Laying Down Racism, Let it Begin With Me

BLM
(Picture painted by my mother, April Ryan. Find more of her art here.)

 

Some people are justice junkies, and I am one of them. You know if you are a “justice junkie” because you were pretty much born that way. Since childhood, I have had a keen awareness of things that are fair and things that are not fair, and I have never been afraid to speak out about it.

So, when I began blogging over one year ago, the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag immediately piqued my interest. Like many white folks, I was ignorant and I did not understand the importance of respecting this hashtag exactly as it is. Like many others, my first response was, “Of course black lives matter, all lives matter.”

If you too are struggling to understand why it’s not right to say “all lives matter” in response to “black lives matter,” please read this post I wrote on Facebook after the unjust murder of Alton Sterling.

Friends, we know that all lives matter, but would we go to a walk for cancer and start shouting, “diabetes matters as much as cancer!”? Of course not! Diabetes patients matter as much as cancer patients, but at certain times, we focus on one over the other. Right now, our nation is focused on the unjust death of many black people. Scripture says to mourn with those who mourn. Let’s be “others focused” in this tragedy.

It didn’t take me long to stop saying “all lives matter,” and get behind the “Black Lives Matter” movement, because I am a person that will always stand behind what I believe is right and just in the eyes of God. But I have realized that getting behind the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag is not enough.

It is easy for us “justice junkies” to get behind a hashtag or movement that seems cool and is attractive to our “justice junkie” hearts. But, Facebook posts and tweets are not enough. They are powerful, but they are not enough to change a broken system.

We have to listen to the stories of black people, and in order to listen to these stories, we have to stop being afraid of black people. If we white people are honest with ourselves, we will probably find that we all have racist thoughts against black people. Prejudiced attitudes against people of color are passed down from generation to generation.

Many white Christian parents, teachers, and authorities teach their children to love black people – but also, to fear black people. “You don’t want to go down that street, sweetie.” “Never walk through that neighborhood, hun.”

Many white Christians have been taught, since childhood, that blacks and whites are equal in human worth, but black people are dangerous. Therefore, many white children received a mixed message from their parents, teachers, peers, and community leaders, and we are now seeing what happens when we do not truly understand that there is no fear in true love.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (1 John 4:18).

This country was built on racism; we are naive to say that we don’t have a racist bone in our bodies. Likewise, anyone who says that black people today have nothing to be upset about is also naive.

I can hear it now, “but we have a black president.” Sure, having a black president helps to progress black people as a whole, but Barack Obama is only one black man, and he is the exception. It is not the “exception” that many are worried about; it’s the young black man down the street that many are worried about.

Black people have every right to speak out and to protest peacefully, as their ancestors suffered under the hands of our ancestors, and they are suffering injustice today.  Generations of oppression have consequences, and it seems the Spirit of God is lifting the veil and exposing our hearts of fear.

“I love you, but I am afraid of you” is no longer an option if we are going to be obedient to the biblical call of true godly love.

And so, I asked the Spirit to let it begin with me.

I got in my car and drove 15 miles down the road into the town that I grew up in. I went to school with about 40% black kids and about 60% white kids. There seemed to be peace between the black kids and white kids in my school district.

We were used to each other, but I now realize that the peace was “false peace.” The racist dirt was there, it was simply under the carpet, and no one dared to expose it. For the most part, black kids hung out with black kids, and white kids hung out with white kids.

We didn’t have hard conversation, because we were too afraid that we would say something wrong and make someone mad.

When I entered my hometown, I sensed the Spirit telling me to drive through “black neighborhoods” in my old convertible, totally exposed and vulnerable. For me, this was an act of choosing faith over fear. As I drove past the old, dingy, and beat up homes, I could not help but think about the Victorian mansion that I grew up in, less than 5 minutes away.

My parents were not wealthy, but I never experienced anything even close to poverty (this is not to imply that all people of color live in poverty). All of a sudden, the injustice of it all became so clear. Many black people are not given a fair chance to start with, and now we are telling them, “Just go to college,” “Just don’t resist the police,” and “Just be respectful.”

We tell them, “do more and be more,” but we refuse to listen to their stories, their struggles, their complaints, their oppression, and their reasoning. As I drove through the “black neighborhood,” my eyes met the eyes of a large black man standing in his yard.

Normally, I would keep my eyes on the road, and ignore this man out of fear of him thinking I wanted his attention, but I sensed the Spirit telling me to wave and smile at him. He seemed surprised at first, but immediately waved and smiled back. In that moment, tears filled my eyes. The Spirit had exposed the fear in my heart and now I know that racism exists in me.

I believe that it is time that we, as white Christians, face our fears of black people and our fears of being rejected by white people for standing up for black people. We won’t say things right, but we will learn. We will offend, but we will learn. We will want to push back on people calling us out for things we say from a privileged perspective, but we will learn.

Let’s get honest, and search our own hearts. Is there prejudice towards black people hiding in the darker places of our hearts? Are we using the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag without really doing anything to reach out to black people in everyday life? Now is the time to build bridges, let go of fear, invite black people into our homes, and go into black people’s homes if invited.

I have a long way to go, myself. Blogging or posting on social media about black lives mattering is not enough. Driving through black neighborhoods and waving and smiling at black people is also not enough.

If we want to help uproot the systemic injustice and sin that is costing black people (and white people) their lives, we must get honest with ourselves, let go of fear, lay down all prejudice at the foot of the Cross, pray for spirit-led empathy, stand for what is right no matter the cost, and be intentional about building meaningful relationships with our black brothers and sisters.

Let it begin with me.

***

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19 Comments

  • If I could give you 2,000 thumbs up at once, I would! This has been so difficult to explain to people. I’ve been trying to get people to understand! God bless your blog and you!

  • Very good! I can’t help but think of Aunt Jeannie’s ministry in the heart of the neighborhood you referred to.

  • Thanks for having “the courage of your convictions” and the integrity to publish this post. Your analysis is right on. As a white male who went to school in the south for 5 years pre desegregation, it’s taken me a lifetime to finally realize that America is indeed a racist country.

  • Thank you for having the courage to write about your own that the hidden “racism”. Acknowledgement is the very beginning.

  • Many of the white people I know would need first to get rid of the prejudice they feel toward other white people that are different from them (socioeconomic, religious belief, political views, etc) before they could even start to try to overcome other prejudice. Just because you share a skin color doesn’t mean you don’t have misconceptions about others.

  • I confess when I saw the title ‘let it begin with me’ I thought this would be a bit cheesy, bumper-sticker-y and neat. As a black woman I recognise I also have some work to do not to be dismissive of such titles. Your brave, honest words corrected my impression. As human beings we are all prone to prejudice and assumptions based on ignorance. The wounds of the black diaspora are too deep to be healed by a hashtag, but actions like yours, however small, show a willingness at least to acknowledge that the wounds are there, real and ongoing. Will you go back to that neighbourhood?

    • Thank you, Andrea.

      Yes, I will. I am praying about starting a Bible study in the projects for women. It will be for women of all colors, who have been handed tough cards in life.

  • Thanks for your willingness to be honest and for putting your finger on the deep issue in the relationship that I as a white face with blacks. Growing up as a Christian in the Deep South was a challenge that God has continued to make me face. I loved those who I knew, but there was –and still is –fear that I want to be free from. I’m asking the Lord to work in me to will and to do His good pleasure

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