Ok, White Folks, here’s how you can really help!

Heres How You Can Really Help 1

MORE IGNORANT WHITE FOLKS

It was a brutally cold, Saturday evening in January of this year; my wife and I had agreed earlier in the week that we would share our story with a group that was staying at an inner city ministry, with which we work closely. Neither of us really wanted to brave the cold or dig ourselves out of the alley again! We tried to convince ourselves we could just cancel “Its just going to be another group of ignorant upper middle class white folks coming to ask really uncomfortable questions and make very uninformed statements.”  Did we really want to fight the brutal cold and shovel our way out of our garage in West Englewood to hear that?  Was it truly worth it to hear this group, although genuinely, ask us questions like, “If it is so bad here why don’t these people just move away?”

AWKWARD DISBELIEF AND AUTHENTIC ANGER

Needless to say we trudged through that snow and cold with our two children and headed over to the ministry.  Just as we expected it was a majority white, suburban, upper middle class church group coming to “learn” from those working in the city and seeking a better understanding around issues of poverty.  They were very open and honest about their misconceptions about our neighborhood and the image that was perpetuated by the media.  They awkwardly asked us questions about poverty, inner city education, food deserts and violence in the city.  Some of which were based on such extremely ignorant biases that they made me cringe in disbelief and aroused authentic anger.  (I won’t go into these questions here, but let me just say that if you think I raise my children in a war zone where people are being brutally killed everyday and the value systems of the average resident are evil, I think you would be hard pressed to call me a responsible father.)  My wife and I shared our story of returning back to Englewood after getting married and becoming the pastor of Canaan in 2006. When I was done I opened up the floor for questions, I was pleasantly surprised by how candidly the group was able to admit they had allowed biases to form without any tangible proof or personal connection to our inner city communities.

Related: “Don’t Be So Sensitive”

SHAME, GUILT & HELPLESSNESS

What happened next was this extremely emotional moment where people felt the need to confess their feelings of shame, guilt and helplessness.  It led to the very question that I am writing this post about as well as my passion for giving an answer.  It went something like this: “Now that we’ve been made aware of this situation, how can we help?”  It was followed by statements like “there is so much to be done” and “if you could tell us one thing we could do when we leave here as a challenge what would that be?”  I often don’t have great responses to this question in the moment but I decided after this last opportunity that I would sit down and really think through some answers to this question.

IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN DO?

The great African–American evangelist Tom Skinner was once approached by a young white man after one of his sermons, he said to him “I agree with your beliefs on racial reconciliation and want to know as a white man is there anything I can do to help with the cause.“  Tom’s response was probably shocking to this young, enthusiastic, hopeful, young man because he simply said, “No, there is not.”  The young man refusing to take no for an answer replied, “Surely there must be something I can do” and Tom said to him, “Young man we appreciate your support and energy but really the best thing you can do for our movement is to go back to your churches, families, communities and friends and share the truth you have heard today.  It is the education of your own race, which will be the biggest catalyst for change in reconciling all races and bringing the kingdom value of racial unity and harmony into existence.”

5 THINGS A WHITE PERSON CAN DO TO HELP

In the spirit of Tom Skinner I share with you my top 5 things that a white person of privilege could do to help in the fight for racial unity and harmony in America.  I would also like to add that I am aware that race is not the only issue in America around which reconciliation needs to take place but if we act as if racial profiling and discrimination do not still exist we are fooling ourselves.  Not only do they still exist but they are fueled by the same sociological lies, which are at the core of every discriminatory system in our world: class, mass incarceration, sexism, ablest issues, ageism, sexual orientation, etc.  Here are a few ways that I propose the wealthy majority in our country can begin to get involved:  (Disclaimer: reconciliation is a long-term process and therefore I would encourage you to be prepared for a long-term commitment, there are no quick fixes!)

1.    GET INFORMED

It is extremely important that you do your research.  Find authors, speakers, artists, politicians and educators who are talking about these issues.  Listen carefully to their thoughts, ideas and expressions and be open and honest about your reactions.  Information is a great foundation; it does not have to be the first step, as sometimes you will be confronted with issues long before you are able to research them.  However, you must not skip this step because experience without a sociological understanding of the systems that create injustice and prejudice can lead to even worse misconceptions.

