Thursday, February 26, 2015

Pressing Into Racial Tensions

I've blogged about race in America before when I saw Dear White People, and I briefly mentioned this new outlook change at the beginning of the year.  I openly admit to being a human capable of and hoping for change, and now that I've said that, here we go.

In November, my church hosted an panel and discussion on Ferguson, racism, and what the Church's response should be to the racial turmoil in America.  On the panel was a black woman from our church named Pamela Stringfield, one of our white pastors Ethan Seifried, 35-year old black Christian rapper LeCrae, and our black pastor Leonce Crump.  All four have children, and all four care deeply about the topics they discussed.  These four were asked for their thoughts and heart on questions posed by the community, and then there was a time at the end for audience members to ask questions of the panel, as well.

I went into this event not considering myself racist.  I had this stuff in the bag.  Besides preferring Korean kids over nearly all others (my students are my forever favorite), I try to treat people equally, regardless of their skin tone.  I know there are plenty of racists in the South, but having traveled abroad, I know how uncomfortable it can be to look different from everyone else, and there wasn't any way I would want to behave differently around someone because they were a different race.  Besides, I like and love people in general, so it's not like this really applied to me anyway.

I got schooled.

photo by Todd Quackenbush via Unsplash
To be perfectly honest, I have been scared to write about this, about what I've learned, because #1 it is incredibly uncomfortable stuff, #2 I'm no expert and I know I still have lots to learn in many areas, #3 I don't want to be associated with the hateful folks on Tumblr who shout about all white people being evil, and #4 my thoughts on a lot of these things aren't yet concrete and I still waffle on some things.  Basically, I know I have more growth and knowledge to gain, but I do think that what I learned from this panel discussion is valuable enough to share even without knowing absolutely everything about racism in America.  Truly, what I've learned has changed me.

The four on the panel emphasized the problem of ignorance of different cultures among Americans.  (Being such a melting pot you'd think this wouldn't be much of an issue anymore.)  Many folks naturally stick with others of their own creed, color, and culture, and so many of us haven't gone out of our way to build relationships with others outside of our circles.  In a practical sense and in a personal context, this means that I don't know what it's like being a black woman in Atlanta.  I don't know what it's like being a Latino father.  I don't know what it's like growing up as the only child of my color in my class.  Because I don't have that perspective in my life, I don't know how to speak to others who are in that context.  I am, in the truest sense, ignorant in this.

While I advocate for knowledge in all areas, I don't think I can condemn ignorance as inherently wrong, however it can lead very quickly to other things that are wrong.  Without that added perspective, I will inevitably misunderstand when I see people get upset and riot.  I will make potentially harmful judgements based on my half-knowledge, because it's all I know.  I will not know how to properly respond when racial tensions come to a head in my community.  Through all of this ignorance, then, if I don't know how I should react, I'm bound to make some wrong and/or hurtful reactions.

That was one of my biggest takeaways from the event, and it was the biggest challenge from the panel.  Go out of your way to build relationships with people who are different from you.  \\

To put this in a spiritual light, as a Christian who believes that the Gospel, love, and truth are for all mankind, it is my duty to display my believes through my actions.  What kind of a Christian am I if I keep the Gospel to myself and my white culture?  What kind of a Christian am I if I care so much about my comfort that I can't expend the energy to talk with someone who looks different than me?  There are so many more similar questions I could be asking (and that I have asked myself) about who I spend my time with.  As the panel said, starting these relationships is the first step in a Christian's response to racism.

I'll be writing more about all this in the future, but as I work further on collecting and arranging my thoughts, I wanted to go ahead and post this in the meantime.  I want you to know that I care about this.  I want you to know that I'm embarrassed for not writing about it sooner.  I want you to know that I will be working all my life to love people better and better, and I firmly believe that this will be a big piece of my puzzle as life continues.

What are your thoughts?  Feelings?  Questions for the general public?

I ask that you be gracious to me (and to all) as I move through these interesting and important topics.  It's hard to imagine that one person could have all the answers.  Furthermore, a large part of doing this right involves taking relationships and situations on a case by case basis.  Everyone has their own story, their own buzzwords, their own hurts, and their own triumphs.  If you're willing to share yours, I'd love to hear.

Remember, if you're not comfortable leaving a comment below, you can always email me or contact me through the Contact tab on the right!

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Thank you for sharing your thoughts! If there is something you want me to respond to specifically, feel free to send me an email; I'd love to chat.