By Doug Talley
I am a white male. When I use the pronoun “we” to refer to whites, I put “whites” in parenthesis. Otherwise, “we” is a general reference to all people.
My heart aches for the families of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others whose skin color was a/the factor in the loss of their lives. My heart aches for my black brothers and sisters who have to see another newscast where the life of a black person was recklessly taken and are left wondering if it could happen to them or one of their children. My heart aches that people are assaulted with racism all too frequently – just because their skin is a different color. My heart aches that after 400 years of racial prejudice and tension we aren’t making enough progress towards ending racism and valuing black lives equally. My heart aches because those of us in the racial majority (whites) don’t become as outraged and incensed at racial injustice as those being discriminated against, thus dooming us to keep repeating the past.
As a nation, America is at another crossroads. In the past when we have been at similar crossroads, we (whites) have turned our heads away or taken baby steps. We enact legislation, make cosmetic changes, and make minor concessions to assuage our guilt. Then we tell ourselves we’ve addressed the racial problem and improved the lives of blacks and other minorities. Unfortunately, what we’ve often done is demonstrate that we don’t understand what it is like to be a minority.
We (whites) don’t see ourselves or one of our kids jogging through that Georgia neighborhood. We don’t see ourselves or one of our kids under the knee of the policeman in Minneapolis. We aren’t suspiciously watched when we drive through a neighborhood, walk through a store, or ask for a table in a nice restaurant. We aren’t treated with disrespect because of the color of our skin. We don’t have to teach our kids, especially our sons, to be ultra-respectful and keep their hands in plain sight if stopped while driving the car. We don’t understand what it is like to be on the receiving end of racism. We’ve got to stop using that as an excuse for failing to oppose racism and not taking action to eradicate it from every level of life.
One of the reasons Mr. Floyd’s death is so disturbing to us is because we see absolutely no indication on the videos that he at any time posed a threat to the police offers or anyone else. Yet, someone heartlessly and intentionally took his life. How could anyone do that, especially someone in law enforcement?
In other instances where unarmed black people have been killed, we (whites) may tell ourselves that there must be more to the story…though there really may not be more. But in Mr. Floyd’s death, we can visually see that there isn’t more to the story. He didn’t appear menacing, didn’t reach into his pockets, didn’t reach at or grab anyone, didn’t engage in any kind of behavior that could even be remotely regarded as threatening. Yet a knee was unnecessarily and forcefully placed on his neck by a person in authority for almost nine minutes – long enough to kill him. His pleas for help were blatantly ignored. We (whites and everyone else) realize no matter what preceded the first contact with law enforcement, gross injustice was served. And we are outraged – or should be.
Anarchy and rioting don’t solve anything. But we cannot allow them to distract us from addressing abuse of power and racism or let them be an excuse for not doing anything. Sometimes those behaviors are fueled by desperation and hopelessness, the kind which we (whites) probably cannot understand. That doesn’t justify the behaviors. Nor is it a legitimate reason for us to feel justified in our prejudice. It sounds like some of the anarchy and rioting might be promoted by those wanting to keep racism stirred up, and I don’t mean black people or other minorities.
As I talk with some black friends, I’m hearing a weariness in their voices and spirits that this kind of injustice just keeps happening. I can’t imagine what that must feel like. Honestly, I sometimes get weary of racial tension and the talk of prejudice. But I know that my weariness doesn’t compare to theirs, and I am even ashamed to use the same word to describe it. I fatigue of the race conversation at times, but my black brothers and sisters weary of blatant and sinister racism that all too often includes physical harm or even death.
I was recently reading a Barna report on racism. It observes that among faith groups, white conservative Christians seem to be one of the least likely groups in the U.S. to “acknowledge the social disadvantages of black Americans, support the Black Lives Matter message, or see racism as a present problem” (Where Do We Go From Here, page 38). Pastors, how can we change that?
- Become more informed. Educate yourself on racism & the history of racism in the U.S. There are lots of books that can raise your awareness and understanding. This link on the Indiana Ministries website identifies just some of the resources available.
- Listen by developing relationships with minorities. Talk to people of color & ask them about their experiences. They may be reluctant at first to share because we whites have exploited black people for so long. But if you are genuine, you just might find that some are willing to help you reshape your worldview. Friendship can give incredible insight.
- Speak up. When you see or hear racism, call it out. We (whites) are hesitant to do that because we don’t want to make others or ourselves feel uncomfortable. Well, racism and prejudice are uncomfortable, and seeing or hearing them should make us more uncomfortable than calling them out. Pastors, preach about social injustice, racism, and prejudice. Educate your people so they are resourced to speak up and act.
- Support racial justice & oppose the systems that perpetuate racism. It’s too easy for us whites to look the other way because social injustice & racism don’t seemingly affect us. Yet, every time we look the other way, our hearts harden just a little bit more…and people created in God’s image get hurt… again. I didn’t choose to be white, and I didn’t create white privilege. But I do benefit from being white. And I choose whether I’ll support people who suffer because of it. Part of the Great Commission is fighting against inequality.
- Lift up those around you who don’t have the same privileges that you do. All of us are broken in various ways because of sin. Brokenness makes us vulnerable to feeling insecure & doubting our self-worth & value. Shame tries to magnify these doubts & exploit them. You can make a difference by standing up for people who are disadvantaged and marginalized.
- Pray. Notice I list this last. Not because it is the least important step but because sometimes we Christians ONLY pray and then think we’ve done our part. I’ve put on my daily prayer list to pray for racial healing and pray that prejudice and racism are overcome by love. Please join me. It’s time for a new day in America.