People are talking. And they are angry. Their anger is justified. Maybe you’re angry, too? It wouldn’t surprise me, that’s for sure.
Maybe the shooting in Charleston was the event that finally made you say, “Hey. I think I’d better add my voice to this conversation because I’m finding I actually have some thoughts and some words and I am sick and tired of this foolishness!” Maybe your conviction has outwitted your fear of being called a racist, or saying the wrong thing, or finding yourself in the middle of a confrontation. Good. Welcome to the conversation. Pull up a chair, but put a cushion underneath you, because we’re going to be here for awhile.
Racism is real in America. It has always been part of the story of this nation. It is not only part of our past. It is part of our present. Right now. Today. Right here. The Church, as of late, has failed miserably in addressing it. After last week’s shooting of nine people in Charleston, SC, informal polls are telling us there are churches in our nation that didn’t even mention the massacre, let alone the concept of racism. And, it seems, the churches that were silent last Sunday appear to be white churches. I don’t understand. I just really don’t. After all the conversations I’ve had over all these years about race and the Church in America, I really do not understand.
So, let me say this. Churches can get all up in arms about who gets to speak and to teach and proclaim truth from the pulpit. They want a certain gender or ethnicity or language or educational level or theological degree or sexual orientation to speak to them in hushed tones that sound good and that don’t rock their personal boat. But, when the Church abdicates its responsibility to speak truth to power and to utter words that turn over tables in our hearts and that call for justice and radical love and an end to excuses about racism in this country, well, I believe that’s why God gave us the Internet. That’s why God gave you a dining room table and a blog and a Facebook page and a Twitter account. You are the called. You are the chosen. You are God’s messenger in a world of Christians who can’t seem to get their act together.
If you’re a preacher and you were responsible for the sermon last week, I sure hope you mentioned Charleston, South Carolina. And, if you didn’t, I want you to know this Sunday won’t be too late. If you’re a person with a dining room table or a blogger or a person on social media, and you haven’t mentioned Charleston, South Carolina, I want you to know tomorrow won’t be too late.
If you can’t figure out why this is an issue or what the fuss is all about, or if you’re upset that black people are upset and not all black people are so quick to forgive, I’d like you to ask yourself what’s at stake for you? Why are you so invested in the status quo? Why do you find it okay for black people in America to be treated this way? I’ve heard the arguments. I am not convinced, yet.
But, if you’re joining in? If you’re stepping up to the plate for the very first time, or for the first time in a long time? If you’re adding your voice to the conversation and making space on your platform for discussions that will raise awareness about racism in America and work toward ending it? Well, I just want to tell you a few things that might be helpful along the way:
- When you speak out against racism in America, someone is not going to agree with you. It might be someone close to you, or it may be someone you barely know. They may say things that sound like, “Bless your heart,” or they might actually tell you something that involves the F-bomb. It is what it is. Encouraging people to face the truth about racism and their complicity in it is like walking into a dark room where people have been living for four hundred years and shining a spotlight directly in their eyes. They want the light out, thank you very much, and they don’t mind telling you so. It doesn’t matter how gently you say it, or how much grace you invoke, someone will feel as if you’ve heaped all the blame for all of everything directly on them, and they won’t like it.
- But mostly, people will listen to you. They trust you. That’s why they sit at your table or read your blog and your status updates and your Tweets. They have found you to be credible and a person of integrity and someone to whom they can relate. They know you don’t have all the answers. They just want to know what questions you’re asking, and where you look for your answers.
- You will probably offend someone. Consider yourself in good company. All of the prophets offended at least one person. They didn’t necessarily intend to offend or desire to offend, but it happens. Say you’re sorry when you know you were wrong. Make corrections when you find out something you said wasn’t right or true. But don’t stop having the conversation, simply because you don’t want to offend.
- People will talk badly about you behind your back, and to your face. But we are not in this for our reputations. We are in this because racism is evil, and we have a vision for something better.
- You don’t have to respond to everyone. Period.
- Take a break. No one can sustain this conversation all of the time. Balance forays into the race conversation with activities and people that fill you up. Don’t let the things and the people you love fall by the wayside. This is hard work, and there are more and more people joining in to help carry the load. You don’t have to be “on” all the time. Catch your breath. Turn off the noise. Hold on to your children or your pets or your partner. Swim in an ocean. Eat something delicious. Drink some wine. Take a nap or a vacation, or both.
We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing. You can’t not at least think about what might be different if you spoke up in the places God has placed you. Do not keep your head in the sand. I’ve heard people who lived through the Civil Rights Movement without ever speaking up about it say to me, “What was I thinking? Why didn’t I say anything?” I don’t want that to be you, when your grandchildren ask what you remember about this moment in history. I don’t want that to be me, either.
So, welcome to the conversation. It’s going to take awhile, but we can do this. We are in this together, and we’ve got each other’s backs. You can count on this to be a safe place to work through your thoughts and ideas, and you can know I’ll be cheering for you as you raise awareness and work to end racism in America.
Some questions for you: Are you new to the conversation? What is your greatest fear about taking this conversation to your dining room table, your blog, or your social media platforms?