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2.    GET INSIDE

This step is also extremely important, many people want to know how they can help but have no desire to truly understand the experience of the minority in this country.  They would like to help the situation without being engaged in the process of transformation or entering into the pain or problems of the people. This approach will only lead to further disconnection and discontentment, it is only after you have experienced the systemic struggles associated with living in under resourced communities that you can really begin to understand how to help.

3.    GET IN RELATIONSHIP

Here is the key to the entire process and what I consider the missing link in the chain that will lead to the eradication of discrimination and racism.  Relationship changes everything! The only reason racism can exist is because people look at one another as objects rather than people created in the image of God.  This is all due in part to lack of relationship.  God created everything to have relationship both with him and one another. However these relationships were broken through our actions in the Garden of Eden but thankfully they were restored again through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. We not only have access to a repaired relationship with God but we now have the opportunity to repair the other broken relationships around us.  It is in these reconciled and repaired relationships that we truly understand the gifts and needs of one another.  When we are in relationship with someone and learn to love them for who they are we can no longer dismiss them as the unwanted other.

4.    GET IN PEOPLES FACE

I believe relationship is the key and central piece to this process however, for our white, privileged brothers and sisters this step is the probably the most challenging.  This is a challenge for you to now take this information you have, these experiences you have from being on the inside, the new respect and love you have from these newly formed relationships and lovingly share them with your family, friends and colleagues. You will never be able to truly understand what it is like to live as a minority in America but you will get a small microcosm of the feeling when you become the only person in the house challenging everyone’s misconceptions about prejudice and discrimination.  You become the strange one who always brings up race conversations whenever you’re around, you’ll be the weirdo who turns off the news when you see racist propaganda perpetuated about low income communities, you’ll be the one to introduce everyone to the various literature, art, politics and life lessons that informed you.  Get in their face and don’t let them ignore the truth!

Related: White privilege, and what we’re supposed to do about it

5.    GET INVOLVED

Also, I am asking that you get involved but you might be surprised by what I mean by this statement.  I have one rule to those I speak to or who come to our community, especially mission groups.  Do not come here and do anything you do not do at home.  Here is why, because coming to our community and wanting to help alleviate poverty insinuates that there is no poverty where you reside.  Coming to our community to help single mothers makes us believe that there are no single mothers in your community.  I would advise you to first look at the brokenness in your own community and engage it before you look at the brokenness in ours.   I also challenge you to be able to see the Glory of God in our community and thank God for it just as you see it in yours.  It is important we realize that both the Glory of God and the brokenness of humanity exist everywhere and in everything and that it is our responsibility to identify them and seek direction from God on how to address them both.

Lastly, I am asking that you do not forsake the redistribution of resources.  This includes the exchanging of money for there is an economic wealth gap in our country that is ridiculous.  As your views change it should affect the way you spend your money and the things in which you decide to invest.  It does not however only mean money, for just as much as money there needs to be access.  Minorities need access to networks, relationships and skills.  Exposure is key to an even playing field and allowing those who have been typically shut out of certain areas of society, open access.  Those doing inner city ministry need your support financially and through your networks.  How many of us received our first job because of some relationship either we established or we were privy to because of someone else we knew? Along with financial gifts, these structures of power need to be redistributed throughout society, especially access-giving relationships.




