist or ignorant? Overt racism or an innocent moment wrongly interpreted by the phone owner? Who bears the blame?
I’ll expose my ignorance right now and confess that I thought the movie Black Panther had to do with Huey Newton and Bobby Seale and the political party. No wonder I felt bewildered when I asked a student about the movie and the garbled explanation included the country of Wakanda.
In my mind, I questioned whether or not the student had actually seen the movie. After all, I KNEW that Black Panther highlighted a political movement in the 60s and the fight against police brutality and racism in America. I held tight to my beliefs and refused to release them because I thought I knew all about it. After all, I’d sped-read through posts by persons of color about the power of the movie.
I had no idea that Black Panther had anything to do with Marvel Comics and superheroes. After all, I don’t read comics, I don’t watch a lot of movies and only have a vague understanding of pop culture references. Don’t ask me if Batman belongs to Marvel or some other franchise. I couldn’t tell you.
My confusion, although innocent, highlights what happens when we ‘think’ we know things. I thought I knew the history of our country (in reality I knew the male-white-aggressor version of history). We settle on theories of history and world views that make us feel comfortable and complacent about our world.
The danger in a one-dimensional world view lies in what happens when our innocent (or not so innocent) actions cause pain to others. If a Vacation Bible School (VBS) program chooses an ‘Indian’ theme and greets each child at the door with the supplies to make a headband and ‘feathers,’ do they act out of ignorance, or racism?
It depends on what the VBS program leaders do when someone brings to their attention that not all Native Americans wore feathers and headbands. And gently explains that the stereotype only furthers prejudice and racism.
If a Native parent brings his or her child to an ‘Indian-themed’ VBS, will the child feel included or excluded? Empowered or diminished? Disappointingly, the VBS program leaders decided to continue with their chosen theme, claiming it wasn’t meant to offend. Given the evidence that it DID offend, they chose to continue to give offense. We wouldn’t hang a swastika in our church because we know of the pain that symbol brings to a segment of our population. Nor should we willingly use offensive symbols and words that marginalize another segment of our population.
Think of it this way. If you’ve put on an additional 30 or 40 pounds since your teens, and you show up at a church full of skinny people wearing pillows under their shirts, how would you feel? Furthermore, if the programming at church highlighted the ‘history’ of not-so-fit-people as a matter of curiosity, would you want to stick around? What if they perpetrated stereotypes that all overweight people never exercise, eat only fast food, and watch TV all day. Would you feel uncomfortable? Ashamed? Outraged? Infringed upon? Misunderstood? Hurt?
You get the point. I hope.
The Release of Racism
Racism hides in the closets of our psyche, jumping out and mortifying us at unexpected moments. When someone has the grace to call our thoughts or actions racist, we should thank them. We should reevaluate our beliefs, seek new information, and release the racism that lurks within.Racism hides in the closets of our psyche, jumping out and mortifying us at unexpected moments. #racism #eracism #Christianity Click To Tweet
Satan loves it when we fight each other, it distracts us. If he can make us believe that someone else (other than him) is the enemy, he has won the fight (and probably the war).
Yesterday a student (a Native American), pointed out a snippet of dialog in a non-fiction book. A character had called someone a bad name, combined with a reference to that person’s religion. “Is that ok to use that word?” I asked my student.
“Of course,” he said, “he’s the enemy.”
“Just because we don’t agree with someone else, doesn’t give us the right to call them names, nor identify them as the enemy,” I explained.
My student shook his head in disbelief. I moved on, hoping that the seed I planted will one day grow and release him from the it’s-ok-to-bash-the-enemy mentality that others have used against him and his people. The irony.
As Christians, we need to inventory our closets and identify the hidden racist beliefs that lurk within. Before we plan a program, post a photo, or release an opinion, we need to filter ourselves and evaluate if our actions have the potential to misrepresent the all-encompassing love of Jesus.Christians have a responsibility to represent Jesus and his love for everyone--even people who aren't like you. #racism Click To Tweet
How to Release Racism
1. Acknowledge that EVERYONE (including you) harbors racism and prejudice.
2. When someone points out that a belief or action of yours is racist or prejudiced, humbly listen to their point of view.