John D Blase
Thanks, Deidra. Surprisingly, my oldest two children read my posts on FB/Twitter, and I want them to know in some small way I am trying to read and listen and learn and be a part of fighting for a more beautiful world, a world rid of racism.
What a beautiful legacy to strive for, John. I do believe it’s within reach, brother.
Thanks so much for this.
Deidra, thank you for your persistent voice! I am happy/relieved to say that our pretty darn white church in Reno Did have the conversation last Sunday. And I was able to stand and extend the invitation from the local AME church to join in a prayer service/vigil with them on this Wednesday–tomorrow. Many people responded they will be there and want to get involved…somehow The thing I heard the most was “things HAVE to change…what do we do?” I think my biggest fear is that as a white person, who am I to say what needs to be done. I keep saying to family who spew racist things that the Jesus I know is all about loving us all…we are all children of the same Creator…I don’t understand and can’t explain white racist thinking, except as fear of some sort or as sin. But it certainly has no place in the Christ following community. That is when I feel the most grief, when I hear racism spewing out of “Christians” …So we will go tomorrow and sing and pray and I hope come away with a “next right thing” step.
Kathi, I’d love to hear more about that prayer service! How did it go? What did you see/hear/feel/learn?
I believe you’re absolutely correct about fear being at the root of racist thinking. One way to get at that is to ask the question (in a way that works well for your context), “What’s at stake for you?” When people realize what’s at stake that causes their skewed thinking, it often helps open the door to the very beginnings of a transformation in those thoughts. It’s the first step in taking those thoughts captive and letting God renew our minds.
Deidra, The service was beautiful: dotted with all the colors of people God made. It felt like a bit of heaven, all of us singing together to God, except that we were so sad. There was a great desire to come together….We will be going to the same church again soon for a meeting with our Mayor about gun violence in our city. It seems that is the group where we people of faith will work together across those ridiculous lines. Also, because my husband is clergy (works as a hospital chaplain now) he has received emails encouraging preaching about racism…and clergy including rabbis–around who do share their sermons with one another. A group of about 12 in our church has formed with the mission of creating a welcoming space for all people….we are just getting going, so I don’t have much to tell you about that yet. 🙂
Bless you and thank you for your response.
Patricia W Hunter
Thank you so much for this, Deidra. This is the one place on the internet I feel safe to be in this conversation. I’m sharing a lot on FB…and paying attention to who in my IRL circle of friends is responding. I’m emailing multiple articles to family and friends. I’m having honest conversations with my daughter and her friends. I’m praying for God to help me see past my experiences. I’ve never thought I’ve been a racist, but I do have a bias that I need to own up to and not be defensive about. We all do, don’t we? What am I afraid of? Saying the wrong thing out of ignorance. Being misjudged because I’m a rural southerner – as though that automatically makes me and those I know racists. I don’t know what, if anything, was said in our church on Sunday because I was sick and we all stayed home, but I’m praying for an opportunity to talk to one of our elders – a black man who often fills the pulpit in our pastor’s absence. I’d love the opportunity to sit at the table with him and have this conversation. So, so grateful that you are in my life, Deidra.
I’m so glad you feel safe here, Patricia. That means a lot.
Thank you for sharing your experience as someone who lives in the rural south. I have heard that sentiment a lot lately, and it’s something I hadn’t thought of before. There is a perception — a bias — that rural southerners are all racist, and it’s good for you to remind us of that. I have been guilty of that type of thinking, so thank you for pointing it out, here in this space. I’m sorry have had a narrow view.
I’d love to know if you spoke with that elder in your church, and how the conversation went.
Patricia W Hunter
Thank you for this, Deidra. There are so many ways we develop a bias toward others – a profile, if you will, and the typical profile of rural southerns is that they are generally stupid and racists. (I had a pediatrician in the city ask me once, “You look like a normal family. Why do you live in LaBelle?”) Are there rural southern racists? Of course, but it certainly isn’t the majority. On the other hand, people in the NW are not perceived to be racists, yet I stumbled on this article from the Washington Dept. of Education that indicates that Seattle is/was one of the most segregated places in America. http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/segregated.htm The truth is that racism is a problem everywhere and it isn’t helpful to point fingers.
I have not had an opportunity to speak with Randy, but I haven’t forgotten. I have missed a couple of Sundays recently (still trying to recover from bronchitis) and today I didn’t see him. His wife posted a picture of their new grandbaby on FB and I’m guessing they are either on vacation or helping with their new grand. I’m anxious to have that conversation, and when I do, I’ll be sure to let you know how it went.
A to the men. And When I have found the words, I will write on my blog. In the meantime I am sharing on Facebook, liking everything I see, trying to pack up this house, and stay sane. This is simply horrendous and not to be tolerated any longer,. Bless you for speaking the truth so graciously . May your tribe increase 10,000 fold. I’m not so much afraid of offending people, as I am of doing it wrong. But I try, in my feeble way , and will do more of that when my head is functioning as it should. Exhaustion is so deep right now, that I can barely put a coherent sentence together. Love you dearly and am so very grateful for you.
You’re in my prayers, Diana. It’s been a tough season for you. Here’s to a season of strength and healing and rest.
