I wrote this response months ago, but I was afraid to post it because it would mark the beginning of publicly sharing my opinion about serious issues our country faces. I wasn’t ready for feedback.
This post pulls from my experiences, so I must provide context. As a black American with light skin, I encounter forms of racism that black people with dark skin may not; their experiences are sometimes different than my own. I have also experienced racism from both the white and black communities. This piece is not an attack on a particular group. Rather, it is a clarion call to the Church in America, “We have issues with each other! Let’s humbly resolve them. Do not wait because the time is now.”
Racism is a wound that festers. I sense this when I mention racism or something related to “being black” or “being white” to a friend, and his or her body language, a brief sentence, or the silence that follows shuts down the conversation. My friends are not rude when they signal that they do not want to engage in the topic, nor am I aggressive or political in my comments.
Our friendship continued, but I must admit that I always felt more tense than I did previously because I knew that the colors of our skin and our worldviews had tapped into a tension that we didn’t know how to resolve because our notions of each other are rooted in our cultures and our upbringings.
After interactions like the ones described above, I am often discouraged. One of my favorite aspects of America is its diversity, so when I encounter racism or a fear of the subject, I realize there is so much work to be done. When I state that there is much “work to be done,” I am not addressing government policies designed to foster equality. Rather, I refer to a change within our hearts and minds about people who are different than ourselves, which can only be achieved through the Holy Spirit and a thorough, critical evaluation of what we think about people who are different.
It is not enough to dismiss this challenge to self-evaluate simply because we are certain that we are not prejudice because of [insert reason]. We must sincerely be reflective and critical of our thoughts toward others, our upbringings, and our interactions with people outside our racial and ethnic groups in order to tackle the work that needs to be done in our communities. Then, we must be willing to listen to the petitions and hurt of the minority groups in America without rebuttal or dismissal because we assume that the progress within government systems suggest that government policies have erased the struggles from the 1960s and earlier.
Though difficult, I know this is possible because I have witnessed the Holy Spirit work in my friendships. I’ll share one of these experiences. About five years ago, a friend visibly tensed up when I mentioned race. I cannot remember what I said, but I do remember that my statement was benign. I dropped the subject and never talked about race again. My friend moved across the country a few years later, and we kept in touch. One day, we had a long phone conversation, and out of the blue, she started talking about a revelation she had about race.
My friend apologized to me on behalf of white Christians for the way black people have been ignored and marginalized in the United States. She talked about slavery, how terrible it was, and how she did not realize how rooted it is into American culture and social structures. I cannot remember everything my friend said, but I remember that I almost cried. I felt like I did not deserve the apology because what I have experienced is nothing compared with what older generations have endured.
I asked how she came to these conclusions, and my friend stated that the Holy Spirit revealed them to her. I was shocked. I felt relieved, lighter, and hopeful because she confirmed that my experiences with racism in America and the racism that my friends and family have experienced are valid. My concerns are not a result of being hyper-aware of it or imagining that racism is occurring when it actually is not, but rather, it is a daily reality that must be navigated in our homes, churches, places of employment, and public spaces.
She confirmed that those times I was called a “mutt” or an “oreo,” and was told I “don’t talk or act black,” “am so light-skinned that I must not be black,” “am different than other blacks,” and “will only ever been seen as a little black girl” were manifestations of racism and/or prejudice and stereotypes. In fact, those comments were just plain mean and an unawareness of the range of diversity within the black community itself.
She also confirmed that there is a lot of work to be done regarding the reformation of the individual. Racism lurks in the corners of our hearts and minds, and it manifests when we awkwardly bump into into people who are different than us or encounter the ugly moments in our nation’s history.
The reality of the evil America has committed against racial and ethnic minorities can only be healed if each of us, no matter our color or creed, sincerely evaluates ourselves.
This is my statement for the American Church: we must hear the cries of our brothers and sisters in Christ who have deep wounds that are a result of racial and ethnic abuse and discrimination in America. These wounds are both generational and current. Much like the repercussions of divorce, fatherlessness, physical and sexual abuse, and other forms of trauma that are never dealt with, racism extends through generations. If it is not dealt with, the wounds will never heal because each political outburst or violent interaction between police and civilians will only cause these wounds to fester and spread an unstoppable infection throughout our nation that will destroy our relationships and make the Church ineffective.
I am not saying that we must inherit the guilt of the past. However, we do bare the responsibility of acknowledging that we have inherited oppressive foundations established by those who came before us and become guilty if we continue to perpetuate the racism and prejudice that is ingrained in our history and our culture by engaging in it or ignoring it. This responsibility belongs to all of us, regardless of our color.