Last week, I wrote about racism that I hope put some definitions into concrete terms. Often when we identify injustice in our world, we use words filtered through our own lenses forgetting that these terms mean vastly different things to different people. However, to the winner goes the spoils — meaning, those with power get to define what is what.
And that is that.
However, for Christians we need to learn that seeing who we are through the eyes of marginalized people is a practice far too long poo-pooed. We may rush to our Bibles and justify our theologies of a racism-less society, however when we look through the lenses of our brothers and sisters with different shades of skin (or different genders, religions, philosophies, socioeconomic classes, etc), we are too often surprised that our world looks frighteningly different.
What are we to do if racism is real? And real through the eyes of those who are living it today?
White people are crying "FOUL!" from across political and religious spectrums. This hurts! This is wrong! This doesn't exist anymore! The playing field is EQUAL!
Yes, it hurts. Perhaps some of the accusations are even wrong. But rest assured that racism, in its evolving forms, is alive and well. And our playing fields are far from equal.
The first and biggest step towards racial reconciliation is silence. We need shut up. We have taken the power to define the world, define terms, define theology, define society, define etiquette, define education, define law enforcement, define who goes where and when.
We have normalized institutionalized racism so much so that it is perfectly acceptable. And when we speak out against the perfectly acceptable, we are seen as the crackpots… "leftists", "communists", "liars", "heretics", "rabble rousers", "trouble-makers", etc, etc.
Let me repeat: we have made institutionalized racism so vastly acceptable, that when we do begin to speak against injustice, we are seen as mad people.
When First Nations, Metis and Inuit people speak out about systemic racism against aboriginal people in Canada… when African-American or Hispanic or Asian communities speak out about systemic racism in the United States…
… we need to shut up and listen.
It will hurt. We will learn things we had never known before. We will bear the anger and grief of 500 years of colonization. But we are a part of this great tapestry, and we have tried to weave it all ourselves. We need to shut up and listen. We know very little of how we have shaped the oppression of others.
2. WE NEED TO DESIRE TO LISTEN.
It's one thing to shut up. It's quite another to desire to hear out what the other group has to say. Most of us say we are listening well, but really we're gathering our ammo to slam the other side to the group. We'll use research, experience, the Bible — anything — to pad our side as we sit mildly by, pretending we are actually invested in the other person's life.
Before the Right starts accusing the Left of such low blows and vice versa, let me just say that we are guilty of such childish finger-pointing. We cry "Hypocrisy!" to whatever group we think is showing it, trying to trash whoever we disagree with. There is a better way… a deeper way. Choose well.
If we are a people of love, then we will want to hear of the life of the other person or community. People of power and insecurity arm themselves. People of love humble themselves, prepared to learn that we might have been wrong all along. By desiring to listen, we show that we wish for humanity of the other group to be alive and thriving.
3. WE NEED TO LEARN OUR HISTORY
We have written and re-written history again and again. As Christians, we often stalwartly refuse to believe that systemic (embedded) and systematic (deliberate) evils dwell amongst us today because of how we have: a) lied about history, b) believed the lies about history, c) neglected to learn history from another's point of view, or d) chosen to remain ignorant about history after hearing the many realities from many people, thus leading us back to "a" — lying about history.
"Yeah, Erin, but how long will white people be the scapegoats for all this anger?!"
Once again, we have moved away from the desire to listen and put up our defenses. Again, we make the excuse that because a few people have apologized for racism, that we're all in the clear. Another repetition: 500 years of colonial power does not go away in a few decades… let alone overnight.
4. Examine Our Immediate Thoughts Vigorously
When we see youth in hoodies, what are our first thoughts? ("Hoodlum!", "Gangsta!", "Trouble!")
When we see aboriginal people in the liquor store, what are our first thoughts? ("Drunk!", "Lazy", "Free loader!")
When we see people of colour grieving over the staggering number of minority males in our prisons, what are our first thoughts? ("Violent criminals!", "They get what they deserve!", "Eye-for-an-eye!")
Instead of weeping with those who weep, we jump to our immediate thoughts about a race of people and justify our positions easily. We might have deeper and more nuanced thoughts below these first thoughts, this is true. I am speaking of what pops into our heads when we see certain groups of people who have been stigmatized. If these truly are our first thoughts, we have some deeply embedded racism seeding itself in our spirits.
5. CONFESS AND REPENT
Repentance has become a dirty word in many circles, because it has been narrowly defined as fire insurance towards God so God won't thow us into hell (another conversation for another day). To repent is to acknowledge the depth and breadth of our sin and to turn away from it towards a greater, more loving thing.
Did you catch that?
Repentance is not turning away from sin.
A half-assed journey is no journey at all.
Repentance is to turn away from the darkness towards God's light, desiring a more loving way — the way of Jesus Christ.
Yet even here, white power has defined repentance so theologically that when people of colour mourn and weep, we see no need as to why, much less accept that our own privilege is a massive part of their grief. We're afraid of being taken for a ride, for bearing sin that isn't ours, or for losing our power to write history.
To confess well, must learn history through the eyes of the hurting. To repent, we must know what we have done and continue to do — in our laws, in our schools, in our prisons, in our brothels, in our homes, in our places of business. Everywhere.
6. LEARN TO BE LOVED.
You heard me.
Learn to be loved.
We think we've got this one in the bag.
When we are loved by our family and friends, that's easy love. Needed, but easy.
When someone of long-standing racial oppression looks us in the eye, declares parts of history that we have carefully hidden, shows us his/her scars… pain… grief… anger… even hatred… and then still embraces us in love and forgiveness (whether or not we see the need to be forgiven), THEN we experience a love so divine, so transformative that we are broken into new creatures.
This is the love of Jesus: the powerless standing up to the powerful and being embraced.
This kind of love is humbling… choking… hard… and will alter society on levels we have not encountered yet. But we must learn to embrace this love…
… and embrace back…
… while still holding our tongues.
Our time to speak again will come. Certainly I am not saying that we cannot engage in meaningful dialogue with people of colour. Rather I am suggesting that our declarations of truth and definition need to grow cold and silent. This is not our time now.
Now is our time of learning, confessing, and repenting.
Will we embrace it?
Will we embrace our family?