This is not normally the kind of thing I write about, but I felt like I needed to change gears this week. I really hope you read this with the heart in which I wrote it: pleading with my race to speak civilly about racism. Here we go…
Dear white people…
I used to get really angry at that phrase. Not anymore.
Why do we get so angry when we are lumped together as a “people?” Why do we feel so disconnected from others with white skin?
Is it because many times when groups of white people did so they formed organizations like the KKK, neo-nazi cells, and white nationalist movements? I’d say that’s a big part of it.
I think we want so desperately to distance ourselves from those groups (and rightfully so) that we might be missing some very important opportunities to make the world a better place.
Instead of trying to separate ourselves from those who would commit atrocities, maybe we should run straight at them, take responsibility for them, and try to correct the problems that seem to be inherent in some of our white households. Maybe instead of trying to find a way out of being labeled a racist white person, the best move forward is to accept the fact that we have people of our race that are racist and collectively decide that we’re not ok with it.
We’re one of the only races I know of that does not see itself as a connected community. We come from a very diverse background of many countries, but so do Black people, Asian people, Native American people, and Brown people. We really can’t use that as an excuse anymore.
In fact, there are several excuses we can’t use anymore.
Whether we understand these excuses and responses or not, we have to try and empathize with our black friends on how it feels to hear them.
“All lives matter” as a response to “black lives matter”
I don’t think any reasonable person would debate you on whether or not all lives matter. In fact, that’s kind of the point of the black lives matter movement: they want to feel more included when you say “all.” This is a deflection of the issue at hand.
Recently my friend posted a quote on social media and I thought it brought great insight to this type of deflection. It went like this:
“Saying ‘all lives matter’ as a response to ‘black lives matter’ is like saying the fire department should spray down all houses in a neighborhood even though only one house is on fire…because all houses matter. Yes, your house matters too, but your house is not on fire.”
Black lives matter. We know all lives matter & blue lives matter and we agree. But the black house in our neighborhood is on fire right now. We don’t need to address the others at this moment in history with the same urgency.
Not all cops are bad
We know not all cops are bad. Can we agree that prejudices should be checked when you grant someone authority? That they have no business wearing a badge? Some jobs can’t have “a few bad apples.” We love our police officers. We are thankful for them. We know they are doing a dangerous job. But it’s not the same as being black. Cops can take off their gear and take a break from being in danger for their job. Black people cannot take a break from racism.
Where is your outrage at _________?
We don’t have to be outraged at everything to justify outrage at this. Why should racism be the last problem we solve after every single other problem? This is another deflection away from dealing with the issue itself.
Criticism of how black people protest
As riots break out across our country it’s very easy for us to see that and say that’s not what we want. You’re right to say that. However, we also have to understand where this comes from.
Some of these riots were started by those who are white and just want to cause trouble. Some are caused by black people who are so unbelievably frustrated that they feel they have no other alternative.
But many of these protests were intended to be peaceful and you can hear many black people in the background of these videos imploring those causing violence and destruction to stop. It hurts all of us, including and especially the black community, when destruction takes place in these places. It’s not right but it’s not something we should try to absolve ourselves of responsibility for. We have to see our place in that story, whether justified or not.
I have witnessed white outrage at just about every form of peaceful protest. From kneeling during the national anthem to using an award show acceptance speech to talk about your cause.
Just exactly how would the white community like the black community to protest injustice? Because it feels like there really isn’t an avenue for us to hear them out on the mainstream stage.
No one here, myself included, is condoning violence or vandalism as a form of protest. However, you have to start trying to understand how helpless and desperate someone has to feel before they resort to violence. And when a whole community of people feel that together….it should cause some real self-reflection.
We didn’t see what happened before
I watched a man step on the neck of another handcuffed, helpless man for 5 minutes until he passed out and then another 5 minutes after that while 3 other men protected his ability to keep doing it. I watched a man plead for his life while bystanders begged them to stop.
I don’t need to see what happened before. I watched a man die and that’s enough for me. Can we just agree on that and not try to deflect the issue to something else when we watched something horrific on video? Whatever happened before I’m trusting did not require the man’s life.
It’s racist to call out white people specifically
Let’s not confuse responsibility with guilt. I believe my former feelings about being called to account as a white person stemmed from feelings of guilt that it brought up that I didn’t want to feel. Now, I look at these feelings as misplaced.
Responsibility is a word I would use to describe it now. We all know that there are many good-natured white people who love black people and would never seek their harm or oppression. Being called a “racist” or being made to feel racist confuses these types of white people.
However, ignorance is no excuse for responsibility and certainly, my lack of exposure and experience to racism and oppression in our system definitely does NOT mean that it doesn’t exist. It simply means that I have been privileged not to experience it.
I believe this is what is meant by white privilege. It’s a term to identify the fact that living in America as a white person is a little different than living here as a black person. That does not mean that you yourself are racist.
However, maybe it means that you must recognize and own the fact that you have been a benefactor of it. I understand that it can make some feel uncomfortable and guilty.
