Why It’s So Hard To Talk About Racism

Why It’s So Hard To Talk About Racism July 19, 2019

I am no stranger to disagreements. My friends on Facebook are very used to engaging in very long conversations online about differences in Theology, Doctrine and Philosophy.

Even when others become agitated and even hurl personal insults at me in the process of dialog over such issues, I’ve always maintained a measure of grace for them, and often try to disarm the situation with humor and grace, whenever I can.

Some people say I have too much grace and patience for people who insult me over such issues, but I’ve learned that it’s very important to model the love of Christ – especially in situations where we disagree.

However, when I disagree with someone about Theology, I can quite easily disengage emotionally and not take it in. But with Racism, it’s very hard for me not to feel contempt for the person on the other side of that argument.

I often struggle to find grace for people who justify treating another human being as an inferior – especially if that person claims to love Jesus [who was brown].

I think part of the reason for this is that, on issues of Theology, I can relate to the person who disagrees with me. Often, the things they believe are things I once believed myself only a few years ago. So, because I can understand why they think that way, I can easily step back and see things from their position. Mostly because I once held that same position.

But, when it comes to Racism, I really can’t understand. I don’t relate at all to that point of view. I can’t find common ground with that person because, at my core, that way of thinking is repulsive to me. And it always has been.

I think it’s partly because I was born in a very small town in Tennessee where racism and bigotry was “normal” and I moved away from that part of the country at a very young age; long before any of that way of thinking could sink into my brain.

From that small town in Tennessee we moved to an even smaller town in Southwest Texas where I was the minority white kid at a predominantly Hispanic school. But, I was too young to notice that I was different and no one around me treated me differently because I was white. So, to me, those other kids were just my friends. I didn’t learn to see them as anything other than my friends.

Honestly, the only times I ever encountered blatant racism was when I would go back to visit family and friends in that small Tennessee town. That’s where I heard them talk about black people in horrible ways, and make jokes about Mexican people that I knew were hateful and not based on reality but on some underlying bigotry.

So, I learned to hate racism from an early age, I guess. And that’s why, today, I can tolerate almost anything other than racism and bigotry. Nothing sets me off like racial hatred.

Now, I sometimes hear from other white people that they are victims of “reverse racism” because a black person or another person of color once treated them poorly. If that was you, I’m sorry. It certainly isn’t easy to be treated unfairly because of your race. But, I don’t think that’s anywhere near the same as what people of color experience every waking moment of their lives.

I also understand that when I point out the effects of White Privilege there are some white people who feel attacked and threatened by that. As if what we’re trying to do is to blame everything on white people, or worse, point the finger directly at them, personally.

But that’s not what’s happening. I get that it can feel that way. But that is not the case.

For many of us who were born white, we need to try to see things from a new perspective. Because there are things going on around us that we are blind to.

Simply put, there are systems in place that favor us that we are not aware of.

In my own case, I’m very thankful for friends like Valerie McGowan who help me to see with new eyes and to realize that my experience as a white person in America is not the same shared experience of people of color who live around me.

So, I’ll let her frame the questions, as someone who has experienced a reality that I am not aware of. This is what we as white people need to try to comprehend:

“Have you ever experienced situations where there were laws stating that you as a white person are scientifically/mentally inferior and only suitable for enslavement?

“Were you by law because you’re white, forbidden to vote, obtain an education, travel to certain towns after dark(aka sundown towns), live in certain southern states as a free person, or live in the neighborhood of your choice that was affordable to you?

“Were you followed around retail stores, assumed to be a thief because of your skin? Were you as a teenager threatened with lynching because a black woman claimed you made advances towards her?

“Did police automatically assume you were a gang-banger because you were a white kid driving a nice car? Were you barred from eating at many restaurants because you’re white?

“Did hospitals refuse to treat you because you’re white? Did you grow up never seeing anyone that looks like you represented in popular media?

“These are all examples of actual racism. It’s systemic and universal, not personal hurt feelings.”