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About the Author

Pastor Jonathan Brooks aka Pastah J

Pastor Jonathan Brooks aka Pastah JJonathan Brooks serves as Senior Pastor at Canaan Community Church in West Englewood on the south side of Chicago. He has taught elementary education and Arts in inner city Chicago for over a decade. As a firm believer in investing in the community you grew up in, Jonathan has a deep desire to impress this virtue on the students and young people in his congregation, classroom and community. Through various partnerships, such as a new church plant in the Woodlawn community (Woodlawn Community Church) and Canaan Community Redevelopment Corporation (CCRC), their not for profit community development company. Canaan provides youth development, holistic health options, college scholarships, music lessons and continual support to families of incarcerated males living in Englewood and other Chicago communities. Under the name Amen Anointed, he has recorded four hip-hop albums with the group Out-World www.outworldhiphop.com and is currently working on his first solo project titled "Can I Get an Amen". Pastor Jay is currently enrolled at Northern Seminary, pursuing his M.Div. (Master of Divinity) in Christian Community Development where he is receiving the practical tools and ministry training he needs to turn his convictions into tangible solutions which will help change the neighborhood of Englewood for future generations. He and his wife are contributing authors to "Making Neighborhoods Whole" by John Perkins and Wayne Gordon as well as the new book "Banned Questions for Christians" by Christian Piatt. Jonathan and his wife, Micheal, have two beautiful girls Jasmine and Jade and reside in Englewood just a few blocks away from the church campus.View all posts by Pastor Jonathan Brooks aka Pastah J →

  • Phil-Rici Skei

    Great article Pastah!!

  • http://www.emilytimbol.com/ emilytimbol

    Thank you for this Jonathan (aka Pastah J)

  • Digger

    I wonder if a white author could write an article with a paragraph heading of “More Ignorant Black Folks”, without being called a racist. I also wonder if RLC would publish such an article even if it were an excellent article.

    • Geoff Ramsay

      Who cares?
      Were you deeply hurt by that?
      Was it an inaccurate description of people who were in a state of being uninformed about the subject?

      The author presents a lot to chew on, why get hung up on such a petty detail?

      • Frank

        Its hardly petty. Its a good point.

        • Geoff Ramsay

          It’s a ridiculous point!

          It distracts from the conversation in order to mute a call to action.

          If we want to participate in a productive way in any conversation, then at some point we all need to come to terms with our ignorance, and commit to either rectifying the situation (learning), or getting off the soap-box.

          • Frank

            Yes you are right. Its a shame the author distracted everyone from the real issues.

          • LilahJ

            Good job Frank & Digger! You have successfully proven why you come here. You have successfully shown that you are, in fact, here to get a reaction. I am not sure if really believe half of the rubbish you say, though Iam sure the indoctrination you have received is pretty thorough. It doesn’t seem to matter what the subject, you will post something counter to the point. Way to Christian.

            Please remember that no matter how deep you shove your fingers in your ears, or how tightly you close your eyes the world is changing around you. You will have to share power.

            It saddens me to see that you have a hard time dealing with the idea that someone not of the same ideology has something to say. I understand that you believe you are right, but to many of the people that frequent this site you fail to make your discourse sound intelligent.

            I am sure you can find many names to call me. It is difficult to respect people of your religion when you feel you need to speak for it.

            As an outsider and a member of one of the groups you don’t understand, and therefore hate (love is not telling someone over and over that theya re going to hell, love is not refusing to treat someone with respect because you don’t understand their lives, no matter what religion you subscribe to.)

            I hope that someday you find a friend in the oppressed communities and they are able to drag you out of the mire of ignorance that you so blissfully occupy.

            Love you always!

          • Frank

            I hope you feel better now.

            So where did I say anyone was going to hell? Where do I say I hated anyone?

            Its clear who lives in ignorance here.

          • 22044

            Wow. So much straw built that you’d be careful that there are no fires nearby…that could be dangerous!

    • MC

      I’m one of those ignorant white folks that was oblivious to the injustices to our minority communities in my 20s-40s. In my 50s, I am building my retirement home in a 99% AA community to live, worship, serve, and love among people made in the image of God who need respect!

    • http://www.emilytimbol.com/ emilytimbol

      Racism requires privilege. “More Ignorant Black Folks” would be racist because, if you actually read the article above, you could see how black folks are still, to this day, often the objects of oppression. If “Pastah J” had called me a “cracker” in the comments, that would be rude, but not racist, since that term has no history of oppression, or de-humanization. If I called “Pastah J” a “n-gger” in the comments that would be extremely racist, because of the history of that word, used for centuries to strip blacks of their humanity. See the difference?

