Photo by James Eades on Unsplash
I’m half White; my father is White, German and Irish descent, I think, and my mother is Filipina. When I’m around my mom, especially when it’s just the two of us, and even more so if I have a bit of a tan, it’s more obvious that I’m her son and that I have Filipino ancestry, but I’m relatively sure that for most of my life I’ve been treated with most of the perks of a White, male American.
It might have helped that I grew up on Air Force bases and that I spent a lot of time around White friends. It probably helped that I grew up in mostly smaller, conservative, non-denominational Churches of Christ, which were made up of predominantly White families.
I grew up moving every three years or so, and I experienced a fair diversity of cultures, but my primary habitats were predominantly White. It’s been difficult to really understand White privilege, because I’m pretty sure I’ve been steeped in it. If there’s anything I’ve learned about human beings in the last 30 years it’s that we are horrible at seeing ourselves. It’s what makes us so easily judgmental of others and is probably a huge part of why racism exists in the first place.
This is both an exploration of some of the sentiments I’ve heard and a summary of my own journey as I struggle to see myself. I hope you understand that this is neither a finished work nor a condemnation of others who struggle to see themselves, but if you read this and think to yourself this is just BLM propaganda or democratic propaganda or any other type of propaganda, I sincerely hope you will reconsider. I only have two goals: to dig a little deeper at that log in my eye and to share what I’m learning in case it’s beneficial to someone else.
“I Don’t See Color”
I remember times when I literally uttered those words. I genuinely believed that the best place for humanity to be was in a state of color blindness. I thought to myself that if skin color was the issue, eliminating skin color from consideration would eliminate the issue. It’s a logical assumption, I think, but because it begins with a false premise, it struggles to reach a true solution. What I’m realizing now, and I say realizing because I don’t think I’ve fully grasped the complexity of racism, is that skin color was never the root issue.
Racism is not really about an aversion to skin color, and minorities are not really minorities simply because they look different. I think racism is, and always has been, about power, and I’m increasingly convinced that skin color is just a really convenient way for people in power to clearly define who “we” are and who “they” are. If everyone in the world were White, then we would find some other way of drawing lines between us to control power. A perfect example of this is Nazi propaganda in World War II; the Aryan race was about more than just skin color, but it served it’s purpose, nonetheless.
I think that Black people in America understand better than many that the flagrantly uneven distribution of power isn’t going to change just because White people recognize that skin color doesn’t matter. Drew G. I. Hart, in his book Trouble I’ve Seen, uses the terms horizontal and vertical racism. Horizontal racism is interpersonal, between you and me. Most Americans recognize that horizontal racism is not only socially unacceptable but actually harmful. If you’re willing to go to religious or ethical places, you might even call it immoral or unethical. Most Americans I know are not horizontally racist; they recognize that there is “evil” in treating a person oppressively simply because of the color of their skin. However, I feel more and more that the diminishing of horizontal racism isn’t so much a victory as a concession being made by the power holders in a corrupt system. They’re willing to concede horizontal racism because when all racism is boiled down to horizontal racism, vertical racism flies under the radar. It rides along in the blind spot of American cultures.
Hart describes vertical racism as structural or systemic racism. It’s the kind of racism that doesn’t blatantly call out a person of color or flagrantly and publicly deny people of color (POC) certain rights. Instead, it normally operates in subtler ways by emphasizing others. For example, a company doesn’t have to deny Black employees and accept White employees. Instead, it can quietly offer White employees greater pay, biased reviews, more leniency, easier promotions, etc. The emphasis isn’t on Black employees; it’s on White employees to the subtle detriment of Black employees.
Women in the Workplace
For a long time, I’ve been told that these things are true for women in the workplace, and I think coming to a place where I can see that and accept that as a reality has helped me to understand White privilege, as well. One of the difficulties of seeing ourselves or others in a different light is having something to which we can attach new experiences and different narratives from what we expect. These are the kinds of things that are talked about in theological circles as a hermeneutic, the way in which a person understands things. Without being able to attach new information to our hermeneutic or our paradigm, i.e. our current understanding of things, the information is useless and ineffectual.
