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.
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.
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!
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.