I had a great conversation with a brother in Christ, named Mark, a year ago who genuinely wanted to know why racism is still such a big deal to minorities. His thought was that it was nearing 2020 and racism was not like it was in the '50s and '60s. In effect, he equated racism that minorities experience today to the acts of namecalling or picking on them according to their race. Mark was a fairly young man and I could understand how not taking the time to research our country's history beyond his high school's textbooks or the daily new cycle could impact his worldview.
I’m actually quite grateful for people who come into a conversation on tough topics with a genuine willingness to listen, ask a question, and grow. So often I have witnessed people of the majority culture who ask these questions get experience rejection. And in many cases, I can understand why.
Each minority you meet has different life experience and depending on their life circumstances they could feel compelled to reject requests just as often as others may wish to engage. And the way that we respond, as minorities, could vary greatly. You see, there is no telling what traumas we have had to overcome in order to simply survive. And in surviving all that has been thrown at us, many not have the desire to answer this question.
At an earlier time in my life, I was that person. The guy who didn't want to deal with questions from people who would never understand what it was like to be dumped by a girlfriend because her parents didn't know I "wasn't White." Or called racial slurs anytime I arrived in the wrong part of town (or by hundreds when on a basketball court).
However, I am no longer that young man. I could have easily told Matt that I've had this conversation hundreds of times and went back to sipping my dairy-free hot choco, but I didn't. The truth is that I knew that God had called me to take advantage of every opportunity to build bridges, educate, and inspire people to act.
"Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another." ~ Ephesians 4:25
Instead of going into a long history lesson about our country, in order to explain the deep impacts of institutional racism, I decided to take the approach that Jesus utilized on so many occasions. Jesus was a skilled storyteller who could really set the stage for his listeners. It's amazing how often setting the scene with a story can break the tension and help foster deeper conversation.
I told Mark, “Imagine if the people who used to call you names to your face, as a person of color, suddenly went silent and there was no way to tell who didn’t have your best interests at heart. Imagine if government officials like Pamela Taylor, or one of the 72 police officers recently pulled from the streets of Philadelphia had just remained silent in their racism and carried out their efforts to oppress and limit opportunities for people of color simply because of the color of their skin, their country of origin, their religion, or their accent.
What if they had stayed silent and simply continued to negatively impact lives with their racial bias by not attending to their educational needs as a teacher, or overlooking them for jobs that they were qualified for as an employer, or by providing inadequate medical care as a doctor? Now take the hundreds of examples you see of these racial injustices you see on TV or scroll past on social media and multiply them tenfold to account for the many cases of racial injustice that go unseen. Could you imagine how it could impact the health, rights, or education of people of color? Their families?”
Unlike many that I have had this type of conversation with, Mark sat with what he just heard instead of firing off his next question. You could see that he was genuinely wrestling with the potential impacts of racism with every furrow of his brown, occasional sigh, and adjustment in his seat.
After a few minutes of silence, Mark said one of the best phrases one can hear when dealing with the really tough dialogues in life….”I’ve never thought of it like that.”
Racism has never been simply about “offense” or being called a name. It is about perceived power by a majority over a minority powered by intimidation and the infinite threats that come from the insecure.
I cannot measure how happy it makes me that Mark continues to reach out with the difficult questions that come from facing the sins of his fathers and mothers. By taking an active role in diversity initiatives in his community and speaking up in social situations, he has begun to take positive steps in the right direction that will have an impact on those around him.
Breakthroughs like this come through an honest exchange of ideas, respect for humanity, and a genuine desire to learn, in the spirit of Christ. And if breakthroughs are the true desire of the Church and its people then they must be the catalysts for the original sin of this country.