So, Are We Going to Talk About This?
+ "How to Fight Racism"
“Silence feels safer, but in the long run, I know that it is not. . . . As a society, we pay a price for our silence.”
– Beverly Daniel Tatum
Do You Talk?
If you keep up with current events, you know the storming of the U.S. Capitol last week has overtaken a lot of other news (including over 375,000 covid deaths in the United States).
Should we keep talking about it with each other? Should we contain our conversations to just the people in “our” group? Do we let it go altogether?
Everybody has an opinion on the right thing to do.
Maybe you don’t make a connection between the events that unfolded last Wednesday in Washington, D.C., and racial injustice.
Maybe the right thing for you is to be quiet about it. If so, do that. That’s between you and God.
But for me? I need to keep a conversation going. About white supremacy. About inequity. About racial injustice. That’s something I decide with God myself.
Because this is what happened to me . . .
My White Privilege
I shared a quote on social media last Thursday by Ibram X. Kendi about the evidence of white supremacy in last week’s events at the Capitol.
But a dear Christian woman that I respect and love sent me a message. She told me I was being divisive by sharing the quote.
I did a heart-check. Was I being divisive? I didn’t think so. I was shining a light on racial injustice.
Now my feelings were hurt.
And that’s when I realized: This is my white privilege. What a perfect example.
Every time a white person calls me out for pointing out white privilege, my feelings are temporarily hurt. BUT . . . not my body. Not my income. Not my housing. Not my education. Not my healthcare. Not my job. Not my family.
ONLY my feelings. That’s all.
This is white privilege.
And this is why I can’t stay silent.
Racism Is What’s Divisive
“A lot of people say that talking about racism is divisive, to which I say, no, racism is divisive.”
– Jemar Tisby
The real division isn’t caused by bringing up uncomfortable topics like white privilege.
The real division is caused by our lack of inaction to change systemic racism which results in real harm to Black people. That is the serious stuff.
And can we change it if we refuse to bring it up?
I love Jemar Tisby’s approach to combating racism in his new book How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey toward Racial Justice (get it; read it!). Jemar writes from his Christian beliefs, but it’s helpful information for all people. His message is practical. His words are clear.
Watch Jemar Tisby talk about his book here.
The ARC of Racial Justice
In How to Fight Racism, Jemar shares this head-heart-hands framework he created: The ARC of Racial Justice.
This is the “head” stuff. Educate yourself. Get the knowledge and information you need to assess what’s really happening. Get accurate data so you’ll know what to do next. Explore your own racial identity. Jemar suggests writing your own racial autobiography.
Study the history of racism and the church. A great place to start is Jemar’s first book, The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism.
Even though it makes us uncomfortable, Jemar says, “Christianity must be part of the conversation about racial justice because, in the context of the United States, white Christians often have been the ones responsible for racial injustice.”
Because, Jemar says, “Christianity has within it the moral and spiritual resources to rebel against racism and white supremacy.”
We need to be aware of how the church can cause harm as well as how the church can create healing.
Let your “heart” be touched. Having authentic relationships with people who are different than us motivates us to combat racism.
And remembering that all of God’s children are made in his image helps our hearts continue to grow, even when things gets sticky.
Don’t stop with this common refrain: “I have Black friends.”
- But how well are we listening to our friends’ experiences?
- Do we believe them when they say they’ve encountered racism?
- Do we even have the conversations?
I’ve messed up many times. I’ve said stupid things. Sometimes I’m aware of it as soon as the words come out. It’s humbling. Many more times, I’m likely still clueless about my ignorant comments. I’m grateful that my friends have been kind about it. I have a lot to learn from them about being gracious.
This is the “hands” section. This is where Jemar answers the most frequent question he gets about fighting racism: “What do we do?” Knowing and feeling are important. But doing is crucial. Jemar answers with lots of practical advice, including deconstructing laws that unfairly affect people of different races.
This is the hardest section for me. I often feel too small and too powerless to make a difference. But that’s not true. No one person can change the whole system. But we each can do something.
I just need to do my something. Every step taken in the right direction is one step closer to reaching equity.
Seek Unity Through Discussion
So do we keep talking about it—all the ways racial injustice happens in our society—and keep doing things to change it?
For me, the answer is yes. It’s how we create unity.
Here is a great analogy from Jemar talking about rain. You can also hear it on his series of mini-podcasts on “Pass the Mic.”
“I once heard someone put it this way, that when you say to someone that talking about racism is causing division, it’s like telling a person who says it’s raining that they caused the rain. They didn’t cause the rain; they’re just describing the situation.
When we talk about race and racism we didn’t create the division. We’re talking about the division. We’re describing it. And only by talking about it openly can we actually, possibly, create the environment for unity.”