I’m very thankful for people like Valerie, and Dr. Samatha Kline [who also blogs here on Patheos], and others who have patiently and lovingly helped me to see beyond my own blind spots and recognize the struggle that I have largely been oblivious too.

I hear my white Christian friends claim that they are “color blind” and that they’re tired of being blamed for something that – in their minds – happened “a long time ago.”

But, racism and slavery and bigotry did not end a long time ago. It is still going on today. It may have taken another form. It may be hidden from your eyes. It may be called something else, but it is still very, very much alive.

And, to be honest, it’s not about “blame” at all. No one wants to “blame” white people today for anything that happened during the Civil War or Jim Crow. It’s not even that anyone wants to blame white people today for the system that enables White Privilege. I think most people of color understand that the average white person is simply oblivious to it. So, let’s take “blame” off the table.

But, I do think we need to realize that the war isn’t over and that the impact of racism is still being felt by actual human beings who are also our brothers and sisters in Christ. And even if they are not of the same faith, they are still fellow human beings who are suffering in ways that we cannot, or will not, acknowledge.

So, it starts with being willing to see. It starts with being open to the possibility that people of color are suffering in ways that most white people cannot imagine.

The question is: Are you willing to open your eyes? Are you willing to listen? Are you open to the possibility that the playing field isn’t perfectly level for everyone?

And, better yet, are you willing to be someone who is part of the solution to the problem?

Or, sadly, are you committed to looking the other way while the system continues to grind people into the dirt? And are you comfortable with that because the people who are suffering aren’t like you?

If you can ignore the problem because those on the bottom are of a different skin color than you are, there’s only one word for that.

I sincerely hope you’re not comfortable with that reality. I hope you’ll refuse to wear that identity as your own.

We are all created equal in God’s eyes, but we are not all treated equally by one another.

There’s only one way to change that, and it starts with admitting that it’s true.

Reconciliation is part of our calling as ambassadors of Christ. We declare reconciliation between God and mankind, yes. But we also declare reconciliation between people who are all made in the image of the same God.

We are all God’s children. We are all brothers and sisters.

All of us. Everyone.

No exceptions.

**

Keith Giles was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church 11 years ago, to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. Today, He and his wife live in Meridian, Idaho, awaiting their next adventure.

Keith’s newest book, “Jesus Unveiled: Forsaking Church As We Know It For Ekklesia As God Intended” released on June 9, 2019 on Amazon, and features a Foreword by author Richard Jacobson.
Keith’s Podcast: Heretic Happy Hour Podcast is on iTunes and Podbean. 

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Herm

    I hate racism most when I am the self-centered, short sighted source. I love all of mankind when I influence positively as an equally different member supportively. I love all of mankind when equally aware that, if I try, I can empathize, support, sympathize, value, and care for all of mankind first as I would have all others of mankind do to me. I cannot influence or be aware as so surely in love of any other life form that I am not in the image of.

    I hold these truths to be self-evident, that all of mankind (by grace made as one in the image of God) are created equal, that we all are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these, but not limited to, are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness … regardless of familial, national or religious tribe of birth.

    I have had too many times in where in my journeys those truths were not on the forefront of my immature heart and mind. It was at those times when I reacted destructively as a racist. That is hard to talk about with others.

  • Matthew

    Paul spent a major part of his ministry and writing on declaring that there are no distinctions, no separations between people, in the Body of Christ … none. It´s simply not to be tolerated. To be racist, as one teacher I admire recently said, is to cut at the very core of the Gospel itself. That said, even if you are not Christian, I believe the same rules apply. We live within the realm of a shared humanity where all people are created in the image of God and deserve equal treatment. Thanks so much for this Keith.

  • Al Cruise

    This means everyone must speak out and demand change against systemic racism in the culture itself, as well. How public Schools are funded in areas of poverty that are majority non-white. Looking at voter redistribution and how and why it’s done. These are only 2 examples of hard core systemic racism . Not being racist on a personal level with one another is a given, but as a Christian and follower of Christ it has to go much, much, farther than that.

