We need a better vision of racial diversity. Everyone needs this better vision, but I’m writing to white people today. White people tend to go to the extremes of white superiority or white guilt instead of embracing all races, including our own. We can do better. We need to do better.
Racism is alive and well
I wish I could say that “on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners” are sitting down together regularly “at the table of brotherhood.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed it would be so. I wish we lived in a country in which people are not “judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” We have made progress. In many places and with many individuals, it is so much better. At times, it feels like we are beginning to see a world that values racial diversity.
And then something like Charlottsville happens. White supremacists rallied, opposition arose, and a mad man drove his car through a crowd killing a young woman. You can almost hear sound of the calendar rolling back decades of racial progress. And we realize once again that racism is alive and well.
It is personal before it is political
My main interest is not in what government workers or politicians do (or stop doing) to combat racism, create a more just world through legislation, or ensure laws are more evenly enforced. Important as that is, none of that will happen without addressing the disposition of the heart. Principles of the heart. My interest is in principles that shape how we see others and only then work their way out into behaviors, relationships, laws, and law enforcement.
We have a better vision
God has already given us a beautiful vision about race. If we get the vision right, everything else will follow. It must start there.
It was God’s plan to make us racially diverse. God chose to make us beautifully diverse. A perspective that keeps that choice of God in mind has no room for demeaning or dehumanizing others for the color of their skin. Children understand this. Most six year olds understand naturally what many 46 year olds don’t: see the person, not the skin. You actually have to be taught racism.
Kingdom theology and racial diversity
Theologian John Bright wrote that Jesus never paused to define the phrase “kingdom of God,” yet the phase “lay within the vocabulary of every Jew.” The phrase describes the notion of a people of God called to live under the rule of God. The idea of the kingdom of God begins in the Old Testament with God delivering Jewish people to serve and obey as God’s chosen people. In the New Testament, Jesus is the fulfillment of all the hope of Israel and the one who came to set up the kingdom of God on earth. The central message of Jesus was the kingdom of God. It has “come near” Jesus said as a summary of his ministry (Mark 1:15).
When you understand faith through a “kingdom” lens, it creates value in human racial diversity without preferences for one race over another. Thoughts of racial superiority by any person or group are not part of the vision; they are a distortion of it. Again, John Bright: “whatever divisions exist in society, and whatever may be the right solution of them, within the body of Christ such divisions have no relevancy whatever. . . . If we are in Christ, we do not need to be made one; we are one.”
White is not superior
If that is true, how can one group with one skin color look at another with anything but love, connection, and sense of unity? How can some white people feel superior to those of other skin colors? And how can you possibly claim to follow Jesus and feel that way? Answer: you can’t without distorting kingdom theology.
White is not superior. White is one of the many beautiful skin colors of the children of God. Sadly, some refuse to see that.
Let’s call it what it is
Charlottesville is a good example to frame the issue. Hatred was on display for the world to see by those who elevate white skin color over others. The ideology underlying what happened is flawed.
I’ve heard the terms. Alt-right, white identity, white supremacy, white nationalism. We tend to lump them into one meaning, but they are not the same. Some are more politically-oriented than others, but they are all equally flawed and unbiblical.
As one pastor put it, in the case of Charlottesville, “This is racism. This is domestic terrorism. This is religious extremism. This is bigotry. It is blind hatred of the most vile kind. It doesn’t represent America. It doesn’t represent Jesus. It doesn’t speak for the majority of white Americans. It’s a cancerous, terrible, putrid sickness that represents the absolute worst of who we are.”
What to do
Since it is groups of whites making the news with their flawed and unbiblical ideology, it is important for the rest of the white people to take a stand on this issue. Tolerance is a problem. What we tolerate, we accept. What we accept, we encourage. What we encourage, we live. We can do better. What follows is a start for what we can do.
I know most people are not confrontational, but silence here is worse. Silence emboldens. This is the time for us to declare that the voice of racists will not win the day. Get vocal. When someone says something undermining God’s work of racial diversity, say something. When someone tells a racial joke, “don’t tell me racial jokes anymore” is fair. When someone is bashing the reactions of people of color to a news event, let your first words be ones of support. Most white people have no idea what it is like. I’ve listened to my friends of color describe living through mistreatment, condescending words, and outright violence.
Do your homework and find a group you want to support that is doing good things to live the better vision. You may choose a politically-minded group seeking to change. Or maybe you want to support a faith-based group training leaders. You could also get involved in organizations at school or work that support racial diversity. It may be that you want to build genuine friendships and connections with another individual or family. Do it. Have dinner at home, go to sporting events, get coffee, or just hang out with that person or family.
Too often we rely on a single news source to help us understand the issues. I scroll through at least four, usually six different news sources to read reporting on the exact same event. I feel better informed that way. Narrow-mindedness is all over the political spectrum these days. We can do better. Listen to contrasting voices on issues of race. Read books. Have you read Waking Up White by Debby Irving yet? Listen to podcasts. Go to lectures. Study the issues.
Not there yet
On October 8, 1963, singer Sam Cooke pulled into a Holiday Inn in Shreveport, Louisiana, to get a room for him and his family. When they saw he was an African American man, they told him there were no vacancies. Sam Cooke was angry, let them know it, and soon after the police arrested him for disturbing the peace. African Americans were outraged. In response, Sam Cooke wrote the haunting and beautiful song, A Change Is Gonna Come, with the great line, “It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change gonna come.”
In 2018, 55 years later, we’re still not there. It is still a long time coming, but I know “a change gonna come.” Let that change begin with you.
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