Last thing I’ll say on this: When I was in high school, one of my best friends was a foreign exchange student from Hamburg, Germany named Sebastian. Super nice guy.
One day, we were all hanging out and I made a joke about him being associated with Nazis. He didn’t laugh. He then told me “Hey, that really hurts. We are not proud of that time in our history. I don’t want to be associated with that.”
I never made another joke about that again because I loved my friend.
Black people are asking us to take a look at societal norms and ask ourselves if we can just empathize with them for this. Just like Sebastian, we don’t want to be associated with our past either, but he had embraced that it was part of him and was actively trying to move forward with it as a German. We need to embrace that racism is a part of us and move forward as white people too.
Racism is a white people problem if you are a white person.
When good people go to war
Recently I learned that racism is frequently discussed in black churches. I can tell you that going to mostly white churches most of my life that we seldom if ever discuss it unless something terrible happens.
We need pastors to lead us on this and thankfully some are beginning to speak out. However, I believe that the church itself has restricted pastors from doing the difficult and often right thing when it comes to issues of racism. If a pastor makes the wrong person mad it could mean their job. Before you fault them for that, understand what that means for them.
They have to uproot their family and possibly move to another city or state. If they are in a home owned by the church, they lose that too. In bigger cities where there are multiple job opportunities within industries, the risk may be less, but small towns do not have that luxury. The average church size in America is around or under 100 people.
We have to protect them. We must allow them the space to lead us through difficult issues and instruct us about controversial subjects without fear of having to uproot their families and lose their livelihoods.
Pastors, find your courage. We’ve got your back.
Politics is a problem
In today’s public discussion, every issue has been politicized and pastors don’t get involved with politics. I myself despise political affiliations with the church and believe it has no place. It is an influence on how we teach that is outside Scripture and I believe corrupts solid, orthodox teaching when it is too closely affiliated with a church.
Besides, separation of church and state laws were instituted to keep politics out of the church so that sound Biblical teaching could commence without the government’s interference. Churches can even lose tax-exempt status for being too political, though there are some that do it anyway. I personally wish they wouldn’t.
But some “politicized” issues are NOT political issues. They are moral issues. The fact that we cannot separate the two just shows how much we worship the political system today. Politics will not save us.
Racism is a moral issue. It is about seeing one type of person as greater or less than another type because of their race and we learn these behaviors as children. We need leadership on how we should think about these things that would undoubtedly affect how we vote, but so be it.
The Greek word poimén translates as “shepherd” and when brought into English from Latin it is translated as “pastor.” The words “shepherd” and “pastor” are synonymous.
Shepherds tend sheep. They make sure their sheep have food, water, and shelter. Shepherds treat their sheep as pets or even family. This has often been used as an analogy of what a pastor of the church is to be like. But we have forgotten…
Shepherds also fight wolves.
When you have a wolf in sheep‘s clothing in your flock it is the responsibility of the shepherd to fight it off and protect his sheep. Racism is that wolf. Now imagine that when pastors go to fight it off, the sheep block his efforts saying “hold up, not all wolves are bad.” or “we don’t know what happened before the wolf attacked. Maybe the sheep provoked him.”
We need to put the rod back in our pastor’s hand, give him permission to swing for the fences, and then get out of his way.
A war on racism will only be won when the good men and women of the white evangelical church decide to get involved. We cannot put the burden of eradicating racism on the Black community.
It’s not their problem. It’s ours. We must solve it.
Dear black people…
I will do what I can to make sure you don’t have to live in this type of fear. I can talk to white family and friends about racism, especially when it shows up in our conversations. I can talk to my kids about it. I can read books, listen to podcasts, and even speak about it on any platform God chooses to give me. I can do that. I don’t know what it will do, but I can do it.
Will you promise me something, too? Don’t give up on us. Promise you will keep reaching out too. Try to understand us, but keep trying to help us understand you.
Many of us feel afraid to engage in this conversation. Writing this article is terrifying to me. We’re afraid of saying the wrong thing and offending you. We’re also scared to learn that we might be a little more racist than we thought we were, too. I also don’t want to get into the many arguments with my people I am sure will take place. But that’s a small price to pay.
Give us grace and help us work through it, but understand that many of us want your experience in America to be better too.
Finally, if you are white and read this far, thank you. You may or may not agree with what I’ve said here, but I hope you can hear the heart behind it. I’m reminded of the parable Jesus told about the two men who prayed in Luke 18:10-14. It says this:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
I ask that we humble ourselves and look at this situation like the second man, not the first. That we do not thank God that we are not like these other racists and evildoers, but we ask God to have mercy on us and show us where we might help heal this issue in our land between us and our black brothers and sisters.
Be the change you want to see in the world.
Seth has been in ministry for over 20 years, recently serving as Communications Director at a thriving church in North Dallas. He is also the host of The Seminary of Hard Knocks podcast, blogs at sethmuse.com, and has his Masters of Arts in Media and Communications from Dallas Theological Seminary. Seth specializes in helping church communicators use social media and content marketing to find common ground with their audience to empower them for spiritual growth.