That tangent to say that the more I learn and the more I consider my own experiences in the workplace and the things that I see around me day by day, the easier it becomes to recognize the ways that my career has been much easier than the careers of some others. As my ability to recognize oppression increases in one area, I think it increases in other areas, as well.
It’s tempting to say, sometimes, that people who see oppression everywhere are just obsessed with finding it (“they see what they want to see”), but I think I’ve been wrong to assume that. I feel like the more I chip away at the log in my eye, the more clearly I’ve been able to see these things for what they really are: systemic oppression.
I have digressed a bit in this section, but I think these considerations are important to understanding the shift that I have made, and am in the process of making, away from the assumption that “color blindness” is the best posture for anti-racism.
I See You
If we acknowledge that POC are actually being treated differently than White people or people who are perceived as being White or even people who conform to “White” cultures, then a posture of color blindness denies the narratives of POC. If I say that POC are being treated differently because of their skin but then refuse to acknowledge the color of their skin, I essentially refuse to acknowledge their different experiences.
In order to truly acknowledge a disparity based on anything diverse, such as skin color, ethnicity, heritage, geographical location, etc., I have to acknowledge the actual diversity that’s present. I have to be willing to see a person as Black, Mexican, Filipina, White, Asian, etc. I have to see you.
When I can see you for everything that you are without trying to only acknowledge the parts of you that are like me, then I can start to hear your voice as unique from mine.
Putting Ourselves Into Everyone Else
In a similar way, I remember thinking at a young age that the most important thing in having honest dialogue with someone or having a really effective relationship with someone was finding common ground. I still think that common ground is important, but I realize now that humility, which I believe is the single most important characteristic any human being can have, is not about common ground. Humility is about allowing others to be different from us, while still being present with them, giving them respect, treating them with dignity, and seeing them as better than myself.
And, yes, I know that the phrase “better than myself” is a trigger phrase for some people. I understand that when we talk about Black Lives Matter versus “all lives matter,” for many people there’s no room for that kind of humility. I’m not sure how much I want to get into that right now, but obviously, since I’m using that phrase here, I think those people are mistaken.
Seeing others as better than myself is not about simply shifting the disparity of power from one group to another. Seeing others as better than ourselves is the continual reminder that we have a big, fat log sticking out of our eyes, and Jesus calls us, by contrast, to consider others as having specs in theirs. It’s about acknowledging that whatever sins or shortcomings might exist in someone else’s life or character, our concern should be first and foremost with the evil that exists in our own lives. To enter into a conversation or a relationship with the premise that the evil which I perpetuate is possibly far greater than whatever wrongdoing someone else might perpetuate allows us to approach them with compassion and humility.
Once again, I digress. The point I want to make in this section is that allowing for diversity helps prevent me from only seeing myself and my own narrative and my own experiences and understandings in the people around me.
The American Dream
One of the things I hear people say is that everyone in America has the same opportunities. That’s the American dream, and that’s what this country is built on. Anybody can come here and make something of themselves. Anybody can raise themselves up by their bootstraps. It doesn’t matter if a person is Black or White or Mexican or Asian or any other possible distinction. The only thing that matters is how hard a person is willing to work for what they want.
That sort of lumping everyone together into a single category is the equivalent of color blindness. It stifles the voices of the oppressed by stripping away any distinctions where disparities might exist. It claims that whatever they’re saying has to fit into my own experience or expectation, because “we’re all in the same boat.” By making that argument, I attempt to give more weight to my own voice than to the voices of others. I attempt to reframe everything that other people say and do within my own understanding and rearticulate it. Essentially, I hijack their voice. By claiming that there’s a level playing field, by denying the unjust disparity between us, I absolve myself of the responsibility of listening to them.
The argument that I’ve heard beside this one goes like this: “The media and the politicians and the extremists try to spin everything for their own favor; it’s all propaganda, which is why I don’t read all that stuff anymore. I just use common sense.” By rationalizing and justifying my disconnection from the world and from the voices and experiences of others, I can very easily reduce the conversation to just me. I no longer have to listen to anyone else or read anyone else or consider anyone else, because I already know the reality — because I have eyes and I can see. I become my own sounding board.