3. Enter into a conversation of reconciliation. Reconciliation conversations don’t include name-calling, absolutes, or refusals to admit that the other person has a valid opinion. Saying, “I didn’t mean to be racist,” isn’t an excuse. If you accidentally slam a door in someone’s face, you apologize.
4. Remember that the real enemy lurks about causing dissent and hate among us (1 Peter 5:8). Our fellow travelers on earth are NOT the enemy. Sure, they may do stupid, evil, sinful, hateful, horrible, really bad things, but Jesus died for them, too. He wants to see them in heaven just as much as he wants to see you in heaven.
5. Pray. Pray for forgiveness for your self and corporate forgiveness for all Christians who have perpetrated racism by thoughtless words, acts, or ignorance (not to mention deliberate actions).
Q4U: Have you ever been the victim of prejudice or racism? Has it made you more sensitive to how you treat other people?
Thank you for exploring some tough things, Anita. I appreciate how you encourage listening, humility, respect, reconciliation, and prayer. Wow, I really can use those reminders in all situations. As you say, the bottom line is love.
This is excellent – as usual. Loved the comment about thinking that we know.
Yes!! Thank You for tackling his difficult subject.
I cause you to sing dumb songs and you cause me to think. Deep. I, too, thought Black Panther was about that movement. When my husband and grandson planned on seeing it I asked him if was nuts. LOL
this is an excellent post anita…of course. somehow, it is helpful to hear it from the perspective of native americans. at times, we get hardened to the arguments of african-americans. your illustrations were awesome! i have been thinking about this topic in new directions recently. thanks so much. i meant to share last week’s post and got interrupted. i won’t make that mistake this week:(
I love this… it’s a hard truth but one that we must deal with and shed some light on! I remember the first time I felt racism or like I didn’t belong and was not welcome… my little family of three were vacationing and going to explore the DC area but we went to a Mall in downtown Baltimore and quickly realized we were the only white people around. We entered a store and immediately felt like we weren’t welcome and we couldn’t get anyone to help us. I was already an adult… a mother… a wife. It not only opened my eyes to how a huge portion of the population feels on a daily basis, but the fact that I was already into my 30s before I ever had a tiny clue what it felt like was not lost on me either!
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Absolutely loved your post. I struggle with this everyday. I feel like I am surrounded by racism. It is impossible to change the minds of adults by arguing with them and I am a pretty non-confrontational person. I believe it’s best for me to set a good example for the next generation, my grandchildren. We have age appropriate discussions about all cultures & races. I don’t feel like it is racist to let them dress in a costume from another culture. It doesn’t feel like mocking, it feels like we are honoring that culture. Yet, we are told we can not do this because it is not our culture & race. Where is the line between celebrating and racism?
You ask a good question, Gina! In the VBS case, I think that if one wants to use a Native theme, one must very carefully make sure that they aren’t stereotyping Natives. Very few Native tribes used feathers and headbands (those that lived on the Great Plains did). They must also question the reason–are they trying to honor another race (if so, they would discover that each tribe had its own customs and dress, as well as language and name–the Navajo, for example, call themselves Diné). Pretty much, anything Disney or Hollywood probably doesn’t tell the true story (watch Reel Injuns on Netflix). After reading about the complicity of the Methodist church in the Sand Creek Massacre (see last week’s post), and reading stories of how Native children were abused by Christians in charge of government-funded boarding schools, I have a difficult time reconciling a VBS program with Native Americans. That’s just where I am in my journey. It’s wonderful that you’re teaching cultural sensitivity to your grandchildren. Being a good example is so incredibly important. Perhaps dressing in a costume could include research into the tribe that the costume wearer wants to honor–I confess that I’d love to have a traditional Diné blanket dress with the belts and moccasins and regalia–but only if a student or parent gave it to me, and I’d only wear it on occasions where it would honor the ones who gave it to me (graduations, ceremonies, etc.).
I love this article. I am learning all the ways I have racial bias and and working to honor and respect all marginalized cultures and races in my work and in my life. And I’m acknowledging the ways I’ve failed this in the past. But thankfully we learn new things, new ways–and this one is so important especially for Christians. If we want to love people, we need to honor and respect them and their cultures and not use them for our own profit/entertainment/anything.
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Power words, Anita. In two days I’m leaving for a local church conference and I’m planning to attend several workshops on reconciliation. I need to learn. I need to participate.