So to my friend who called me out for talking about white supremacy, I agree with you here: “There is enough anger and hatred.” Exactly. We don’t want to create more.
However, I disagree that refusing to talk about it will make the anger and hatred go away. It won’t disappear if we pretend it doesn’t exist.
“Racial justice for white people is often like a light switch. You can turn it on or off whenever you feel like it.
But for people of color, racial justice is more like a smoke alarm. It always has to be on just to keep safe and avoid danger.”
– Jemar Tisby
I can’t in good conscious keep flipping the light switch off just because I can.
To truly love one another, we need to communicate.
To get past our divisions, we need to humbly unite against injustice.
And to honor God’s image in each other, we need to shine his light in the dark places.
I want to keep the light on.
Read a sample chapter here of How to Fight Racism.
My thanks to Net Galley for the
audiobook of How to Fight Racism
- My Best News Yet for 2021
- Does God Work Like GPS?
Such an eye-opening post, Lisa. I’m glad you wrote it and shared it. The ARC and tweet by Tisby sheds a lot of wisdom and light on the subject of racism and the church. It reminds me of a verse in James, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:17, ESV) Hmmm, something to think about.
Thanks for your openness, Karen. Jemar Tisby puts out lots of good material. I’ve been listening to his podcasts for a few years, so I’m glad that he’s now writing books as well. The verse in James is an excellent one that we can apply to so many situations. Glad you shared it here!
Lisa, please know that I treasure you and honestly respect your opinion. However, I don’t see what happened at the Capitol to be racially motivated. I believe it was Antifa masquerading as Trump supporters who committed this heinous act. Think of the hundreds upon hundreds of absolutely peaceful rallies that were held around the country where thousands of people, from all racial and ethnic backgrounds, came together without a smidgen of violence.
And yes, I’m open to dialogue – that is crucial and healthy – but my platform, Parler, has been shut down. I left Twitter years ago and shut down my Facebook account. If freedom of speech is taken away from one group, believe me, it won’t be long before any dissention will not be tolerated. Then where will we be as a nation?
I appreciate you, Martha. I’m thankful we can disagree with each other with grace. If you do decide to ever return to Twitter and Facebook, you can manage what you see and who you follow. I love it for following my friends and family and also for getting news from a wide variety of sources so I can find balance. That helps me avoid the hateful things, conspiracy things, etc., that can come on social media. Hopefully a year from now we’ll discover that we’re at a more peaceful place in our nation and we’ll have much of this chaos behind us. I know the fight for racial justice will need to continue on for years ahead, and I’m thankful that you and I are on the same side of wanting to see that happen. All God’s children need to be treated with dignity and respect. We can agree on that.
The words, they all go ’round and ’round,
but never cut hate’s stem,
nor pull injustice from the ground,
for it’s still us and them.
We’re now held to self-criticise,
wear hair-shirt in the public square
to gain a few approving eyes,
but this really goes nowhere
until we’re blind, and ‘they’ are, too,
to the colour of the speaker’s skin,
and when we know at last what’s true,
we finally can begin,
for some are quick and some are dead,
but from the heart we all bleed red.
It does seem that our words often do just go round and round. But somewhere along the way, I hope they find a place to stick and create change if we’ll be open to it. And in the end, always yes to this–> “from the heart we all bleed red.”
Words have a role to play (obviously, I mean, I use ’em!), but in the end, relying on words to create undertanding doesn’t break them free from our circle. We’re doing quite a bit of preaching to the choir.
We need action “by slo’ degees”, and by that I don’t mean demonstrating and marching and singing Kum-ba-ya (and I do love that song). We need to be willing to work and shop and ultimately live in ‘integrated’ neighbourhoods and communities, and to know that those already there will – at first guardedly – accept us. It will take years, but once it’s allowed to happen, it will seem normal.
Is the first step incumbent upon white people? Probably yes, but the flow has to be both ways. White enclaves have to welcome people of colour, not with condescension, but with a non-singular respect.
To some degree I can offer a case in point; our neighbourhood (which is rural) an the nearby small town are made up of white, native American, and hispanic families…and no-one notices. No-one cares, except when the hispanics are playing their rancheria music too loud, or the Baptists are playing K-LOVE at full chat.
This developed organically, and doubtless there was trouble along the way, but it WILL happen…if we let it, and don’t force it by holding those whom we considered ‘privileged’ to the fire, NOR place their ‘victims’ on a pedestal which only serves to caricaturize, and thus dehumanize.
I agree with you, Andrew…action is necessary like you’re talking about, living side by side and interacting and doing normal life things together. Thanks for sharing your neighborhood experience. I love that.