      • 22044

        Emily,
        “Racism requires privilege.”
        That is crap and you know it. If you know Scripture and God’s heart so well, you are not showing it with your ignorance here.
        Since you would try to give instruction here, here’s some instruction for you: reread the Sermon on the Mount (Red Letters!) and understand how God looks at hearts, more than outward appearances.
        It’s probably a good thing that you were fired by Christianity Today and Relevant, because you’re becoming a hackneyed dime-a-dozen agitator.

        • http://www.emilytimbol.com/ emilytimbol

          Wow. Not quite so sure what I said that made you so angry, or how you could turn my comment about racism into an attack on how well I know the Bible? I was talking about systematic racism, which takes place among millions of people, not just Christians. I don’t think God’s racist, if that’s what you thought I meant? I’m super confused actually. Also, I wasn’t “fired” by CT or Relevant. I’ve never worked for any magazine, I just submit pieces, and the one CT published is the last one I submitted. I just haven’t written for Relevant in a while because the editor I worked with no longer is there and I moved onto other sites. But thanks for the reminder to submit something to them, I should do that. Maybe I’ll write about racism, from the perspective of a white person with privilege.

          • otrotierra

            Sorry to see you the target of more hate-filled sophistry, emily. But I am thankful you called 22044 out on his mean-spirited lies…it’s about time someone does.

            Jesus had nothing to do with deception, and neither do we. This is all I have to say on this matter.

          • 22044

            Mean-spirited lies.
            Funny coming from you, otrotierra – who never knew how to disagree without slandering someone. Jesus has nothing to do with that, either.

          • Traci

            Actually, if I were her, I’d be loving it. Immensely. I’m praying that God makes me more out spoken. If I were called a hackneyed dime-a-dozen agitator I’d print the post out, laminate it and hang it on my wall.

          • otrotierra

            Good point, Traci. Religious fundamentalists during Jesus’ time were outraged by Jesus and his teachings. Today, their outrage and vitriol is illustrated right here in the comments section.

            The LBGT community along with migrants, Arabs, women, the poor, and anyone with dark skin are the lepers of today—and these are precisely the people Jesus aligns himself with.

            Don’t stop speaking out, Traci. Don’t allow them to silence us!

          • Traci

            Thank you otrotierra. I’m learning to use my voice still. I still have a lot of fear I’m dealing with. It’s getting easier to stand up for myself and others though. I appreciate your kind words and support.

          • 22044

            Then write for yourself and don’t speak for anyone else.
            Your sanctimony would fit you better as a leftist college professor, where you would find no shortage of sycophants who will drink it up like swill.

          • http://about.me/jonathan.boegl JS Boegl

            Mercy. 22044 whole lot of hostility here friend…

      • Digger

        I think I get what you are saying, but, if you don’t mind, I’d like to ask a couple of clarifying questions to be sure I fully comprehend what you are trying to share with me.
        On your scale that seems to go from rude to racist to extremely racist, where does wet-back fall? What about kike, spic, ho, wop, chink? Swamp Monkey? Retard? Faggot? It would be handy if I had diagram I could refer to.
        Which of these terms are de-humanizing, and which are humanizing?
        Most importantly, which of these terms are ok for Christians to use, so long as the person using them has experienced a “history of oppression”? (Or, more accurately, if OTHER people who happen to have the same color of skin, have experienced a history of oppression.)

        • Traci

          If you don’t know the answers to these incredibly offensive questions, you may be beyond hope. Pray for empathy. Or just get the hell out of the way of people who are trying to make a difference.

      • ArcanVmXII

        You’re an idiot and a weakling. Screw your definitions and echo chamber regulations.

        • Digger

          While I am in SHARP disagreement with emily, I do not condone lashing out at her with such violent hatred, and I do not consider your attack of her to be support of my position. Of all the wrong that I see with the article and with the perplexing justification of the author’s attacks agains other Christians, your baseless and godless hatred stands out as the worst. While I’m certain your motivation is merely to evoke responses, I’m glad that you, in fact, cannot remain anonymous from the one true Judge.