People always seem to band together on a principle that has nothing to do with love. A principle that releases them from personal responsibility.James Baldwin
“They’ve” Changed the Game
“The definition of racism has changed. Now everything is racist.” My gut reaction to this ten years ago probably would have been, “I totally agree. I think racism definitely is a problem, but it seems overblown.” I’m pretty sure I recall having a similar reaction to LGBTQ prominence in the media a few years ago. I wanted LGBTQ characters to exist in Hollywood narratives and the like, but I felt that it was happening disproportionately to the reality that most people experience. If X% of the population in America is LGBTQ, why is it that I can’t find a single narrative that doesn’t make a commentary on LGBTQ and have really outspoken LGBTQ characters? Wouldn’t it make sense for the appearance of LGBTQ characters to be proportionate to the percentage of LGBTQ Americans? For racism: if racism is an issue, let’s talk about it, but it feels like racism is always the issue. Isn’t that disproportionate?
I think that line of thinking, both for LGBTQ representation and for racism, is ignorant, not only of the perceived proportions that exist in American society but also of the way that societies react to a stimulus intended for change. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to make a percentage-type argument for LGBTQ representation when we acknowledge that many LGBTQ folks still aren’t willing to risk exposure. At best, we’re estimating how many people we think fall into that category. Thus, representation, the sort of accurate, by-percentage representation that I was arbitrarily arguing for, isn’t something we can get right.
Racially, the same is true. We can’t talk about limiting the categorizing of issues as “racist” until we’re willing to have an honest conversation about what classifies as racist. The quote at the beginning of this section starts the discussion with the assumption that fewer things are racist than people want to claim, but that’s not how open dialogue works. All sides of the conversation have to agree on which premises we’re going to begin, and we can’t begin a discussion of the broadness of racism with the presumption that racism is not broad. That undercuts the conversation from the beginning, and it isn’t objective.
Are we overrepresenting the racial issue in American society today? I think the most realistic answer is yes, because it’s impossible for us to determine exactly how many issues are linked to racism, but leaving the possibility open for racism to be extremely broad will make it easier to explore the issue creatively. I think the compassionate answer is no, because, again, it’s impossible to determine exactly how many issues are linked to racism. As I mentioned above, it’s important to allow other people to submit their narratives without trying to force their narratives into our narratives. If a person comes and tells me, “This is my experience,” then I should take that seriously. Dismissing it outright as inaccurate is to begin with the premise that that person is a liar, which undercuts the conversation.
For the sake of argument, though, let’s say that the perceived percentages are accurate. Let’s say that we actually could prove that only X% of issues in American society are linked to racism. Could we then argue for a similarly representative saturation of discussions? Could we say, “We should stop over-emphasizing the issue and start giving the same X% of focus to racism that represents the percentage of actual racial issues?” No, I don’t think we could. I don’t think that’s how societal change happens, and I don’t think that’s how human beings work, especially when it comes to changing our understandings of things.
What About Overexposure?
I grew up hearing arguments about overexposure. In conservative Christian circles, people were afraid, and I think still are afraid, that overexposure to something leads to desensitization, and desensitization interferes with a person’s ability to see something for what it really is.
This is not a ridiculous argument. There is truth to this. Desensitization is something that can actually be done and is actually done. Let me give you a physical example.
When I used to practice martial arts, we would deaden the nerves of parts of our bodies by repeatedly striking something with those parts. If I practice punching something hard and slightly abrasive everyday, then the bones in my hands and arms will harden, the nerves will become less sensitive or even numb on and around the striking surfaces, calluses will develop, and the muscles will become more and more resilient and resistant to the shock of striking something that way. Over time, I’ll be able to strike that surface harder and harder with fewer and fewer drawbacks.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen many instructors who have been so “desensitized” to certain experiences that they no longer remember how challenging those experiences were at the beginning. They don’t remember the hours upon hours of painful training that it took to overcome their own bodies. Having lost that experience as a part of their narrative, they push their students too far, which leads to completely avoidable and unnecessary injuries.