  • James Elliott

    Twenty years ago i was naive enough to believe that while there were pockets of racism, we were largely getting past the worst of it. Then, lo and behold, a man with dark skin was elected President and all hell began to break loose. (Isn’t it just as racist to describe him as African-American, when his mom was lily-white? I mean, if he wants to identify himself that way, that is his call not anyone else’s claim.) But i was, and i guess continue to wear the mantle of “white privilege.”

    My challenge in talking about racism is in the refusal to acknowledge that there are systematic injustices. There are people who choose to…perhaps deep down want to…believe that they are the poor, oppressed white folk who aren’t getting a break. They like their anger and see no reason to change. Part of their difficulty may lie in that they are primarily surrounded by other white folk and only get their messages from those who are white racists. It won’t change until that has been broken.

  • R/R 2016

    It’s become difficult to talk about racism, and especially about “white privilege”, because it’s a concept supported by a fallacy of ambiguity. The two sides of the debate don’t share the same lexicon, and it’s those who believe white privilege is a thing who command what constitutes privilege, aggregating all anecdotes as evidence while dismissing every voice of dissent as either blind, ignorant, or (you guessed it) “racist”.

    We’ve skipped the hard work of defining key terms and went straight to just battering one another with warring conclusions. The “hard conversations” we keep hearing about either never happen or bear little to no fruit.

  • Al Cruise

    ” defining key terms” What are some of the key terms in your veiw?

  • Tertium Quid

    Most of what I see written about this topic by Christians isn’t essentially different from what is written by non-Christians. By that I mean that the other side is guilted/shamed to adopt a different narrative. I don’t hear Progressive Christians seriously engaging the works of Thomas Sowell, for example. I was once directed to a book by Jim Wallis as a post-political message. It was nothing like. Wallis denies that “God is a Democrat” and then seems to argue that being a Christian means adopting a Progressive narrative. For Christians with a non-progressive outlook (for which the term “conservative” seems to have been turned into a catch-all bucket), receiving a message that they hold their narrative because they are “committed” to letting people with minority identity be ground into the dirt *because* they are different—well, it’s just going to make the one sending that message sound ignorant and self-righteous. Saying that “no one wants to blame white people” makes it sound like there is no awareness of the intersectionality movements at universities like Evergreen. The growing blend of socialism, social justice and intersectionality on the Left seems to be effectively about blame and retribution against anyone who is “privileged.” Non-progressives tend to see progressive policies as hurting the people they claim to want to help, and without serious engagement and civil debate, to clarify rather than win, progressives will continue to look like people who care more about seeing themselves in the mirror as saviors than caring whether the people they claim to help are being ground into the dirt by their policies, or than caring whether their measures are more effective at ginning up hatred than actually solving problems. I think you are right that everybody can benefit from hearing personal stories of bigotry—it is important to hear–but I don’t believe that you are communicating in a way that leads to unity in the Body of Christ. It’s heartfelt and desires a good outcome, but it sounds high-handed and disparaging to attribute such low motives to fellow believers of a different political persuasion. It would be much more useful to open dialogues that are based on presuming better motives. I think progressive-leaning & social justice Christians need to have public (and private) dialogues with groups like the Center on Wealth, Poverty & Morality and the Institute for Faith, Work & Ethics. It’s all too easy for believers on both sides to surround themselves with like-minded people and affirm how informed and woke one’s own group is.

  • Tertium Quid

    First of all, who are the people that must ‘answer’ (for lack of a better-defined term) for benefiting from “white privilege”? If you say “everyone who’s white” then you would need to either clearly define who is “white” and who isn’t–or establish how one objectively measures one’s “whiteness” and therefore one’s culpability in privilege. If the answer being proposed is a legal remedy, then one must have a legally rigorous definition of these terms. How much minority DNA must I have to not be culpable in “privilege”? If I am a minority and I look “white,” am I culpable?