Deidra, this is your best post ever. Ever.
i am fascinated with blogs where there is a call for conversation but where everyone agrees with everyone and offers up absolutely consistent praise for the blogger. I’ll just challenge your thinking on one matter, and that is the alleged tragic “segregation” of Sunday morning and allegedly “segregated” churches. This is something of a canard, although a fashionable one. Could you name me any denomination that has, as a stated policy, the exclusion from membership based on race or ethnicity? I don’t think there are any (except a black “African” church I heard of recently which excludes, as a policy rule, white people from joining). Yes, there are predominantly “white” churches and predominantly “black” churches and congregations that are heavily shaped by ethnic bonds (Slavic, Latino, etc.) So what? There may be any number of reasons why those congregations take the configuration they do that have nothing whatsoever to do with racism. And to make that assumption, right off the top, as if it is the only explanation, is, I would speculate, the result of being a bit too tied up in race-obsession itself. I have seen Roman Catholic celebrations that brought together all sorts of people and ethnicities from around the world and saw that the Church was, indeed, highly integrated and would be seen as such from God’s perspective, despite the fact that in their home congregations they might be perceived, by a fault-finder, to be “segregated.” There are also many Pentecostal churches, and some of them rather big congregations, that are obviously “integrated,” but not because of some bean-counter impulse. These churches are instructive and offer good models, but I don’t think they got that way by some sort of conscious attempt to “integrate.” They simply operate on the basis of preaching the word, celebrating the Lord, while realizing that ethnic and racial distinctions mean nothing within the Body of Christ. Personally I like a church where there is a variety of people (income levels, backgrounds, ethnic/racial, etc.) but it really doesn’t bother me if a church is dominantly white, black, hispanic, Slavic, or whatever. And I surely wouldn’t trust some “church czar” or something to “fix” all the situations that, in his or her view, represent a “shortcoming” of ideal racial balance. A moment’s thought raises the spectre of having to maintain “proper balance” by, yes, policy exclusions/allowances regarding membership! Who would want that?
Hi, Richard! Would love to have this conversation with you in person. Let me know when that would work for you. Thanks!
Cheering madly and wildly over here. If I hadn’t written anything or said anything already, this would have convinced me, hands-down (but your hub already took care of that!). Thanks, Deidra. May your voice be heard far and wide.
Haha! Thanks for showing up, Michelle. XOXO
I love this! I have not added my voice to the conversation yet because I don’t want to say something wrong. Poor excuse! I know God is not calling me to silence. I would appreciate prayers for words and strength to add my words to the conversation through my blog. Thank you for your convincing call to join the conversation.
I am praying, Mary. Peace to you.
Thanks Deidra for stepping out long ago … Following where His heart leads you and therefore leading others… My hubby and had dinner with a young engaged couple … Both from very small southern towns … The young lady … Not one person of color in her school … He is African-Amercian… I loved listening to their hearts… From a young age… He felt like he would be an ambassador … One who would build bridges… I loved his heart … He sees his struggles as opportunities instead of burdens… They see their marriage… The challenges ahead as opportunities to engage the world around them… I was so challenged and humbled by their hearts … Especially this young man… It filled me with hope… Maybe strong interracial marriages will be one avenues to bridge the divide…
The other day I heard that the fastest-growing segment of the population in the U.S. is interracial families. Soon, interracial families will be the norm in our culture. There are so many interesting implications, here. Prayers for your young friends as they begin their life together.
Thank you Deidra. It’s hard to some of us to know where to even begin. I think listening and talking about it, is good beginning, one you’ve been doing for a while now.
Deidra, I am one who is often silent about racism. I am confused and frustrated by it, let alone disappointed and angry that it still exists–and likely will for some time to come. I feel awkward talking about it, and feel like there is a huge elephant in the room that I cannot describe or see–that others obviously can. I have not read all the threads on the tragedy of last week, so maybe the answer for me lies within the thoughts you and others already shared.
I think one of your first posts about the Charleston tragedy mentioned that if people responded to your post in a certain way, you would delete the comment. The thought I often have is that racism IS a “heart issue.” You said you would delete that comment–so I have not responded to the conversation. It confuses me, I guess, to be honest, and I may have mis-read your intentions. But I think highly of you such that I know and trust that you have your head together about the reason that comment would anger you. I am guessing that it sounds like so many other comments from white people–it does not lead to any change or problem solving, and it probably sounds patronizing and more…
The reason I say that and think that it is a heart issue is because I see all kinds of talks, lectures, “protests,” symbolic gestures, cultural intelligence workshops, etc…., and I wonder how much of that changes a person…really. We have anti-racism training at our college, and it is mandatory that all staff and faculty participate in anti-racism activities at least once per year if not more. (It is a helpful program and I am grateful we do this). But I wonder how many people attend these types of activities with an open heart, and how many white people just want to “look good” to their black peers. I wonder how many of us try to say “all the right things” so we appear anti-racist and not to offend anyone. And yes, our pastor did mention it in last Sunday’s sermon. Is saying “I’m sorry” to my black friends helpful, or patronizing? Is it authentic? Will it change anything, or will it offend?