The concern from conservative Christians, and possibly non-conservative Christians, although I’m not certain, was that if we allow our communities to be exposed to something for long enough, such as LGBTQ or the idea that everything stems from racism, then people will become so desensitized to the presence of those things that they will begin to accept them as normal, which will lead to the acceptance of things as “good” or, at the very least, socially acceptable. Although this logic is flawed, I’m realizing now that this is actually how human beings operate. It’s not the process that’s flawed but the assumed outcome.
The LGBTQ community has not simply been changing the minds of people through education, arguments, and apologetics. Members of those communities have been exposing themselves and refusing not to be exposed. They have, for decades, been so overwhelmingly vocal that they have become a normal presence in many places and many contexts. What the disproportionate representation in entertainment and in the media does is normalize the expectation that we will interact, at some point, with somebody from the LGBTQ community. That sort of desensitization allows an actual conversation to take place. When society encounters the LGBTQ community, their first thought is not, “Who are these people and what are they doing in my town.” We’ve been conditioned (i.e. desensitized) to the presence of the LGBTQ community within the larger community, and now we can focus on something else, like actually getting to know people.
Is everything in society racist? Does everything have some kind of racial motivation or bias? Probably not, but if we can push the conversation hard enough for long enough and in enough places, maybe we can finally crack that shell of White Americans being too sensitive to talk about it, be around it, and acknowledge its existence. If we can crack that shell, if we can desensitize White America to the point where they’re no longer shocked when somebody mentions racism, then maybe we can start having real conversations with the parts of American society that are still in denial. Maybe then we can ease off the gas a little bit and shift resources from exposure to dialogue, because right now, it’s apparent to me that many of the circles of which I’m a part are still so shocked by the exposure of racism that they’re not anywhere near ready to have conversations about racism.
I hope I can be clear about this; I’m not saying that POC need to back off. I’m saying the opposite. I’m saying that I firmly believe that POC in America are still trying to make enough noise to desensitize American society to the reality of racism so that we can even think about having an effective conversation.
Homophobia and Racism: Redefining Fear
A friend of mine expressed a distaste for conversations about racism. At first, it seemed like the issue was a lack of differentiation between horizontal racism and vertical racism. My friend was upset that so many things were being called racist or categorized as racist when, by his understanding, they weren’t racist (i.e. “everything is racist”). While there is definitely some horizontal versus vertical racism to be addressed in that, it was actually another comment that shifted my perspective on this.
Homophobia is literally defined as fear of homosexuals. Phobia means fear, and homo means the same, which in this case is indicative of same-sex attraction. We use the term “homophobia” to describe actions, attitudes, or events that are anti-homosexual, but it’s not always obvious how these things relate to fear of homosexuals. I’ve been meditating on that idea, and I realized that for most of my experience with people whom I would classify as anti-homosexual, it does almost always come down to fear. It’s not the obvious, scared-stiff kind of fear that people often associate with phobias, but it is a fear that’s so uncontrollable that they often can’t help but lash out aggressively, whether verbally or physically.
I’m realizing that people who respond to homosexuals out of a need to respond are operating with that kind of “phobic” fear. That fear could be religiously motivated or politically motivated, or it could be motivated by some sort of disgust psychology, but whatever the motivation, people who express homophobic tendencies feel the need to speak out against homosexuals, even if they don’t always recognize that need as fear-driven.
In the same way, I think my friend’s response to racism and the racial conversation is fear-driven. I think the idea of redefining racism as both horizontal and vertical, as both interpersonal and systemic/structural, is threatening to White privilege. Maybe it’s a fear of change, a fear of the unknown that might be coming, or a fear of losing power, etc., and that fear makes us feel like we have to speak out. If we don’t speak out, we’re acquiescing to the threat.
For me, allowing the conversation about racism to continue has required that I redefine racism, and that has been possible because of how other terms like homophobia have been redefined. I think having those previous conversations and allowing myself to meditate on those other categories and other broadening definitions in our cultures have prepared me in some ways to accept a redefining of racism. That’s been a big part of my continuing journey from “being colorblind” to acknowledging diversity — a transition from “uncovering the narrative” to accepting multiple narratives.
