I spent last weekend watching the protests happening in various cities throughout our country. I couldn’t help but ask myself, “As a white Christian, how should I respond to this?”
I wasn’t sure. But luckily for me, there was no shortage of opinions on social media.
As I scrolled through news feeds, I began to see a recurring theme among some of my white brothers and sisters. I saw the word “but” appear over and over.
“But” is a small but powerful word. When you use it in a sentence, it has the power to diminish what came before it. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the context. It can leave you feeling hopeful or dismissed.
Think about this sentence:
You have cancer, but we have an effective cure.
The news of cancer is devastating. But then “but” gives us a new hope. It says that cancer doesn’t have the final word. Moving forward, the cure is what we set our eyes on.
“But” can also be used to dismiss whatever came before it.
I love you, but I’m breaking up with you.
When you go to bed tonight, which part of that statement is going to keep you awake?
“I’m breaking up with you” completely obliterates the truth of “I love you.” In fact, the “I love you” part sounds patronizing when a “but” comes after it.
This week, I saw a lot of posts on social media like this:
Racism is wrong, but so is looting.
I’m all for protests, but not the way they’re going about it. (I saw this verbiage used long before any rioting or looting ever took place, by the way.)
As I read the responses to these posts, I realized how dismissive they are to Black people. When you add a “but” to “Racism is wrong,” it diminishes it. It erases the words, whether you meant to or not.
Sometimes white Christians feel the need to share their opinion about everything. I know because I’m one of them. We can be so obnoxious.
We always have to add in our two cents on every subject. We have to “enlighten” people because we feel like we’re speaking on behalf of God. But we’re not. We don’t have the market cornered on God’s word.
As a white Christian, how should I respond to what’s happening in our country?
Maybe the question is part of the problem. Instead of posting a knee-jerk response, perhaps I need to step back and listen. That’s part of a Christian’s job, after all. We should be quick to listen to people in pain.
The problem is, we want others to be quick to listen to us. I want you to be quick to listen to me because I got everything all figured out.
We are so good at rationalizing our own sins while picking apart the sins of others. The street corner megaphone has been replaced by the social media comment box.
This past week has taught me I know nothing.
Here’s the thing: I want to take action. I want to respond. I know talk is cheap without action backing it up. As a writer, I have felt that tension this week. I haven’t been able to find many words. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe I need this space to listen and think.
This week, I’ve been trying to listen. I admit I haven’t always done that when it comes to the issue of race. I want to do better. At the end of this article, I’ll share some resources I’ve committed to learning from. If you’re white, I’d love it if you joined me.
Also this week, I’ve been rethinking a lot of things. The things I’ve been taught in school about how Black people were once slaves, but are now free. How the civil rights era was a success, and now everything’s peachy.
I’ve been thinking about my own life and how I’ve contributed to racism. I’ve never thought of myself as a “racist.” I always thought there were two boxes. You’re either racist or non-racist. Check one. But that’s such a simplistic view. Nothing else in life works this way. I’m learning racism takes on many different forms.
I’ve laughed at racists jokes. I’ve bought into racial stereotypes, and have contributed to a racist system. I’ve been blind to systemic inequalities in my own city. I have benefitted from a system that gives a blatant advantage to white people.
I bought into the “just work hard” narrative I was taught growing up. I believed we all had equal access to the same opportunities, and just had to “work hard” to achieve our dreams. I didn’t realize Black communities were targeted and intentionally set up to fail.
As I think about my own biases and failures, I feel grieved. I want God to reveal more of them to me. I am sorry for my ignorance and complacency. I don’t want to be simply “not racist.” I want to move toward becoming anti-racist, and that will take work. I can even see some ways I’ve messed up this week, by putting a burden on my Black friends to teach me, when that’s not their job.
So how dare I “but” my Black brothers and sisters right now. I don’t want my comments to diminish their pain. I don’t know everything and am sick of pretending I do.
I have so many logs in my eye. Help me see clearer, Jesus. I’m so ignorant.
I want to speak up and take action. All white Christians need to respond to what is happening in our country. But not with a “know-it-all” attitude. Not with dismissing the pain of people. We don’t need to enlighten anyone. No. We need to be enlightened.
My grandma had a saying whenever one of my sisters or I started acting up. (She also used it on my dad when he started annoying her.) She would say, “You know, you have a lot to learn.”
Maybe that should become the mantra of every white Christian for a while. “You know, we have a lot to learn.”
I want to do better. I have a lot to learn.
Sometimes the best way for us to respond is to shut up and listen for a change.
Here are some resources I’m going to utilize as I commit to learning more. These are only a start.
The Netflix documentary 13th was helpful in seeing how the amount of Black people incarcerated isn’t a coincidence. It came out four years ago, and I’m sorry I haven’t watched it sooner. America freed slaves with the 13th Amendment and came up with a loophole at the same time with the prison system.
So many great books have been recommended to me on the topic of race. I’m going to start with White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo and Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi. (Amazon links are not affiliate links.)
NPR’s Code Switch is a great podcast that has conversations about race.
I’ve been actively searching out Black voices to learn from. Here are a few I’ve been learning from this week:
Be The Bridge Facebook Group (I love the setup of this group because it takes away the temptation to give a knee-jerk response. You need to stay silent for three months before making a post, and also complete learning units.)
Lastly, Miyah Byrd wrote this excellent piece about 47 ways we can help:
47 Very Specific Answers to ‘What Can I Do to Help?
There’s a role for everyone in this fight
It includes organizations we can donate to that are actively fighting racism.