Lisa, I couldn’t agree more with everything you have written. You have examined your heart and found it to be true. We need to talk about what happened. Gently and with love. Hiding, being afraid of hurt feelings does no one any good. Yes, racism is what is divisive – not talking about it. I finally had to screw up my courage and write a letter to the editor of our newspaper last week. I was braced for some hateful comments, and maybe they will come, but so far, all of the feedback I have received has been positive.
How encouraging that you have received positive feedback from your letter to the editor, Laurie! You’ll have to keep me posted on how that turns out. At the most basic level, I think we all want the same thing: to be able to love and be loved and to worship in a safe environment with peace and freedom. People just have trouble agreeing on how we get there.
I’m glad you want to keep the light on. Shine on.
Confession – last week I typically tweet Bible verses but once I saw what was happening and saw what a policing double standard looks like, I got angry and tweeted and retweeted those images which demonstrate this nation’s divide. It doesn’t matter who started it, it matters that it happens as a response to someone not willing to concede that they lost an election (fair and square) and that those responsible for maintaining “law and order” let the rioters in. Rage tweeting serves a purpose but is not sustainable, so by Thursday I with God’s help was able to reset.
So it is a worthwhile endeavor to keep the Light on. Do your part and shine.
I keep having to do resets too. There’s so much I’d like to say. I have to balance what would be helpful versus what would make things worse. It’s hard to know where the lines are. We all have to keep praying about it and with God’s help, find ways to create change that bring our country to a more equitable place. Lord, have mercy!
Good for you in standing up and saying what you’ve said. I haven’t read much from Christian folk about racial issues so it’s really refreshing and encouraging to see your point of view and to see the resources you’ve shared. Certainly White churches have had a history of excluding Black people here in the UK, too.
And while the storming of the Capitol may not have been racially motivated as its first motivation, I think what you’re saying is that White people were able to enter easily where BLM protests and others – peaceful ones – were heavily policed. The sight of a Black man being chased by people carrying a Confederate flag within the building certainly shocked people even over here.
Keep fighting the good fight!
Thanks for the encouraging words, Liz. Things have gotten quite out of hand over here. But hopefully we can learn from what’s happening and find better ways to move forward. There’s a lot of pent-up frustration from every angle.
What a great point about your feelings and privilege. I love Jemar Tisby and need to read this book.
Jemar Tisby is an excellent writer and human being, from all I’ve seen. I love that he speaks from his Christian faith but he speaks to all people everywhere about doing the right things.
Thank you, Lisa for this post and the wealth of information here. I appreciate your thoughts on “white privilege”. I’m not sure I agree that what happened at the nation’s capitol last week was “racially motivated”. I perceive it as a political stunt, however I do agree that the fact it was a large group of “white” supporters resulted in a very different handling by law enforcement.
I think we can label anything “racist” if we want to see it that way. I’m also amused by the term “white privilege”, where do we stop the labeling? As a member of the diversity committee at my place of employment we had this discussion. Another committee member pointed out the problem with labeling and boxing things up. As an illustration she said what about “male privilege”? Few males feel threatened by sexual assault walking to their vehicle after their shift ends at 3:00 am. Or few of our male RNs deal with sexual harassment in the homes of our patients.
The point being, if we get tied up in labels and as Andrew so aptly pointed out “words that go round and round”, where do we stop? With which group? Right now tensions are high with the black lives matter group and the heinous crimes against black people, it’s easy to “see” what you want to “see”.
I was raised in a predominantly black neighborhood, attending a black high school as a white minority; my son in law is black. I travel in neighborhoods where “white” trash lives, and suffer discrimination. My son is gay, and has been attacked because of it. All lives matter. Racism is an issue of the heart, not an issue of education. Yes we can educate ourselves to more fully understand what others may experience that we do not, but don’t stop at racism then and don’t forget to bring your heart into the light, there may be more there than you think.
Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Donna. I appreciate hearing your perspective. You have such a unique background so I value your wisdom on this. I don’t necessarily like labels either; I wish there were a better way to talk about things. Hopefully one day we’ll have more adequate words to discuss these things. (Or we’ll have solved it all and won’t have to talk through it anymore! ha) Praying for clearer understanding and acceptance in the days ahead. As long as people will still communicate with each other, I have hope.
What a thought provoking post and well written. I am great at avoiding and pushing down feeling or making compromises without full healing. I know better and am getting better but have a long way to go. Thanks for giving me a push, Lisa.
Thanks, Jean. I think many of us will relate to what you’re saying. It’s hard to get all the way to full healing once we start feeling a little better and can slack off the medicine. I guess it’s like the doctors always say: take ALL the antibiotic prescription, even after you start feeling better. I’ve still got a long way to go too, friend. But I’m glad to be going in the right direction with people I respect.
So glad you are continuing to talk about your passion for this issue. I will keep talking and keep reading.
I know you will, Lauren! It’s such an important issue. May we not forget about the changes that need to be made.