I think that part of America’s journey out of White privilege is going to be allowing other narratives, other voices, to redefine terms that we already think we understand, like racism, phobia, White privilege, and people of color. It’s not enough anymore to come to a conversation understanding what a term means. I think the conversation has to include an opportunity for other people to tell us what things mean to them.
Black or African-American?
I recently listened to an episode of Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man where Emmanuel Acho briefly answered a question about Black versus African-American. I had the same conversation over a decade ago with classmates in an anthropology course. The class was split between people who self-identified as African-American and people who self-identified as Black, and some of the reasons had to do with how far removed people were from African heritage, such as a person being a first-generation American citizen versus a person being a third generation American citizen. Acho, however, offered a new perspective that I hadn’t considered.
The conversation about racism, today, even ones revolving primarily around Black Americans, involves a much more diverse ancestry than it has in previous decades. Black doesn’t always refer to African-American. There are people in America who would be considered Black who are not of African descent, such as people from Jamaica or with Jamaican ancestry. The conversation about racism also more prominently includes POC who might not be considered Black, such as Mexican immigrants. Using the term Black is, in many circles, considered more inclusive and less offensive, but it simultaneously doesn’t override the use of the term African-Americans, which is becoming a subset of POC.
Again this understanding is being helped by my previous conversations about LGBTQ. POC is a fairly inclusive term, but LGBTQ is very specifically inclusive. That has helped frame my understanding of POC and Black as indications of ancestry or heritage.
Equality is one of those buzzwords and/or trigger words that is being continually redefined. This isn’t new, either. Equality has been a topic of discussion in America since America was founded. I often hear this word in discussions about feminism and women’s rights, but historically, Americans have struggled for equality in almost every area of society — equality between rich and poor, landowners and tenants, White people and Black people, the already settled and the immigrant, men and women, upper class and middle class, middle class and lower class, young and old, etc.
One of the things that has been really difficult for me to accept is how much fear the word equality actually creates. I think the difficulty was in my desire to think better of people than perhaps was warranted. I wanted to believe that equality was something most people could get behind, that the idea of systematically oppressing anybody was not at the forefront of anyone’s to-do list. In a conscious sense, that might be true, but I now believe that subconsciously we are far more attached to whatever power we feel we have than we might be willing to admit.
Americans, and perhaps human beings in general, seem to operate more frequently from a position of loss aversion than any other posture. The idea of equality is more often seen as a lowering of one group than it is as a raising up of another group. I think that’s logical, because from a purely pragmatic standpoint, the most efficient way to “level the playing field” is to meet halfway. If I have a valley between two mountains, and I want to make the valley and the mountains level, it would probably be easier to take off the top of the mountains to dump into the valley than to bring in excessive amounts of rock and dirt from somewhere else and fill the valley. I think the trouble with this perspective, though, is that it assumes a biased metaphor from the beginning.
First, lowering, or any downward motion, is generally associated with something bad, so people are predisposed to questioning that sort of equality. Second, leveling the playing field in a way that involves lowering one thing to raise up another thing seems like a socialist restructuring reminiscent of all the things Americans hate about communism (actual conversations I’ve had). So, what is it that people are actually asking for, because if I hold power and people are actually asking to come in and take parts of my power structure and redistribute the power to others, I can see why people would be upset.
For starters, who gets to decide which power to redistribute? Even if we could agree which power needs to be redistributed, who gets to decide how much of that power to redistribute? If power is too vague for this discussion, think of resources. Who gets to decide how much resource is enough? Who gets to decide from where we appropriate resources? A person might say, “Well, it’s based on who needs what,” but who gets to decide the difference between a need and a want? We might say one person definitely needs food, because they’re starving. From a medical standpoint, let’s give them the food that they need so they don’t die, but what if they already have the bare minimum? I hear all the time, from people who don’t struggle with lack of food, things like, “Homeless people are sitting on the corner asking for money when they’ve got two meals sitting next to them,” as if a person having multiple meals stored up for the future automatically excludes them from being able to ask for more.