I could say more about all that, but back to the elephant. I really do not understand the “institutional racism” aspect to all this, and how we/I can approach that. In other words, what actions can I take that are not merely symbolic or even patronizing that will make a real difference? What laws or rules can we change? It seems to me that adding anti-discrimination laws, or giving cameras to policemen, are merely band-aids to help monitor (or even cover-up) the problem.
We did not learn about this in school. Most news outlets sensationalize issues as they occur, and little productive seems to come from that. We can read the Bible for heart guidance. We can pray for what we know about and understand. We can listen to each other better. But I feel like (and likely other white people do as well) that I do not have a grasp on what I can do to make an authentic change.
Maybe the current “remove the confederate flag” issue is a good start–a practical way to demonstrate change. Why did it take a murderous act to bring that to the forefront, right? How many other things like this are out that that can be worked on now to make our communities respectful of blacks–and others?
It is likely that the answer to my question has been shouted and screamed into my ears from many channels, and I am failing to hear it….
Well, that is what goes through my mind.
Bill (you know, the camera guy)
Thank you so much for this comment. Thank you for raising these questions. I am truly grateful for this.
First, let me say that I agree racism is a heart issue. Once we deal with what’s going on in our hearts, though, we are still faced with laws and systems and processes in this country that favor the majority culture. So, how do we work together, once we’ve agreed racism exists and that it’s bad and that we need to take steps to dismantle it, to get rid of these entrenched systems? (Maybe I’ll write about this. I think it will help make things clearer. So, thanks for helping me see that.)
When I posted that FB update and said I’d delete the comments about a heart issue, there were many reasons for that. These reasons may or may not make sense, but I’ll share a couple of them with you and you can help me see if there might be a better way for me to handle it in the future. I’d really appreciate your insight.
So, first of all, I wanted to avoid the “trolls.” When I’ve posted statements about race on my FB timeline in the past, there have been comments from those who seem to wait for someone — anyone — to post something about race, so they can jump in with comments about racism being a heart issue and why can’t we all just get along and why do you keep bringing this up in this way? Those comments, I have found, tend to derail the conversation from anything productive as I and others focus attention on these comments and fail to generate anything new to help move the conversation forward. I wanted to avoid that downward spiral.
Now, looking back at what I’ve shared here, I’m thinking that maybe I can block people from seeing my updates? But that just feels so yucky to me. I can’t think of anyone I’ve ever unfriended on FB. However, maybe it’s better to unfriend/block a few than to make the majority feel as if they can’t engage the conversation? That makes sense to me in this moment. (See? You’ve already helped me. Thanks! Also? A friend of mine sent me a vox saying, “Hey, you know it’s okay to block people, right?” I guess I needed that. But still, I don’t like it.)
So. The institutional part. I think some of this gets into politics, and I’m not good at politics. I also see work being to the North American Church and not to government. However, our country does have racism as part of its DNA. Our justice system, educational system, financial institutions, and even our neighborhoods and health care entities show evidence of this.
I was just listening to the President on that WTF podcast, and he talked about how to begin to rectify some of the ways that disparity gets made manifest in our society. He talked about early childhood education and the positive impact it has for children living in poor and disadvantaged communities. He also said it’s going to take some time to get things right. Taking down the Confederate flag is definitely a step in the right direction.
Our prison populations are also a tragic example of a gross disparity, not just in the way our justice system works, but also in all of the systems (educational, housing, juvenile intervention, etc.) that play a part before a person lands in prison.
Having said all of that, however, I think the most significant place to begin to make change is at the dining room table. Beginning to ask questions and trying to find answers with the people you share meals with is monumental. In the beginning, that may mean having conversations with your spouse over coffee or tea in the morning. Then, as things progress, those conversations expand to include bringing up the topic over dinner with the kids. Then, when we feel comfortable, we invite our friends and neighbors (which may be easier in some cases than inviting extended family to the conversation) to dinner and we ask a few questions or make a couple of statements or share something we read on the Internet. And we listen. And, slowly, we begin to invite people who don’t look like us to that same dinner table and we talk about it or we don’t. Eventually, we find the courage and wisdom and grace to begin having conversations with people who don’t look like us and to understand their heart. Because yes, it is a heart issue. I’m sure you’re already doing some of this. I honestly believe, after spending time talking with God about it, the dining room (or kitchen) table is the most important place to begin make changes in this arena.
Many friends contacted me in the wake of Charleston to say, “I’m so sorry this has happened again. I’m so sorry racism is still a thing.” That meant so much to me.
So, I have a question for you. How can black people support white people who want to engage the conversation but aren’t sure where to begin? How can we make it feel more safe to engage? What kinds of things are we saying that make white people feel like it’s just not worth it? And, I recognize you don’t speak for all white people, of course. 🙂
Again, thanks so much for this. I hope you’ll have grace for the places I’ve missed the mark or where my answers didn’t quite help as you’d hoped. And, I hope we can keep the dialogue going. Thanks so much for trusting me with your questions in this forum.
You are so good at expressing yourself! Thanks for your reply!
