Like no other time in history, you have the opportunity to shape a future without racism. To fight this disease that threatens the lives and dignity of so many of our sisters and brothers, you must become the courageous leader God has gifted you to be. Antiracist work is hard and exhausting, but you have been created to lead for such a time as this. As a leader, you have the opportunity to literally change the world.
Our country, our communities, our churches need leaders who are willing to help us face the reality of systemic racism that is rooted in the soul and fabric of our culture. For the first time in my life, people are waking up and recognizing that we know better. The question is, will we do better?
Will We Do Better?
Jane Elliot, a third-grade teacher from Iowa, who on the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, felt compelled to teach her students about discrimination. She told the children that brown-eyed people were superior to blue-eyed people. She watched as the students turned on each other. Then, the next day, she reversed the script. The exercise highlighted the arbitrary and irrational basis of prejudice, an issue that we, in the United States, continue to grapple with more than 50 years later.
Since that day, Elliot has worked to fight racist ideas, challenged textbooks that teach false or incomplete history, and has emphasized the common ancestry of all human beings that makes us members of the same race, the human race.
This is what she says,
“Human beings created racism. Anything you create you can destroy. We can destroy racism.”-Jane Elliot
Like no other time in our history, we have the opportunity to address and put an end to the evil of racism. The question is, “Will we?”
An Invitation to Be Honest With Yourself
If you are ready and willing to put an end to racism, then join me in getting a clearer understanding of racism and our participation in and benefit from it. The following is for you and your reflection. You need to be honest with your thoughts and own your feelings. Your reflection is a necessary step in gaining a clear understanding of how your life has been shaped by racist ideas and policies. This is for you and you only. All I ask is that you be honest with yourself.
Unapologetically admit that you are ignorant and complicit in the racist ideas, power and policies of our culture and country.
Racist ideas make people of color think less of themselves, which makes them more vulnerable to racist ideas. Racist ideas make White people think more of themselves, which makes racist ideas more attractive.
This kind of racism has us seeing people as the problem. To protect ourselves and our beliefs, we design and participate in policies that elevate White people and degrade Black people. Although it is true that “All Lives Matter,” it is in our uninformed dehumanizing of Black men and women that we deflect and redirect our awareness regarding “Black Lives Matter.”
We are complicit when we dismiss violent crimes as “black on black” crime without addressing the systems that give birth to such crimes.
It is easier to blame people than it is to design systems.
It is easier to reject people than it is to actively develop policies that help people out of poverty or homelessness.
It is easier to offer “thoughts and prayers” than it is to tackle the root causes of drug addiction, unemployment, and violent crime.
It is easier to feel blessed than it is to provide the blessing of health care and human development.
Of course, the systems in place to address such issues are designed to get the results they are getting. Are you aware that you participate in such systems?
Now, if you are feeling offended by what I have written, then multiply that feeling by 400+ years of hatred and dehumanizing treatment and you might begin to feel a little of the pain our Black sisters and brothers continually experience. Don’t you agree that it is time to put an end to racist ideas and policies?
Learn what it means to benefit from “white privilege.”
Most people I know are offended by the term “white privilege.” It is the word “privilege” that gets in the way. Privilege is usually associated with affluence. Although affluence might be part of it, the privilege refers to being protected by laws, benefiting from systems, having an advantage, which means you don’t have to look over your shoulder.
Missy Elliot writes, “Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it is not a problem to you personally.”
I think of it this way. I don’t worry about being stopped, questioned, or shot while jogging through the neighborhoods around my house. I have never worried for my life when I have been stopped for a traffic violation. The one time I unknowingly used a counterfeit $10 bill, I did not worry about being arrested, handcuffed, or even questioned by police. It never crossed my mind to have the “talk” with my son regarding being stopped and questioned by police for any reason.
I have never had anything other than a credit check when buying a car or a house. Since I was 20 years old, I have had health care, a pension to look forward to, and a salary to meet my needs. I grew up with both parents present in my life while living in the same house. As a teenager, I worked to have my own spending money and never thought I needed to give money to my mother, grandmother, or my aunt to pay monthly bills. I never questioned whether I should or could get a quality college education.
I did relatively little to bring about what I listed above. I was born into a system, participated in a system, and benefitted from a system that was designed for my advantage. I don’t feel guilty about it, but I now understand that I have been complicit in my participation in a system that has elevated White people and degraded Black people. Are you aware that you have benefitted from such systems?