Who gets to decide what the limit is? Who gets to decide when unequal becomes equal? Some people appeal to an argument of basic human decency, but that’s a moral/ethical argument. Morality and ethics are some of the most widely debated topics in human history. That doesn’t clarify the issue, because most people, even among small communities, can’t agree on where the moral and ethical boundaries lie. In religious circles, ministers often set the moral and ethical boundaries, but even then, congregants will often speak out their disagreements or grumble in the background.
I think redefining equality for present day society should be approached like many of the other things I’ve mentioned. We should be trying really hard to let other voices inform us about what people are saying and thinking and feeling. We can’t enter into a conversation with a predetermined definition for equality. At most, I think we should understand what we mean by equality, for ourselves, but we can’t allow our understandings of equality to override others’ understandings.
If, by equality, someone means that we should treat every single human being as though they have the same abilities and potential as every other human being, then I’m not on board with a fight for equality. Scientifically, not everyone is the same. One of the things we pushed on a lot in exercise science was the idea that you can’t approach everyone’s training regimen with a blanket workout. Not everyone functions the same way, and not everyone has the same abilities. Personal trainers have to accept the fact that some of their clients will never be physically capable of accomplishing things that other clients will accomplish with ease. This is not always a matter of training, because for some people, certain things are literally impossible.
If, however, by equality, someone means that everyone should have the same opportunities, I think I might be on board for that battle. A person who has no arms won’t be able to lift weights the same way that a person with arms would lift weights, but that doesn’t mean that a person without arms can’t lift weights. The opportunity is there for them, even if the process looks different. This is an equality of opportunity, not an equality of capability.
Similarly, if, by equality, a person means equal freedom of expression or equal liberty, then I am absolutely on board with that. One of the most damaging things I experienced growing up was the immense pressure to conform to a very specific expression of Christian faith. Many things were explicitly stated as acceptable or not acceptable, but beyond that, many more things were implicitly stated. I see that same sort of pressure from almost every facet of society. In some ways, this works to the benefit of a society, because, as Trevor Noah put it, societies function as contractual relationships. We agree to operate under certain expectations and to conform to certain expectations for the benefit of society as a whole, but what’s coming to light more and more for me is that I have been given, as a White, male American, more liberty and more freedom to step outside those boundaries and to push on those boundaries than other people in society have been given.
As a minister, I always run the risk of being ostracized from the congregation or the communities to which I minister because of theological differences, but I have the freedom to do that without fear of alienation from the greater body of Christ. I could go almost anywhere in America and apply to a ministry position with almost any congregation knowing that I will be judged almost entirely on my theology and my ability rather than my skin color. The same can’t be said for Black ministers in America. While many White Christians seem to perceive this sort of racial prejudice as a thing of the past, I’ve read plenty of testimonies from Black ministers within the last ten years where they have been rejected from ministry positions explicitly because they were Black. That doesn’t have anything to do with their theology or their ability, so in that way, there’s a fundamental lack of freedom and liberty. To allow people not just opportunities but the freedom and the liberty to push boundaries is a form of equality that I think is severely lacking in America.
Because of this, when I hear people talk about American citizens or the American dream as though all that people have to do is work harder, I cringe. To approach equality from a perspective that equality already exists no matter how you want to talk about it is to ignore the nuance of the conversation and to ignore the testimony of others.
I know I’m repeating myself a little bit here, but I think equality is one of those key points in my ability to understand the conversation of racism in America. I really want to drive home that on this, specifically, I think it’s important for me to let other voices inform my understanding.
I’m not sleepy-tired; I’m weary. If you don’t know what it means to be weary versus sleepy-tired, it’s a little bit difficult for me to describe. I think it’s best understood in those moments when you realize you’re not physically tired, but you’re also not psychologically tired, but there’s a deep sense of being drained. It feels to me like it permeates all the way into my bones. I’m weary.