I sure agree on the FB troll thing. Someone once said “social media comments are the cesspool of humanity.” Not sure I would state that so strongly, but there are some people that have no other gift than to be cruel, it seems.
We are on the same page about the “heart issue.”
For me, you nailed it when you said:
“Once we deal with what’s going on in our hearts, though, we are still faced with laws and systems and processes in this country that favor the majority culture. So, how do we work together, once we’ve agreed racism exists and that it’s bad and that we need to take steps to dismantle it, to get rid of these entrenched systems? (Maybe I’ll write about this. I think it will help make things clearer. So, thanks for helping me see that.)
Please, please do write about this. I, and I would gather that many other white folks, get stuck here. I am pretty sure I am blind to the systems and processes that favor white people. [“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”] I really don’t have a clue for the most part I am ashamed to admit.
You did mention some areas where it manifests itself–so thank you for that.
I think that for all the anti-racism talks I have been to, or workshops, or things I have read, I have become more and more afraid of saying something wrong, hurting someone, making a mistake. I end up feeling like I am a horrible person, but I cannot identify why, or what I personally can do about it. I am certainly in that camp [and it is somewhat similar for male/female relationships, sexual harassment training, etc…] So, when I eat, work or worship with my black friends, I tend to just enjoy each other’s company and tend to focus on our commonalities–not our differences. I think that has been my default behavior–the more you talk about differences, the more you seem different and separate from each other. I always figured that bringing up race differences it makes everyone –especially my black friends and acquaintances (and my student employees) uncomfortable–like now there is something noticeable that stands between us. But I can see how that does not fully embrace the other person and their experiences. Perhaps I am really not loving them by refraining from bringing up issues and asking their opinions. (Actually, I have done that with some of my student employees–asking them if they felt safe, if they felt respected, etc…)
I wonder if many black people think white people know what to do, how to change things, or even what things need to be changed–and then are sad/angry to see that white people seem to care less at best, and belittle it at worst? The fact is, I have had my own set of experiences in life growing up that simply do not overlap with what many black people experience. It is not a lack of caring–I simply don’t know, or I get my information from the news–which tends to focus on the wrong things, and provides lousy context.
Starting at the dinner table is wise. Raising our kids around the dinner table offered many rich discussions about every possible thing. What a blessing that season of life has been. If you and I were to sit across from the dinner table, I’ll bet we could talk each other’s ears off about being empty-nesters! That is something I know about!
Thanks for being you. I am glad to see your FB timeline where you are having fun, enjoying weddings and events. You were wise to say to take a break now and then.
I’d love for H and me to sit across the dinner table from you and your wife one day! We’ll have to see if we can make that happen.
I am so very struck by what you’ve said, here: “I think that for all the anti-racism talks I have been to, or workshops, or things I have read, I have become more and more afraid of saying something wrong, hurting someone, making a mistake. I end up feeling like I am a horrible person, but I cannot identify why, or what I personally can do about it. I am certainly in that camp [and it is somewhat similar for male/female relationships, sexual harassment training, etc…] So, when I eat, work or worship with my black friends, I tend to just enjoy each other’s company and tend to focus on our commonalities–not our differences. I think that has been my default behavior–the more you talk about differences, the more you seem different and separate from each other. I always figured that bringing up race differences it makes everyone –especially my black friends and acquaintances (and my student employees) uncomfortable–like now there is something noticeable that stands between us. But I can see how that does not fully embrace the other person and their experiences. Perhaps I am really not loving them by refraining from bringing up issues and asking their opinions. (Actually, I have done that with some of my student employees–asking them if they felt safe, if they felt respected, etc…)”
It actually sounds as if the trainings are making things worse. Would that be accurate (don’t worry, I won’t tell the facilitators 🙂 )?
Can I just encourage you in what you’re doing? The eating, worshiping, and working with your black friends, and just enjoying their company. That, right there, is something big. Please don’t let anyone ever make you doubt that. And then, maybe to also remember this: That when you’re with those friends of yours, conversations about topics that may be race-related are not off-limits. You can talk with them about your feelings about incidents like Charleston, if it comes up in conversation. But, you can also tell them you enjoy hanging out them. You appreciate their friendship. You love them and hope the best for them.
Of course, it goes without saying that you would “stick up” for those friends of yours, whether they are with you or not when an off-color joke is told, for example. And, you would advocate for them when you can and as needed. You would share their grief and their joys. That, right there, is the gospel and, while you and I aren’t close friends, I think you’d do those things, from what I know of you.
You’ve made me sit back and think about that other thing you’ve said. You asked if black people think white people know the right thing to do, and then we get disappointed when that thing doesn’t happen? I think that’s true. Of course, I can’t speak for all black people. 🙂
I do think we are shocked when white people look at an incident in the news and come away with a completely different interpretation from what we saw when we looked at those same events unfold. As you said, our experiences don’t overlap nearly as much as we think they do. Maybe that’s one way to frame this? Maybe we can start to look for ways to create more overlap in our experiences.
You’ve got me thinking. Thanks so much, Bill.