Confront your racism and become an antiracist.
When we are confronted with our racist ideas or with racist policies, we usually deny that we are racist. Denial is the heartbeat of racism. Now, this might not be how it works with you, but for most of us it works this way. Even when we point out racist ideas or identify racist systems, we usually deny that we perpetuate such ideas or participate in such systems. We become defensive and deflect or redirect.
Part of our racism is revealed in our understanding of the word “racist” as a derogatory term. The truth is the word “racist” is a descriptive term. When we see it as a derogatory term we seek to protect ourselves by being neural. So we self-identity as “not racist.” When it comes to racism, there is no neutral ground. Racist is a descriptive term. If you are not antiracist, then you are racist.
Racism is so interwoven into the fabric of our lives we have been taught not to see color. The problem of not seeing color is that we don’t see the discrimination or the injustace of our systems. Because we aren’t having a problem with things the way things are, we don’t understand why others are having problems. So we justify ourselves by saying “they bring it on themselves.”
Recognize Racism in Daily Life
Racism is so interwoven into the fabric of our lives, we become timid and afraid to even use the word racism. I recently read a post on social media where the person referred to racism as the “r” word. The comment was something like this: “The “r” word is a problem…How about teaching the words of Jesus?”
One response to the post was: “This comment is exactly why we need to hear the r word from our pulpits, study it together, and prepare to take action. Jesus commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves. We cannot do that if we continue to be part of the problem by not even being open to studying how racism applies to us.”
The response continued, “I believe pastors of predominantly white churches are at the fork in the road. Will they lead our congregations toward a path of action, or will they enable us to continue to believe the r word has nothing to do with us or Jesus’ commandment to love? What an opportunity for all of us.”
Can You Name Racism?
Friends, if you can’t name it, then you don’t see it. And if you don’t see it, then you are part of the problem. Are you able to see that you can help put and end to racism?
My point is not to shame you, make you feel guilty, make you angry, or put you on the defensive. My point is, until we face the reality of our participation in racist ideas and policies we will not take action to change them.
We are way past the time to educate ourselves and to address the complex, emotional, and significant evil of racism. It is time to step up and lead like you have never had to lead before. The time is right, the opportunity is now, for open conversation, education, and transformation. As a leader, you have the responsibility to do the hard work of questioning our history of racism and to name the reality and ramifications of our sin. You have the opportunity to engage people in open conversation. The very conversations that once were held behind closed doors are now public conversations.
I know that ultimately the transformation needed in our lives, in our country, and in our churches will come when we truly live as God created us to live. I believe that comes through God’s love in Jesus Christ. I am committed to that transformation.
But let me be clear. I’m not talking about a shallow, “What the world needs now is love sweet love.” That is a good song, but it is not about putting an end to racism. I am talking about love and justice. What the world needs now is people who treat one another justly, as human beings, as God’s beloved children. Until we love our neighbors as ourselves, we will not have justice. And, until we work for restorative justice, bathed in God’s mercy and grace, we will not love our neighbors as ourselves. To have a loving society we need a just society.
Take the Next Step
I am grateful that you have come this far with me on this journey. Because you are still with me means you are ready to put an end to racism. There is more to come in future blogs, but here is what you can do now:
- Pray – Stay connected to God and grounded in who God has created you to be and who has created the people around you to be. We are all God’s beloved children.
- Read – Racists are not stupid. Racists are ignorant. I posted a list of resources in the blog titled, “Overcoming Racism.” You might start there. There are more than enough resources. In fact, here are a few more.
- How to Be an AntiRacist by Ibram X. Kendi.
- Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson
- The Heart of Racial Justice: How Soul Change Leads to Social Change, Brenda Salter McNeil and Rick Richardson
- Church Enslaved: A Spirituality for Racial Reconciliation, Tony Campolo and Michael Battle
- The Color of Man, by Robert Cohen – Check your local library!
- The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz
- I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
- Commit – Engage in a conversation with a Black man or woman. Develop a relationship of trust. Be honest with yourself and with them. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Ask him or her to help you become an antiracist.
- Join a group conversation about racism and antiracism. Click here to participate.
It is past time to get started. Let’s take another step toward changing the world by putting an end to racism.