But, I’m realizing something really important about the reality of my weariness. It will always be a result of my choosing to be part of the conversation. When it comes to racism, interracial dialogue, and conversations between my theology and the vertical racism of our societies, I have the privilege of walking away. Black people and POC don’t have that privilege. If nothing else, my White privilege is emphasized in my weariness.
Skin Color Is Not a Choice
To be frank, if you’re going to offer a sarcastic comment about somebody like Michael Jackson, I don’t really want to hear it. I try really hard to be open to the ways in which other people communicate, because I know that there are a lot of people who operate out of a defensive sarcasm and levity and I want to meet people where they are, but like I said, I’m weary. I’m not sure that I have the energy to handle that kind of flippancy.
Black people don’t get to choose what they look like. When I walk into a job interview or post my picture online or introduce myself to a room of people, I don’t usually have to factor in my skin color. The only things that I need to factor in are things that I can control, like my haircut or my facial hair style or my clothes or my posture. Black people have to factor in their skin color, and it’s completely out of their control. They can’t just walk away, either.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about walking away from one ministry context to look for another. If there’s an issue between me and a congregation with which I work or a community of people among whom I minister, either of us (myself or the community) can choose to walk away. We can find a new group or a new community or a new location, or we can go off by ourselves and be our own person in some other place, but in a society where racism is systemic, walking away from one group to another doesn’t escape racism. The system follows you, because the cultures and the societies and the communities are built within that system.
I’m beginning to understand why the conversation is becoming so heated right now in the midst of this pandemic. In a time when American society across the entire nation, in every community, in every political group, in every religious expression is re-evaluating the structures and the systems under which they operate, Black people are trapped. They are, as an entire people group, under-privileged, and the restructuring is not opening up opportunities for them to be involved and to be helped and to receive resources, and they are disproportionately dying. They have no other recourse but to be more vocal, and the issue has become time sensitive. The weariness that I feel as I dig deeper into this reality and the weariness that I feel as I try to become more and more present in the conversation, is the kind of weariness that Black people and POC are forced to experience all their lives under an oppressive system because of something that they literally cannot escape.
I advise people to exercise a certain level of self-care, because I know how detrimental it can be to push ourselves beyond our limitations. We aren’t helpful to anyone if we burn out completely, but I’m trying desperately to identify the line between using my weariness as an excuse to walk away and using my weariness as a measurement to avoid burnout. One social activist said that we need to allow other people to take up the torch so that we can step back, because fighting for social justice takes its toll, but I sincerely hope that if, like me, you have been a recipient of lifelong, White privilege that you try to walk with me through this. Please struggle with me as we attempt to check ourselves so that we don’t use our privilege of walking away from the conversation as an excuse to do just that. I hope that you will struggle with me through the weariness of being present, because for some, it might be about the only form of solidarity that we can truly offer our POC brothers and sisters.
Not Everyone Can Have This Conversation
I mentioned earlier that even if the conversation actually is disproportionate to the issue, it still needs to be pushed continually and intentionally. However, one of the difficult things for me has been the realization that not everyone can have this conversation. That is, not everyone can really be part of the conversation in a constructive way, and not everyone can even bring themselves to really start the conversation in any way. This isn’t a White problem, because some of the people I’ve met who aren’t ready to have this conversation are not White. I don’t want to just let people off the hook for not participating in such a deeply systemic issue, and I know that in some ways people not participating is harmful to the cause (whatever cause that might be for each of us). It’s similar to people who refuse to vote; there is something happening and it is going to continue to happen, yet they refuse to participate, even though it will impact them and the people they love.
If you made it this far, I’m assuming that you are part of the conversation, and I’ve already said that I understand if you grow weary and need to take a step back for a time. But, if you know people who don’t seem like they can have this conversation, I hope you can have some compassion for them. I don’t think it would do for me to shame someone into conformity, to pressure someone into a conversation about something they can’t handle, any more than I felt it was appropriate for the Christians among whom I grew up to try to force me to conform to them. I’m praying for everyone that God will grant us the strength to be part of the conversation, but I’m praying for those who are in the conversation, that God will grant us the compassion and the patience and the humility to press forward even while some of the people we love are standing still.
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