“When I when I eat, work or worship with my black friends, I tend to just enjoy
each other’s company and tend to focus on our commonalities–not our
And . . . just what is wrong with enjoying commonalities? Sharing a common humanity? I had a conversation the other day with a black friend about a bunch of stuff, including black hair (my friend is a barber). I told him I was curious about the hairdo of a Mr. Iman Shumpert, a basketball player for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who has a very striking hairdo (it rises way up high, and looks really bizarre). So he told me what it was (the name of the “do” and how it was done.) A cool conversation. Then I told him how I had gone to an integrated high school, but never had any problem with the black kids, but that it was the Italians I couldn’t stand. Then he smiled and said “oh, yeah, the mafia, huh?” Actually I was prejudiced against Italians, taken as an abstract group, yet my best buddy throughout my childhood and into high school was an Italian kid down the street. I enjoyed this conversation (which hit on some other things too) and have reflected on why it was so pleasurable. Ironically we were able to talk freely about stuff related to “differences” because in the final analysis those difference didn’t count or “make a difference.” There seems to be a lot of fear, and I think it is fostered by people who are always talking about “black people” and “white people” in the collective, abstract sense, and who, although constantly making racism “their issue” are deeply race-obsessed (i.e. racist) themselves. They are also people who are constantly calling for a “hard conversation” about race but who I suspect want no such thing, lest they discover some realities that constitute “inconvenient truths.” If you consider the table for the conversation they set, it is tightly controlled. Not even a Ralph Ellison would be invited, and writers like Thomas Sowell (and other highly accomplished African-American writers/thinkers) are (in my experience) totally unknown to them.
I’d love to have a conversation with you, too. In person. Let me know when we can make that work.
Just want to piggy back on this conversation…please keep it going for I think the two of you have reach a place where the fear of offending is gone and the love of Jesus is bursting out. I for one will read what ever you both will write.
Jody Ohlsen Collins
Deidra, I’ve read through your ‘conversation’ with Bill Vriesema below and have gleaned heartily from the content. I appreciate you clarifying things–it helps with the understanding.
One caveat; I’m speaking from my kitchen in the great Northwest where I’ve been surrounded by people of color for 20 plus years. They’re part of my world….and this is not the south.
I lived in the South (in the 70’s; New Orleans to be exact)–I know what racism and segregation are, the insidious hatred and feeling of ‘otherness’ that white people in that part of the country have towards black people. I do not live in a place where discrimination runs rampant, and I aware of that.
That being said–
I’ll add to a few of the thots Bill had….the ‘heart issue’ phrase in particular. My experience in education(and life in general these last 40 years) has been that all the trainings, conferences and ‘sensitivity’ sessions in the world will not make a difference in the way black people–or people of any color–are treated because of something we will always have with us–sin. We will mistreat anyone we think less of because of our attitude about their being made or not made in God’s image. The issue isn’t the issue–sin and brokenness are the issue–and they are rampant in each of us, Christian and non Christian, black, white, Hispanic, Native American….all of us.
I’d dare say with all the years of training and awareness and workshops, conferences and causes, marches and the like, and racism is still and again raising its ugly head.
And frankly I think it’s mainly because we’ve taken godliness out of our society and our classroom and our homes.
So, we’re back to the dining room–when I open my home to the poor, the different, the disenfranchised, when I sit and have a conversation with a person not like me, BECAUSE of Jesus, when I want to know them, hear their story, my words can build a bridge and maybe a door will open to share my story, too. The story about God’s faithfulness to heal my hurts, walk with me in the hard and dark times, and to fill me with joy that I so desperately need.
It’s a simplistic response, maybe, but Jesus still is the answer.
Laws and regulations won’t change anything until peoples’ hearts change. We can always pray for that.
Thank you for this safe place to share.
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Jody. I appreciate your willingness to trust this space.
You’re right. It’s a heart issue. I don’t want anyone to think I believe differently. It is. It’s a heart issue. And, once we get past the heart issue, there are laws and systems in place that my heart cannot bear much longer — literally, and figuratively. Also, there are people who do not want to hear — can’t hear — about my Jesus because of the weight of the oppression under which they live. I don’t want to be (as my former pastor used to say) so heavenly bound that I’m no earthly good to them.
While I believe it is the responsibility of people of faith to work for justice in our communities and in our country and in our world, I will always hold the dining room table as the most significant venue for building bridges — even above the church sanctuary.
I also believe changing laws and regulations can make a difference in people’s hearts. I believe the Civil Rights Movement showed us that. But that’s not where my hope lies. My hope — as the old song goes — is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood, and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.
I can’t put my hope in laws and regulations. But, because of Jesus and what he’s done for me, I can’t keep silent when laws and systems oppress any of his children. And, I can join you in prayers for the hearts of the people to change.
Peace to you, friend of mine.
Jody Ohlsen Collins
Deidra, I remember sitting in a hospital waiting room with my husband last year while his mom was failing… The news was on and people were rioting about a young black man who’d been shot. And how sad is that, I can’t remember — ’cause there’ve been so many. I sat next to an elderly black man while he muttered and shook his head, saying words I can’t repeat. I responded with something about Jesus being the only hope for our hearts and our country.
His response? “Ain’t no more segregated a place than church on a Sunday morning. No thanks.”