          • Lamont Cranston

            Hurts lookin’ in a mirror, don’t it.

  • Jack Heller

    PREACH!!!

  • http://about.me/jonathan.boegl JS Boegl

    Excellent exhortation brother Jonathan. In light of some inane white-conservative commentary re: Dunn & Zimmerman episodes – very timely as well.
    We whites (especially those of us who call ourselves Christ-followers) would do well to stop shamefully foisting our rights within these volatile racial tensions and listen & identify with our black brothers & sisters. Thanks for your credible list of Five Things a White Person Can Do. Not only time to put them into practice, but long past time for some of us white preachers to champion the same.

    • http://about.me/jonathan.boegl JS Boegl

      Wow x’s 100! I’m stunned and curious. Time for the anonymous down voters to fess up… What in the world could you find objectionable about a.) my insignificant comment, or Jonathan’s significant article??? I’m bamboozled…

  • ArcanVmXII

    Oh my poor white guilt. Maybe I should go hand out condoms with little crucifixes stamped on the resevoir tips. Us white people are so inane, yet taught from childhood that we’re responsible for all the wrongs of the world. Go help yourselves, you weaklings. I’m done helping and getting nothing in return. Die off on your own.

    • http://about.me/jonathan.boegl JS Boegl

      Scary dude.

  • http://www.emilytimbol.com/ emilytimbol

    I think it’s telling that of all the things I’ve ever commented on or wrote about, I’ve gotten the worst, angriest, most personal attacks on this thread, for saying something as basic as “racism requires privilege.” We’ve really got a long way to go, for the church to reach racial harmony and equality. Thanks again for this piece, which is bringing a lot of truth to light.

    • 22044

      No truth – sorry.
      Perhaps I shouldn’t be angry but I am starting to discern that you promote a false gospel that will lead folks away from Christ. And I have to be concerned about that.

      I guess you didn’t read the Sermon on the Mount.

      If you are interested, we must not form our opinions based on how the world demands we should. See Romans 12:1-2. Philippians 1 (the whole chapter) may also be helpful.

      By the way, I didn’t think the original piece was all that bad.

      • RustySkywater

        Today I learned that if you’re not a white supremacist, then you are “promoting a false gospel” (according to 22044).

        • Digger

          Darn–I missed that post. Did 22044 delete or were you just bearing false witness against him? (It has been so cold this winter that flaming pants must feel pretty good.)

          • Lamont Cranston

            It seems that Mr. Skywater has better reading skills than you do. His statement is completely true. Not that truth matters to an anti-Christian idolator like yourself. Turn or burn!

          • 22044

            You’re funny.

        • 22044

          Nice try, Rusty. Apparently you need to learn some reading comprehension.

      • http://www.emilytimbol.com/ emilytimbol

        What exactly in my comment about racism and privilege made you think I’m promoting a false gospel, exactly? And I am very familiar with both the sermon on the mount and the verses you shared but I don’t see what they have to do with racial inequality in America or the statement that racism requires privilege.

        • 22044

          Final comment from me on this thread…
          If you know the Sermon on the Mount so well you are not demonstrating it…if you want to understand racism you must understand that Sermon (and other supporting Scripture verses) to reveal that God is more concerned with inner hearts than outward privileges.
          You remember who was obsessed with outward appearances, right? The Pharisees.

          • http://www.emilytimbol.com/ emilytimbol

            This discussion is not about what God is concerned with, it’s about what people are concerned with, and how they act towards others of a different race. The sermon on the mount is a great lesson for Christians, and one that would apply to everyone when wondering how to treat their neighbors, because you’re right, God doesn’t care about appearance, but the heart. But acting like this somehow magically fixes systematic racism among whole classes of people, MANY who aren’t Christian, is more than just naïve, it’s almost cruel. Racism isn’t just carried out by Bible-believing Christians, so we can’t apply a Bible passage as the cure.

          • 22044

            It’s regretful that you come to that conclusion, Emily…and why your position has no legs.
            And now this thread is about your opinions rather than the ideas that Mr. Banks has proposed. If he’s reads these comments, he’s probably not too pleased that it came to that.
            Maybe he will be generous and extend grace to all of us.