I remember thinking I had no idea how hard his life must have been to bring him to that sad and resigned place.
I have no idea what it’s like to be black in America now.
And I can see what you mean….the systems have to change. May God show us how and what we can do.
tears and tears and tears as I type.
I love you, friend.
Wow. That just stops me cold, Jody. He’s right. The segregated church is an obstacle to those who are watching us. I’m crying with you, sister. Thank you for sharing this. Thank you for going there.
Love this post, Deidra. I’m not new to the conversation but I think one reason that many don’t speak up is they are afraid of making things worse. But our silence doesn’t help either. Thanks for encouraging us to use our voice and say something!
You know, there is a truth about creating something new, and that is the fact that chaos is always part of the journey. It may have to get worse before it can get better.
Elizabeth W. Marshall
I am listening with a broken heart. Thank you for every single word you carve out for this extremely impirtant subject. I want a color blind world. I want an end to racism. I want to be part of the change. And I want radical miraculous deep and real, tangible change. You are a important voice. I am reading and bending an ear to all you are saying. And I pray for the words and sensitivity to say and do all the right things. I want to make a difference in my world, Charleston county, SC and in the world.
Sandra Heska King
You help me see. You help me think. I’m so proud to call you my friend and my sister.
Ah. Thinking is good. And seeing is priceless. XOXO
For so long I felt racism wasn’t my problem. I was, sick to say, “neutral”. I didn’t feel a part of the problem. “It” was out there and not here in my little corner of the world.
so I was ok. Not so. After a long hard look both inside me and outside me. I have been awaken to how much it is a problem. I am grateful for you and your blog. It has helped me to understand more. I am thank full for my brothers and sisters of a different color who share with me. I used to be afraid to talk about racism out of fear of offending. Now I just am honest and hope that those I talk with will see my sincerity and if I offend love me with Christ’s love and correct me. Praying for those in South Carolina.
I am so ashamed that when I see the Hispanic landscapers I wonder if they are illegal immigrants. Where did this sin come from? How easy it is to judge and condemn.
Growing by God’s grace.
Peggy, first let me thank you for this comment. You are brave, sister, and I am grateful.
I simply would like to encourage you not to shame yourself. When you see yourself having a thought like what you’ve described, lean into it. Ask yourself, “Why do I think that? Where did that come from? Is it true? What is the truth? What do I know for sure?” Then, sit with the feeling and see what answers come your way. And, yay for you for questioning yourself!
I’m praying for you as you continue to speak your truth with sincerity. Praying your words find good soil.
I’m new to your blog, so coming late to this.
I am new to this conversation in the sense that I’ve only written about it twice, and both those posts happened in the last week. I’ve also been talking about it with some people on Facebook. And I’ve gotten the stubborn responses and the outright denials of both the history of racism (and slavery) and its current presence in our country.
I am not new to this conversation in the sense that I come from Southern families on my mother’s side. I even have relatives who fought in the Confederate army. I have to grapple with that. I have to acknowledge that. No, I didn’t do the fighting, but I’m not many generations removed. In fact, it’s even closer to me. My grandparents, born long after Emancipation, carry with them casual attitudes that they’ve never questioned.
I have to question it.
I can’t let it go by unchecked.
I hate the mounting fear and mistrust between blacks and whites in this country. No, mounting isn’t the right word. It’s always been there. I don’t know what to call it. All I know is that I want to do my part, small as it may be, to reach out to my brothers and sisters. I want to stand against evil.
Each of us, doing our part, right where we live, is making a difference. It will make a difference.
I hear your struggle with your family’s past and current roles and attitudes. You are right. You are not responsible for their actions. You do, however, carry light with you as you engage your grandparents and as you walk into the future. May peace be with you on your journey.
In our country, something that makes it difficult to get past the mistrust between the races is the fact that our country has never officially apologized for the evils of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation. In fact, the oppressive systems have continued, even if under different names. We’ve never drawn a line in the sand and said, “It ends here. This is where it stops.” Not even our churches have done that, as 11:00 on Sunday morning remains our most segregated hour.
The taking down of the confederate flag in SC is commendable, even in the midst of all the differing viewpoints. Regardless of what people think about heritage or hate, the state said, “This part of our history ends here. Consign it to a museum. But we’re not flying that flag over our government buildings anymore. That is part of our past.”
Deidra. You know you’ve inspired me to “go there” in a way that I’ve done before. And I have written about it and tried to be more purposeful in my walk and influence in regards to this.
Thank you for reminding people that our hope our answer is not found in legislation or elections or the institute of man.
As a middle aged white male blogger I am in my own minority but I speak truth and hope in my own way.
In our blogging world i do see a little too much self flagalation. Nice sweet Christian people who don’t have a racist bone in their body should not feel guilty for saying hello to a person of color who passes them. I cannot be guilty for crimes and actions motivated by hate. We shouldn’t carry around guilt that is not ours to bear. A much better motivation is a desire for righteousness and holiness.
Instead of guilt I stand for freedom for all of us — let’s act like redeemed people. My motives are simply to act out as the man that Christ sees me as.
Amen, amen, amen
I have such deep respect and appreciation for you, David. I have so enjoyed watching and engaging you on this journey.
I agree with you that shame is not helpful. Recognizing systems that oppress people is important. And, when I realize I have benefitted from oppressive systems while others have been hurt by them, my faith makes it impossible for me to accept these systems as justified or acceptable. I’m with you: freedom for all of us. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so. And then, let’s work together to shine a light on the dark places in our society that systematically oppress and marginalize specific groups of people.
I do want to acknowledge, too, your words about being a white male blogger and how that is a demographic which, in the world of blogging, is often in the minority — at least as I experience this online community. I appreciate your voice and your perspective. And, more than that, I am grateful for our friendship.
I have not said a lot , but this led to me speaking up. I felt l often as a person of color someone will misinterpret what you say, and they will . I decided that’s not as important as bringing someone understanding. I also didn’t know how important my voice was on the subject until now. Can I say: ” I’m not surprised?” Even that comment bothers me. There are several hate groups and individuals on the down low who don’t make their hate as known. Yet black folk are leery still to this day of going in certain sections of town at night. That bothers me. I taught diversity for about six years in school systems and what bothered me is that we never got to share the model with the next generation . We only dealt with the teachers . And though we felt we made a difference, the silence in the room prevailed mightily … And the shame was great. Too great to have a voice, for some. That bothered me, too. So I spoke up on my Facebook page this time and said how much this affected with: to the point of being American , doesn’t wear a pride symbol for me anymore , though the freest country in the Nation. I hurt. And the people of my skin color and even some who are not, hurt too. Oh and someone ni know who didn’t understand did question me for understanding. For that, I am thankful. My voice matters
Yes. Your voice matters.
I think you speak to something here that is very important to acknowledge, and it is the experience of grief. For people of color, grief is a blanket we wear around our shoulders. This is why we speak up and speak out. We are constantly grieving and being giving more reasons to grieve. And then, when the grief is brushed off, shame settles in. I’m thinking out loud, here…
Thanks so much for your comment, Jennifer.
Grief yes Thanks , that’s it. And it’s continual, since we ( African Americans) are so linked as tribes and as a culture and a community. It sometimes feel like we grieve over and over again when our brothers and sisters, and mothers and cousins and .. you know. All of us endure the pain. How can it not be something we give voice to ? Giving voice helps with the healing. It just does. If we hold it , we shrink away and become ill. I would know as a therapist. Thanks for the clarity and the discussion, Deidra. Blessings,…
Karen Schwiegeraht Arnold
Racism has existed since the beginning of time. Racism existed in Christ’s time as well. We can’t wipe it out entirely…it is a matter of the heart. My heart is broken over the massacre and the evil that caused it. I don’t know of anyone who wasn’t appalled by this evil, yet the politicians and media focus on the evil giving it more credance than it deserves. I also question the “informal” poll that it wasn’t even mentioned from the pulpit. Maybe a good question to ask is why we sit in our “white” or “black” churches in the first place making suppositions about the other “side.”
I have long advocated for the desegregation of our churches. I can’t figure it out. I cannot figure out why we keep holding on to our white and black churches as if they are normal and acceptable. I understand the need for black churches, and I hope to talk more about that in this space. But I do believe we can get to something even better if we refuse to allow racism to be part of our lives. Racism, as a system, can indeed be wiped out. Even if racism still lives in the hearts of individuals, we can rid our society of the racist systems that remain in place, and that continue to perpetuate oppression of specific groups of people.
I am new to the discussion in the sense that this post is taking me outside “my circle” to discuss this issue. I am mom to 3 Hispanic young men and have long been aware that every time they step outside without me they are not protected by my “white privilege”. As they grow up and move out I worry about whether or not I have done my job to prepare them for what others will say or do based on their appearance. Did I teach them enough to keep themselves safe? What heartaches will they experience that I can only imagine? I am not completely unaware of bias and bigotry as I spent 27 years in a male dominated field (firefighting) where sexual harassment and gender bias are not uncommon. BUT my career choice was just that…a choice. Unlike skin tone or appearance I could walk away from my job if I chose to and leave those issues behind. I am wondering where we go from here? If I’ve had the discussions around the dinner table and among friends and on my facebook page and I am still so saddened and disheartened by all I see on the news about bigotry and hatred. What does it take to make sure the voice of love and grace and acceptance of ALL of God’s children is the loudest voice out there? I feel at a loss for what to do next.
Hi! This is my first time speaking up. The murders in Charleston were my wake up call to get involved. And then you posted over at Momastery and I decided to follow you, and read your writings.
You speak a lot of hard truths and I’m glad that I found you. Thanks for putting yourself out there.
I want you to to know that my church had that discussion and will keep having it. We (mostly white) are trying to check our privilege and ask how we can help. We are asking the people in our own congregation to share their experiences. I am ashamed that I have been at my church with these families for years and never known that they worry when their sweet, loving, amazing sons walk home at night because they are followed by the police. It makes me ill.
I’m a little scared and a lot uncomfortable, but I think that is just fine. I don’t know what to do exactly but I’m going to start by showing up and asking how I can help.