          • 22044

            Sorry, Mr. Brooks. Not Mr. Banks.

    • http://about.me/jonathan.boegl JS Boegl

      I agree Emily. Lamentable to think this seething racism is so engrained in us – until we start discussing our rights vs. “their” rights we’re quite impervious to it… As a conservative, evangelical pastor this is deeply troubling. We have a very long way to go – re: racial unity AND the Sermon on the Mount. Help us Jesus!

  • John

    The reaction to anyone pointing out racial inequality in the US is genuinely frightening. Genuinely.

    I’m glad you wrote this, Jonathan. It needs to be said. It’s just a shame how many deaf ears it seems to fall upon. Guess it needs to be said more. Wish it was more surprising.

    • otrotierra

      The hostility and hatred among U.S. evangelicals is quite strong, just as the comments section here at RedLetterChristians plainly illustrates. Combining the worst of the Sanhedrin with the worst of Imperial Rome–from Constantine to Operation Iraqi Freedom–is the polar opposite of everything Jesus said and did in history.

      I’m thankful for people like Pastah J and emilytimbol who have the courage to speak truth, no matter how politically offensive it is to do so.

    • 22044

      Sorry John, but I see too much “point-making” on this subject from graceless secularists elsewhere and fangirls like otrotierra that puke the same useless garbage.
      Where is the church that is set apart by grace & holiness?
      It’s hard to find on these threads sometimes.

      As I commented to Emily, the plot is now completely lost. But at least the “evangelicals” whom some folks here despise…quietly work to make some small mark in advancing racial reconciliation.
      If Mr. Brooks posted this and clean up some of the inflammatory language at a blog where most orthodox Christians hang out – they would probably love it.

      • John

        I think that there is a problem that there was a backlash in the past from Whites feeling like Blacks wanted to be Exceptional, that they had seemed to take all the language of inequality, and weren’t allowing others to use it. Whites can be racist. Blacks can’t. Blacks are threatened. Whites aren’t. Blacks should have extra opportunities. Whites shouldn’t. And in a simplistic way, I can understand that thinking.

        But it’s not a simplistic situation. And in many ways, Blacks are Exceptional. The amount of damage done to Africans for the benefit of Whites is almost incomprehensible. And so, when the modern, White view comes across as anything like “get over it”, it just seems like a way of ignoring the damage. To many, it is genuinely offensive.

        I’m not really sure what your comments mean about The Church. Where is the grace in an attitude which doesn’t recognise pain? Where is the Holiness in seeing time as locally, that you don’t realise that there are people whose parents and grandparents were lynched?

        As Billie Holiday said, “You can be up to your boobies in white satin, with gardenias in your hair and no sugar cane for miles, but you can still be working on a plantation.”

        I’m not accusing you with these comments 22044. And actually, I would like to know what you the role of the Church should be. More specifically, if you can.

        • 22044

          I don’t think your points are accusatory, John. And thanks for that.
          But there are too many others who are not equipped to level anything other than accusations. They have to either stay out of the way or find a mentor or two to train them up correctly.
          It isn’t so much a what needs to be done as to how the need to start or continue the work is communicated.

          • John

            I think sometimes we can find ourselves in a tango, and never stop to consider who asked who to dance.

        • 22044

          Of course, perhaps I’m a little biased towards you because we’ve had good chats in the past. :)

  • Traci

    Thank you Pastah J!!

  • steph

    Excellent; well-written!!

  • Kesh

    Ah the usual religious right justifying their racism yawn.

  • Justin Ahlquist

    Those who can, do. Those that can’t preach(teach). Everyone should be glad that “Christians” are consuming “Christians”, good for you all. If I was your parent you all would be wearing a “get-along_ shirt for life.

  • http://www.edcyzewski.com/ Ed_Cyzewski

    I’m really grateful that that you encouraged education as a starting point. I often feel like education isn’t actually “doing” something. However, the education I’ve had on some of these topics has really helped open my eyes to things that would surely lead to insensitive statements in the future.

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